Local Ad Agency MRM//McCann sent a photographer over to The Mandate Press recently to snap some shots for a Local Business/Small Business spotlight they were working on. Huge thanks to Brian Deaver for sharing these with me and allowing me to share them with you. I’m stoked to have such high-quality shots to remember my time at Mandate by.
My only regret about this shoot was that the photographer didn’t have more time to hang around the shop. Due to his limited time, these shots are semi-candid and semi-posed; A result of my reaction to the comment “pretend to work.” Pretend? Here, let me at least get these rollers a little cleaner in the meantime.
Failure is Not an Option.
I don’t even know where to begin. On top of that, I have these foolish expectations of myself that this will be some riveting, edge-of-your-seat blog post. Let’s just dive right in instead, shall we?
On July 22, 2013, I concluded my time at The Mandate Press. By all outward appearances it was just another Monday, but after doing the math of the day’s production (and realizing that I had printed a solid eight times as much as my daily average just two years ago) I left with a keen awareness of all that I learned during my time at Mandate.
When I arrived at the shop in June of 2011, I didn’t know the least bit about letterpress printing – let alone full-on, commercial, production-mode, letterpress printing. Sure, I had taken a class to get my feet wet and I cranked out a few dozen posters on an old Vandercook SP-15 for my Senior Thesis, but really all I knew was the simple fact that I had to keep pursuing this thing I had found.
Crop marks? Registration? Mixing inks? Matching inks? Pantone? Over-inked? Under-inked? Roller height? Proper impression? Different types of paper? Different weights of paper? Different types of packing? Changing the packing? Changing the tympan? Proper care of a press? Proper respect for a press? Prep-cutting? Finish-cutting? Automatic presses? Die-cutting? Scoring? Perforating? Corner rounding? Edging? Scheduling jobs? Ordering materials?
The list goes on, but you get the picture. I found myself uprooted and unfamiliar with my new job and my new city. My saving grace? It was exactly where I wanted to be and what I wanted to learn. It was my dream job and so: failure was not an option. Trial by fire, sink or swim… Don’t let on how little you know, George!
There were late nights and stressful days meeting hairy deadlines and reprinting jobs that weren’t up to snuff the first time around. Lessons were learned quickly because I couldn’t afford the time to be taught them a second or third time. Running an extra job the day before proved to be easier than a race against the clock the day after. Taking another five minutes to better match the color proved to be easier than reprinting the same job the next week because the client was less than thrilled. It was nothing less than intense to step into this world with so little experience and to try to learn the trade from the ground up. My education and training required patience from myself and from the rest of the shop. Of course, that’s not to say for one second that it wasn’t worth it, that those weren’t good days, or that it wasn’t fun. For every headache, there was a hearty dose of laughter to match. Besides, I had made it. This was where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. Nothing beats those bragging rights.
I began my part-time internship toward the end of June 2011 and by the time I was home for Christmas, I was preparing to return to SLC as a full-time letterpress printer. I still can’t and won’t claim to have mastered anything (I’m not sure I’d even qualify as a journeyman yet in the grand scheme of things) but by this time I had become fairly competent running jobs on either of our Vandercooks and had taken my first baby steps into the world of automated presses with the Heidelberg Windmills. Fast-forward another six months and I had earned the responsibilities of Production Manager and Lead Printer. Again, there will always be more to learn, but at this point… things were starting to click. Over the past 14 months, I have been honing and refining my abilities, moving from timidly doing my best just to keep up with a Windmill, to operating multiple presses simultaneously and continuing to build my personal arsenal. By the time I left Mandate, there was just one press left that I wouldn’t readily volunteer myself to run. It was on the list of course but things change and I’ll have to step up to one of Heidelberg’s big boys some other day.
All in all? Taking the leap and moving to SLC for a part-time, 90-day internship, may have been the best decision I’ve ever made. It was a risk, but I’ve grown both professionally and personally, and I’ve found a new confidence in myself and my abilities that I never had before. Thanks to Ben Webster and The Mandate Press, I have the foundation for a career that I knew next to nothing about beforehand. And not just any career, but the only one I can see myself pursuing. Not to pay my bills. Not to travel the world. Not to meet society’s definition of “success”. To satisfy my need to make a living with my own two hands and to enjoy every day of it.
It hasn’t been easy, and it won’t be easy, but I’m confident it will work, because failure is not an option.
In many ways, it was just time. The goal from the very beginning was to learn the trade and eventually open my own shop. This was an ongoing, open discussion with Ben (owner of The Mandate Press) from day one. I needed an education and he needed an eager, committed and passionate printer. Why not scratch each other’s backs for a while? I think it’s safe to say that we both reaped the benefits of the arrangement but the east coast has just begun to call too loudly to ignore. When I left Maine for Salt Lake City, I left everything: the family, friends, towns and coastline I love so much. Let’s put it this way: I didn’t leave Maine because of an urge to “get out”, I left to pursue a very specific opportunity. Now that I have achieved the goals that I traveled cross-country to pursue, it’s impossible to ignore the family milestones and events that I’m missing. We won’t get in to all of that, but it makes a guy think. I’ve done some priority checking over the past few months and it’s all added up to the fact that the east is calling and, as a good buddy’s office whiteboard so accurately states: “It’s not about ideas, it’s about making ideas happen”. I could wait and wait for the perfect timing, but it would never come. I’m not moving east right off, but I’m one step closer to the time that I can and I’m in a position now where I can start planning for that.
I’m currently home for two weeks for the first time since I moved west in 2011. I’ve got three things on my checklist while I’m here: rest up, soak in all the family time I can get, and start planning. I activated a new email address for print requests and such (firstname.lastname@example.org - for any of you that might be curious), I’m working on a Facebook business page, and I’m beginning to develop content for a new website. When I return to SLC next week I’ll be hustling to churn out the remainder of the printing I’m doing for Thy Doan’s Craft Lake City booth, arranging meetings with a lawyer, photographer, and potentially even a filmmaker I know, continuing a conversation with a San Francisco based sign painter, and planning a trip to Portland and Seattle during TypeCon. Talk about jumping off the deep end! Jumping in with both feet? I think I went headfirst. There’s a lot of work to do and it’s going to require more late nights and more stressful days but the rewards will come. There’s plenty of excitement for now, so I’m setting the nerves aside for a day or two at least.
To those of you that have been following this blog since the days that it was full of inspiration for my Senior Thesis, thank you so much for your interest and support. I apologize that my posts trickled down to nothing and then were replaced with only photos. It’s my goal to change all of that now and keep you all in the know as I step out on my own. It promises to be an interesting ride because, once again:
Failure is not an option.
Multiplying Force… #twinmills #originalheidelberg #inmotion #themandatepress #customletterpress #mandate_onpress #slc #letterpress #letterpresslove #dowork (at Mandate Press)