Purchase photos

Pressing issues

7/11/2014

SCHOENCHEN — Karissa Arnold spends approximately 10 hours a week with Alice.

They spend most of their time in a barn on Arnold's property in Schoenchen, but Alice isn't much of a talker. She mainly sits in a corner covered in paint, humming, while Arnold feeds her individual pieces of paper.

Alice is a 12-by-18 foot Chandler and Price printing letterpress, who found her way into Arnold's possession and barn in January.

"I got my wedding invites letter-pressed, and I thought it was so cool," she said. "So I started YouTubing it, and I was like, 'Oh, I had no idea.' "

The art of the letterpress intrigued the 23-year-old, who studied graphic design at Fort Hays State University.

"I found this machine actually in Wichita, and we hauled it back -- and it weighs about 2 tons," Arnold said. "It's very, very heavy. We had to rent a trailer, and we brought it in."

The letterpress is a product of an earlier century.

"It was made in the 1800s. It's really, really old," she said. "This is how people used to print before we had printers and stuff like that."

Alice isn't the only piece from that timeframe either. Arnold said she has a paper cutter, nicknamed Jaws, which she believes is from that period, too.

"That was also made way back. It's a guillotine press," Arnold said.

With Alice in her possession, Arnold began the task of naming her business.

"I sat in bed, like forever, trying to think of a name," she said. "I have three dogs, so I was thinking, three dog press."

But that name didn't quite fit.

The name she ended up finding that fit was Tumbleweed Press. While it is synonymous with western Kansas, the name has personal meaning to Arnold.

She said the name originated from a nickname from her grandfather.

"I have always been tall and lanky, and he called me 'Tumbleweed,' " Arnold said. "So I was like, tumbleweed, Kansas. It means something to other people. It means something to me. Tumbleweed Press, and it was perfect."

When it came to learning about the letterpress process, Arnold did not find herself in a classroom or signing up for lessons.

"I self-taught myself everything on this. I never took any lessons or anything," she said.

It has been a process full of trial and errors, mess-ups and success.

The first step of Arnold's process is meeting with clients to discuss what they want, which can range from wedding and bridal shower invitations to personalized coasters and more.

"I want this to be the go-to stationery shop in central Kansas," she said.

If the client already has a design completed, that's OK, too.

"It totally doesn't matter. I always say if you have the design done, then you're already halfway there," she said. "If you have the design done, great. There's a few tweaks you'll probably have to do to it, and then they can be sent off to become plates."

Once the design is provided or drawn, she scans it into the computer and sends it to a New York company so the plates are created. She then cuts the paper to size and fits the press with the plate on the base, spaced gauge pins in the tempered paper, which holds the 100-percent cotton paper receiving the design.

"It has to be special paper. It's 100-percent cotton paper so that way when I push in, the fibers are going to give," she said. "That way, it won't crack and look disgusting."

If a client wants multiple designs in different colors, the press requires cleaning before the second design can be added.

Alice is cleaned with baby oil, which breaks down the oil-based paint spread on the ink plate by rollers on the press. The press then is wiped down with mineral spirits.

The products completed by the press are sold at Be Made in Hays and online at www.tumbleweed-press.com or on Etsy.

While Arnold spends nearly 10 hours a week with Alice now, she is hoping to increase the hours and amount of wedding invitations and complementary pieces once her space is finished.

"It's going to be my little studio," she said.

The area will include a desk to discuss designs with customers, a large table that will hold papers, inks and more.

While the task of creating postcards, invites, coasters and more are extremely detail-demanding, it is a great artistic fit for Arnold.

"I love art. I love graphics. I love designing things," she said. "This is just perfect. ... This is all my own handwriting and my own drawing."