Danielle Bliss and Joe Venditti print their cards, coasters, wedding invitations, business cards and other stationery products on old-fashioned letterpress printers, imbuing the inked image with a pleasing heft and tactility. “We think it’s the most beautiful type of printing,” said Bliss on a recent afternoon in the loft in the Shirt Factory where their company, Wishbone Letterpress, is based. “It leaves an impression on the paper” – which, made of cotton and acid-free, is itself a satisfying thing to hold and touch. The technique is also “easy to do, and we don’t need a warehouse,” added Venditti. “It’s low-tech.”
Traditional letterpress technology required metal type to be set and metal cuts to be used for pictorial images. Wishbone Letterpress melds the old and new by creating the designs on the computer and transferring them onto special plastic plates, obtained from a company in Syracuse, which are then inked and printed on the antique presses. Interpreting retro themes in fresh, boldly colored designs, the company invigorates an art previously characterized by elegant formality with a more eclectic, contemporary approach that at times verges on the playfully subversive. It has proved to be a winning formula: Although only two years old, Wishbone Letterpress has already had success, snaring an order for 8,000 greeting cards from Urban Outfitters at the National Stationery Show, held at the Javits Center in New York City last May. (“You’re Rad as F***” reads one – a card that the couple specially conceived for the national retailer, guessing correctly that it would be a sure sell.)
They currently sell their cards, which retail for $5.50 to $4, on Etsy; coasters and other specialty paper items at 20 stores, located in Australia, New York City, Chicago, California, Oregon, Virginia and the Hudson Valley (locally you can find their cards at Catskill Art & Office Supply in Kingston and Cocoon in New Paltz). They get clients by attending crafts fairs, through the website and by word of mouth. Wishbone has carved out a niche in customized work – wedding invitations, birth announcements and the like – but it’s the greeting cards that are turning out to be the most lucrative.
The couple started Wishbone Letterpress in the summer of 2011. Lack of opportunity in the job market prodded them to start their own business: After earning a degree in Graphic Design at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, Bliss worked two jobs to make ends meet, collecting tolls at the Mid-Hudson Bridge and commuting to New York City, where she worked on animation for CBS News’s Early Show. Eventually she quit the bridge job and worked the night shift at CBS News, until she was laid off. “Graphic design work had dried up, and the only jobs I could find paid $12 an hour,” she recalled. Venditti, a sculptor, attended art school in Boston, and after earning his degree in 2005, couldn’t find work either. The married couple had known each other since childhood, but had never been close; they reconnected when Venditti encountered Bliss at the tollbooth while driving over the Mid-Hudson Bridge one day.
The seed for Wishbone Press was born when Bliss designed a wedding invitation for Joe’s sister and wished that she could print it out on a letterpress instead of her inkjet printer. Building on their design and fine art background, the couple took classes on the letterpress printing technique, including an intensive five-day workshop at the Center for Book Arts in New York City. Bliss also attended a state-run program on small-business startups while collecting unemployment.
They started with a hand-automated press dating from the 1940s – a find, since it was in good condition and procured from nearby Long Island – and now have four letterpresses, including one operated with a foot treadle that Joe converted into a paper-folding machine. They initially set up shop in a studio in an uncle’s house, but moved to the Shirt Factory last February.
Joe, who has a full-time job in addition to the business, does some designing and some printing. Danielle designs and does most of the rest, including marketing, accounting, packaging, website management and writing contracts, providing quotes and otherwise dealing with customer requests. “You’d never expect how hard it is to run a business,” she said, noting that, after getting the Urban Outfitters order, she and Joe were working the hand press practically 24/7 for days.
Bliss and Venditti, who live in Ulster Park but are hoping to move to Kingston soon, have met many other young, creative entrepreneurs in the area. They plan to tap into that energy by hosting the Hudson Valley Hullabaloo, a large-scale holiday craft fair held at Kingston’s BSP on Saturday, December 7. “We will be taking the best of the many craft fairs we’ve attended and make it happen here,” said Venditti. More than 45 vendors will participate at the event, which will be held from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. It’ll feature deejay Mr. Chips, a photo booth (complete with “winter wonderland” backdrop) provided by Peter Demuth Photography and a crafting table for kids. Admission will be free, and the couple hope to have a food truck on the premises, pending city permitting requirements.
Hudson Valley Hullabaloo, craft show with 45+ vendors, Saturday, December 7, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., free, BSP, 323 Wall Street, Kingston; www.hvhullabaloo.com. Wishbone Letterpress, Shirt Factory, 77 Cornell Street, Kingston; (845) 750-8801, www.wishboneletterpress.com.