Artist Interview: Pressbound! March 23, 2012 10:34

Happy Friday, everyone! This week I'd like to introduce you to Melissa, the creative (and physical) force behind Pressbound. Based in Beverly, Massachusetts, Melissa is a letterpress printer and bookbinder. Read on to learn a little more about Melissa and what inspires her. Have a great weekend!


Please introduce yourself and tell us about your handmade business.
I'm Melissa Gruntkosky and I like to say that I'm "the brains and braun" behind a small design, letterpress, and book arts studio called Pressbound. I started Pressbound in 2008 after quitting an in-house design job in order to learn letterpress, bookbinding and do freelance design work. One of my main sources of inspiration is Polish folk art, especially wycinanki, a form of paper cutting used by peasants to decorate their homes. But I also enjoy working with textures, geometrical patterns, exploring ways to combine traditional printing techniques with digital ones, or re-purposing old letterpress plates that are so amazing they deserve a new life as a card or journal cover.

Describe your studio for us.
I moved into my very first studio less than a year ago. My first anniversary will be this June! It's in a recently renovated artist space called The Studios at Porter Mill in Beverly, MA and was formerly known as the Red Brick studios. It's a charming old mill building with almost 50 different artists, classroom space, and an active gallery with new exhibitions monthly. Before moving into Porter Mill my work was printed as a "shop within a shop" on the presses at Albertine Press and my business was run out of a corner in the hallway of my apartment with my products stored in my pantry. It's amazing to finally have a shop of my own!


What are the tools of your trade?
The most important tool is my press. Currently I'm printing on a Pearl Improved #11 which dates back to 1909. It's manually operated by a foot treadle (like an old sewing machine). It's a real beauty that was fully restored last spring. I'm also in the process of acquiring a larger press too, a Golding Jobber #7 which is motorized and will increase my capabilities quite a bit. Both presses are platen style which means they print like a clam shell. My work is primarily printed from polymer plates I have made from computer files, however I do print from antique zinc or magnesium plates, and linoleum cuts as well. Aside from my press I also have an antique guillotine for cutting paper (not heads!) but looks just as scary. I use lots of other less intimidating tools too like needles, thread, glue, bone folders, rulers, exacto knives etc. Ok, I guess knives can be scary too.

How does your work as a teacher influence your work?
It's probably a very subconscious effect. I see more of a direct influence on how my work effects me as a teacher or how my teaching can effect how I run my business. When I first started teaching classes at Emerson I was still working full-time as a graphic designer in the publishing industry. I approached teaching from the point of view that all my students wanted to work standard 9-5 jobs. Since going freelance and starting Pressbound I've started encouraging students to explore other options, to find their entrepreneurial spirit, to not be afraid of taking risks and striking out on their own, and to know that their are always creative/non-conventional ways to make money. I also try to encourage students to explore design solutions that incorporate their own illustrations, photography, or other original ideas rather than finding an existing image to use in a project. As far as my business goes, teaching definitely has an influence on how I work with clients or even with my first intern. Teaching requires you to identify the strengths and weaknesses within each of your students and encourage their strengths and downplay their weaknesses or challenge them to improve skills that are weaker. Working with a client or an intern is very similar. I have a much harder time identifying how teaching effects my actual products or projects. I'm sure it does since teaching keeps you fresh and on your toes all the time.


Tell us a little about the inspiration behind your Polish folk art collection.
Around the time I learned how to print my grandmother, a proud first generation Polish American, was very sick. My first letterpress project used imagery from Polish wycinanki (vee-chee-nan-key), which is a form of paper cut folk art. I hand carved all the images in linoleum blocks and then hand set Polish proverbs in metal type to accompany the images. Some of those linoleum carvings ended up in my set of Polish birds cards. I think exploring Polish folk art was a way for me to deal with my grandmother's deteriorating health. I looked up to her as a strong independent woman who was always working on some kind of crafty project: knitted scarves, crocheted hats, or sewing quilts. She was also very proud of her Polish heritage and instilled pride in all of us grandchildren even though I'm third generation. After her passing in 2007 it just felt right to keep exploring the use of motifs found in wycinanki, eventually combining this with other illustrations like Russian nesting dolls in my calendars or adding text like I use in my greeting cards. Her spirit lives on in my work. Without her as a roll model I'm not sure I would have found the courage to open a craft business of my own.

What does handmade mean to you?
That's a tough question to answer in just one paragraph! I wrote my entire MFA thesis on the influence of the handmade in graphic design and get really passionate about this subject. For me handmade is a lifestyle choice much like one chooses to be vegan or shop local. It's not just about me making something by hand or using traditional craft to produce work for others to consume and enjoy. It's making the conscious decision to express my individualism by supporting other independent artists, crafts people, and small/local businesses or events that sell their work. The same thinking comes into play when I chose to buy local produce at a farmer's markets as when I buy a birthday card at a local shop from an indie stationery company or artist. And yes, I still buy cards even though I make my own. I love supporting other printer's work and never feel right giving out my own cards. I want to support those making a living at doing what they love since I too am making the same go at it.


How did you first become involved with Craftland?
I applied to be a part of the 2010 holiday show and was accepted again in 2011. I was thrilled when I was asked to be a year round artist after this year's holiday show.

Fun, little known fact about you?
I've never owned a car. It feels like I'm one of the few people over 30 who can say that. I have a license and don't mind driving but until last year I lived in the city and never needed one or used Zipcar when I did. These days I'm out in the 'burbs and grateful for my boyfriend and parents who are willing to give me rides or let me borrow their car when I need to get around. Eventually I'll probably have to give in and buy one.