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    Studio visit: Nicole Phillips, typographer and letterpress printer

    By Jo Hoban

    Nicole Aug 2014

    In the 80s, Nicole Arnett Phillips spent her school holidays fossicking around the dusty corners of the press room of the New Zealand Herald Newspaper, where her Dad worked. Letterpress was long-gone, but the old machines and equipment remained, and Nicole would lose herself playing amid the traces of days gone by, discovering old pieces of type—her ‘treasures’—some of which she has kept to this day. These formative years impressed Nicole (letterpress pun intended) with a passion and curiosity for design and typography, both where it had come from and where it was headed. She studied Art and Design, majoring in Typography and Book Design, at Auckland University of Technology and the uni subsequently published her related dissertation entitled ‘Form’d’. This propelled Nicole into an exciting design career working for a range of global brands, marketing/design groups, publishing houses, and built environment organisations, in both New Zealand and Australia, where she’s now settled.

    Albert, the 1872 Albion hand-iron press against the backdrop of Nicole’s inspirational studio wall.

    Albert, the 1872 Albion hand-iron press against the backdrop of Nicole’s inspirational studio wall.

    By 2009, Nicole was tiring of the long hours, feeling like she was “an extension of her Mac”, and could no longer ignore the voice in her head that was crying out: “I need something analogue, I need more movement, and I want to connect with my design production!” She started her own design consultancy, Nicoleap, working from her home studio. And she bought her first antique letterpress—‘George’, her 1860s treadle-powered, Gordon Franklin Old Style press. These days Nicole has 5 large machines housed in a backyard Print Pavilion, purpose-built by her clever husband, Mike. It’s a long, black rectangular shape that discreetly trails along one side of her backyard. Neat, industrial and aesthetically pleasing, it’s like a mini letterpress museum unexpectedly nestled in Brisbane’s southern suburbs. Except this is no museum – this is the active workspace of a curious, contemporary creator! Nicole’s commercial design consultancy is now complemented with her personal letterpress research and experimentation; she explains that her ‘passionate letterpress practice’ adds value for her clients by making her a more engaged designer.

    Nicole Aug 2014

    Nicole Aug 2014

    When I visit Nicole’s home, the sun is shining and natural light streams into the print pavilion through two segments of the roof and walls made of clear Perspex. The walls are dotted with inspirational quotes and printing experiments, tools abound, shelves of furniture (specific press equipment) are organised within easy reach, numerous drawers of type are on hand, and of course her antique crew of gentlemen are lined up along one wall. Nicole has kindly offered to demonstrate a letterpress printing process using ‘George’, so we print and chat…

    Nicole spreads her soya-based ink over George’s platen...

    Nicole spreads her soya-based ink over George’s platen…

    ...and later activates the treadle-powered printer with her foot.

    …and later activates the treadle-powered printer with her foot.

    A freshly printed ampersand.

    A freshly printed ampersand.

    Can you tell us more about George?
    I try not to play favourites but I print on my Gordon Old Style press more than any of the others. It’s a really versatile press and you’re really engaged with working it. George is the one that I really cut my teeth on. He’s inky and greasy, and he’s not perfect, but I love him! This machine was actually the first ever treadle printing press, so it was a really important letterpress machine.

    What about the other four gents?
    There’s Albert, an 1872 Albion hand-iron press; Sergio, a 1910 Italian Saroglia proof press; Harvey, a 1960s Heidelberg Windmill Platen T; and Milo, a Miehle V45 vertical rotary cylinder press. Each press does a different thing well, and I value the history and legacy of the machines.

    What are the constraints when letterpress printing, and is it hard to be experimental?
    There are constraints’a’plenty, so being experimental is a necessity. I enjoy trying to use an old format and tools in new ways; that excites me. For example, it’s possible to recreate something that’s so easy using InDesign, such as a flipped letter, but you have to stop and think “How can I do that with a physical piece of type? Well, if I print that onto a sheet of plastic and then I print that sheet of plastic onto the paper, I’ve got a reverse!” It’s creative problem-solving and it’s so much fun. You can achieve exciting things with dusty old type if you’re creative and want to push the boundaries. Once I’ve mastered a technique, I think ‘Ok, what’s the next thing I can do with that?’

    Nicole’s machines lined up in her print pavilion.

    Nicole’s machines lined up in her print pavilion.

    You decided not to be a commercial letterpress printer quite early on. What draws you to the older presses?
    Commercial letterpress printers mostly use Heidelbergs, which are super-precise, automated and efficient—awesome machines for this reason. I tried this, but preferred being more physically involved with the process. Operating my older machines is a real workout; printing with George, I get a sore bum and sore arms and need to stretch out! I wanted to get ink under my fingernails and experiment with making and taking something apart, and have the freedom to try something and then stop and rearrange if I didn’t like it. It’s not viable to commercially print on these older presses, so if my clients want letterpress, I’ll do the design work then refer them to a commercial letterpress printer.

    Along with your commercial work, you’ve been teaching occasional workshops at Designworks College and have started publishing your own journal—Typograph.journal. Tell us more.
    My workshops offer design students the experiential nature of letterpress printing. The more teaching I do, the more I’m interested in knowledge-sharing. This shaped the idea that I thought there was a need for a journal less about visual eye-candy, and more about candid process and conversation. I think a new design discourse is required, and that in this information-saturated era the form that information takes probably matters more than it ever has before.

    Nicole perusing Volume 1 of her Typograph.journal.

    Nicole perusing Volume 1 of her Typograph.journal.

    Nicole’s home-based studio is overflowing with design books, and organising them by colour works best for her.

    Nicole’s home-based studio is overflowing with design books, and organising them by colour works best for her.

    You can visit www.nicoleap.com.au to learn more about Nicole’s design work, and check out www.typographher.com for the latest info on Typograph.journal. For more insight into Nicole’s letterpress experiments you can follow her on Instagram @typographHer.

    Words and interview by Jo Hoban. Jo is a freelance editor and copywriter with a background in publishing. She loves collaborating to produce meaningful content that delves into people’s creative processes and spaces. Jo posts images that inspire her on Instagram @jojohoban.

    {All photos kindly taken by Ross Pottinger.}


    Posted by: Tess McCabe
    Categories: interview, regular columns, virtual visit | Comments Off
    Posted on

    Interview – Samantha Dunne of Dunne With Style

    By Andrea McArthur

    Interview Samantha Dunne

    A creative that does it with style and a smile. Dunne with Style is the culmination of Samantha Dunne’s creative ventures. When asked to describe her blog and business Samantha says that some days it’s decor making, some days it’s event styling and some days designing projects.

    Tell us about your creative journey so far.

    Dunne with Style started as a small side project, a little Etsy store selling cupcake toppers after my daughters first birthday. It soon grew to include an ever-changing range of handmade event décor including cake toppers, backdrops, fabric ‘poms’ and paper flowers.

    The past 12 months has seen Dunne with Style grow a few branches and expand to include creative collaborations and projects such as The Creative Exchange (a creative mail swap) and Create (a subscription based box of creative inspiration).

    My love for detail and décor has led to numerous event collaborations with the talented cake artist Debbi of Studio Cake and we have just launched our collective event design and styling company Ivy & Oak.

    Dunne with Style

    What lead you to starting Dunne with Style?

    Dunne with Style came to life just after my little girl turned one. The first 12 months as ‘new mum’ was a whirlwind for me, my life had catapulted from a self-confessed organised control freak exercise physiologist to a stay at home mum with a baby who rarely slept and took away my ability to control everything. I spent my time wondering if I was ever going to feel like I’d achieved something in the day and how I could balance my new life at home with my innate desire to be connected. Connected in the way that I had a place, a venture and a passion. Being creative gave me a sense of accomplishment and then the feedback I received through social media to my initial products was so supportive that I finally felt a sense of pride and purpose again.

    Has your blog influenced your entrepreneurial spirit?

    My blog has given me a platform to share and interact with like minded creatives and its led to me feeling connected to a community of people I’ve never met. It’s this community that’s inspired me to start turning a few crazy little ideas I had into realities. I knew that if I could bring to life projects like The Creative Exchange I could connect this community that existed in the online world on a deeper level and hoped that I could enrich their lives through creativity as mine had been.

    Congratulations on one of your latest projects, Create, I saw that box one is already sold out. Please tell us more about this venture, how it started, how you choose your creative curators and how we can participate in creating with Create.

    Create is a quarterly subscription box for creative inspiration curated by leading Australian creatives. The ‘Create’ box is the culmination of two elements, a selection of creative supplies chosen by the box curator – items to inspire a creative project or a little workshop in a box, and a limited edition piece of work from the curator.

    Create grew from a desire to be able to connect creative artists and the audience that not only loves their work but is inspired by their entire style and ethos. I wanted give people the opportunity to not only be inspired by the work of our creative idols but to receive a tactile box of products selectively curated to inspire you to get creating.

    The first two artists to come to Create were simple choices for me. Laura Blythman was the curator of Create box #1 and Gemma Patford is currently curating box #2 (on sale until the end of September). Laura & Gemma are both artists whose work I love, but who I’m inspired by for their willingness to connect to their creative community. They both have a knack of sharing not only their work as a finished product on the shelves but through social media share a snapshot into the creative process, a look at the creative mess on their bench, the cuttings, the paint splatters and its these insights into their days that I find really inspiring.

    Create Box 1

    Photography & styling by Catherine Grace 

    Create Box – Laura Blythman

    Photography & styling by Catherine Grace 

    Do you have a favourite project that you have worked on with Dunne with Style?

    I’m terrible at choosing favourites! The Creative Exchange has probably been the most rewarding project to be a part of and I’m continually humbled by it when people comment on the ‘community’ that I have connected and created.

    The Creative Exchange began in January 2014 as a little idea that I initially flagged as ‘crazy’. I wanted a way to take the Instagram ‘family’ of creatives that I had met and connect through more than just inspiring images. I wanted to be able to share tactile creative inspiration and thought what a better way to do so than through the gift of giving. So I set up a creative mail swap, where people were allocated a fellow creative to ‘Insta-stalk’, as we call it, (in a completely positive stalking fashion!!) and put together a ‘creative exchange’ gift, items to inspire them to get creative.

    When I launched the idea I was petrified no one would be interested and had everything possible crossed just to get 20 people to participate. In the first 2 days I had 30 people sign up and by the end of the two weeks sign up period I had a list of 70 people who joined the exchange. I was blown away. As we started to share the project on Instagram, I was flooded with enquiries of running a second exchange and expanding it to include overseas countries as well. In April I ran the second Creative Exchange and connected 140 people from Australia, NZ, UK and the USA.

    To watch a community develop, grow and interact in the way it has and to hear from people who have made connections and friendships, learnt new skills, picked up old pastimes has been so rewarding and exactly what I wanted to achieve with the exchange, except it’s on a scale that I truly never imagined.

    How has your digital voice grown and changed since you first started blogging?

    I feel my digital voice has changed a lot since I first started blogging which has led to a very recent revamp of my website and blog to allow me a fresh platform to share what I now feel is an authentic and valid voice. I think I’ve always thought I had a story to tell but it’s only of late that I feel that I have a valid voice and I’m really looking forward to having a concise platform to share my dialogue.

    Any advice for others considering a creative business?

    Just start.

    There is so much information out there about what to do and what not to do, but I think you can get caught up in all of the ‘advice’ and spend way too much time (and often money) planning for something that you need to approach as more of a journey. Start small and stay authentic, do what’s close to your heart and what you truly feel passionate about: honesty radiates.

    You can’t keep a good woman down! Thinking out loud, what would be your dream project with Dunne with Style?

    I’m such a dreamer, so I could almost write a list here! My big dream is to be able to take the next step in connecting the creative communities in more face to face settings. I would love to be able to facilitate Creative Exchange participants to be able to meet the exchange-ee’s they have connected with. I would love to spend more time creating amongst like minded people in inspiring settings and am always dreaming of my next collaboration.

    Popsicle Party

    Styled by Dunne with Style, photography by Lee Bird Photography 

    How do you fit everything in to your week, with a blog, business, kids, husband and still be smiling in every photo?

    If you truly love what you do then the smiling part is a given. I think a lot of the ‘juggle’ is about mindset, I frequently say everything that needs to get done will get done and for everything else there’s always tomorrow. Each day I prioritise all of the non-negotiables – the things that must get done – and then I’m realistic that everything else will have to wait. I don’t really define my work hours from my family hours and whilst plenty of people tell me that I should, I started Dunne with Style to be able to stay at home and look after my kids and I love that it has stayed that way. When I’m creating products in my studio there’s always little fingers dabbling in my ‘scraps’ under the desk and when I’m on a styling job I often have a mini assistants attached to my hip or following me around like a shadow. I’m blessed to have a supportive family who are always there to help with the juggle but I really want to show people that you can be a stay at home mum and live out your dream… the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

    You are an inspiration for fulfilling your ideas. What inspires you? Please tell us about some of your creative resources (or passions).

    I read, I watch, I listen.

    I find the written word alluring and powerful and I love to hear people’s stories. I can generally be found looking for reassurance, grounding and inspiration from some of my favourite bloggers such as Teacups Too.

    I’m also a really visual person, and whilst a lot of people talk about finding social media quite uninspiring I am a self confessed Instagram and Pinterest addict, simply because I’m forever blown away by the beauty that can be captured in a single square frame. I love the diversity that I can flick through in 30 seconds and that it can be something as far removed from my own craft or skill set but I’m still inspired by their choice of colour, texture or shape.

    I think musicians are amongst the most passionate people about their craft and whilst my musical skills might have a lot to answer for I find most creative blocks and staleness can be cured by a good playlist.

    - -

    Thank you Samantha for your participation and words of inspiration. If you would like to find out more about Create or Dunne with Style view Samantha’s blog at www.dunnewithstyle.com. You can also see Samantha’s styling treats on Instagram (@dunnewithstyle).

    Andrea McArthur (www.andyjane.com) has a passion for all things visual and works as a Senior Graphic Designer in Dubai. Type is her true love and goes weak at the knees over beautiful design. You’ll find her sharing image musings on Instagram @andyjanemc.

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    Posted by: Andrea McArthur
    Categories: interview, regular columns | Comments Off