Gay graphic designer Jason McDaniel turns the forgotten art of letterpress into a passion and a profession
JEF TINGLEY | Contributing Writer
In the age of instant gratification via Evite and InstaGram, it’s become a novelty to receive a piece of correspondence via snail mail. It’s an even greater surprise if that piece isn’t junk mail, but a hand printed card on elegant cotton paper. Luckily, there are still folks like Jason McDaniel who make it more and more likely you can receive this kind of mailbox gold. And it’s all thanks to his passion for keeping the art of letterpress alive.
Like a lot of gay folks, McDaniel has always been a creative-type, dabbling in everything from book binding to pouring soy candles, graphic designer to playing musician. But McDaniel discovered his first actual letterpress — a bulk, gear-filled mechanism for imprinting on paper — about 10 years ago. He had been looking for a local printer to work with on a project and couldn’t find anyone, “so, on a whim, I decided to buy a small press,” he says. “It arrived in a giant crate on a hot summer’s day. A friend and I inked it up, made a giant mess.”
It sat virtually unused in McDaniel’s garage for a couple of years “until I happened to stumble upon a workshop that taught letterpress basics and it finally clicked. I was instantly hooked.”
Today, McDaniel is the owner of Missing Q Press, a letterpress and paper goods store in McKinney’s historic downtown that’s home to seven letterpresses and an engraving machine (his very first machine sits on display in the display window). Unlike traditional offset printing techniques, where the press itself does most of the work, with letterpresses, each sheet of paper is hand-fed through the machine, one at a time. Additionally, each color has to go through the press once. (Thus, on a three-color job, each page passes through the press three times to achieve the final look.)
For McDaniel, it’s this attention to quality and detail that makes his work a labor of love. But he’s quick to add that this thorough process in a digital world is partly why letterpress can be expensive, in addition to the cost of high quality, cotton papers.
In days gone by, letterpresses were limited by carved wood and lead type forms to create a finished product, but modern day letterpress is more of a marriage between technology and old-fashioned craftsmanship.
“Today, I can design practically anything on the computer,” McDaniel says. “Through a film negative and photopolymer platemaking process, I can achieve the same detail and type height [.918] as the original lead type and using a modern base system, print on the same old equipment as they used in the late 1800s and early 1900s.”
Letterpress isn’t limited simply to invitations, it’s an art form that can be applied to a variety of stationery-related goods — or even simply framed and hung on the wall as art in itself.
“I really love making products for my storefront — cards, calendars, notebooks and more,” McDaniel says. “I have about a million ideas in my head for things to do, but I’m usually so busy doing custom invitations and design work that it’s a rarity for me to have a lot of time to print retail store goods, so when I do I really enjoy the process.”
Those curious to see how letterpress works can observe McDaniel in action most days at his working storefront.
“If I am here printing, I have the doors open to the shop and people can see what’s going on,” he says.
Always innovating the options for letterpress goods, this month McDaniel plans to offer customized stationery in small, boxed sets. Shoppers can select a typeface from his vintage type collection and have them personalized while they finish their holiday shopping. He’s also got some ideas in for the works for same-sex wedding invites that he’s yet to have the opportunity to create. But just like the wheels on his press, his creative gears are always turning.
Missing Q Press, 222 E. Virginia St. McKinney. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.–6 p.m. 214-673-8857. MissingQPress.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 29, 2013.