Community Art Event, demo advice

Briarpress folks,

Here’s the setup:
Our community and church put on an annual art fair and I was recently approached in putting on a letterpress demonstration and interactive printing event for the day using my recently acquired Vandercook No. 1.

They’re asking for up to 300-500 prints to be made during the day.

The current thought is this: printing small sized posters ahead of time on my C&P 10x15, a 9x12ish sized print give or take. Then, the day of, using some lino-cut letters to make kids names and print that onto the poster. It allows moderately quick turn-around as I have five volunteers to help run the booth while still allowing the kids an inteactive and unique exposure to printmaking. The event lasts for the entire day. It’ll be busy, but I’m thinking maybe that’s reasonable?

I have used vandercooks before.
I have printed en masse with them before at a previous internship, but on an SP15. Self inking is helpful, but would on the spot inking be an issue for time?

This is indeed rather vague and quite preliminary planning, we have yet to come up with final details and the event is mid-august so we have time to plan and print. But does anyone have any recommendations based on previous experience? Does anyone see any major red flags at all?

Thanks all,


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I don’t mean to pooh-pooh your idea, but that’s a heavy press to move in for one day. What happens if it is damaged in moving? Are they going to compensate you for it? What happens if a little child gets their finger in a pinch point? You could be letting yourself, and the church, in for significant liability.

If you are going to cut letters in lino, if you cut two of each, that will be 52 letters. Do you really want to cut that many? Maybe you have a large size font you don’t care that much about, which you could use instead?

I regularly print for the public at a historic village. We don’t personalize any prints because we don’t have the manpower.

You will get different types of people. Some will be happy with one print per family. Others will act like they have a right to your prints and will want one print per child for several different children, even ones that aren’t at the event. Some may even get upset about the quality, wait times, etc. Be sure no one cuts in line because that could definitely cause people to get upset.

Best of luck in whatever you decide to do.

If you have, or have access to, a small tabletop platen press (think Sigwalt or Golding Official) you could print the posters on the Vandy at the studio and take the tabletop to do the imprinting — you can set a very large sheet in one of those presses, hanging out three sides. They are easier to transport, safer to use, and just as much fun for the “printers”.


Geoffrey: No worries on pooh-poohing ideas, I definitely came here for experience, advice, and contrasting opinions. I am not worried about the move as I personally am moving the press (with help) and we’ve got easy clear routes to the location a whole mile away. Its only 260lbs too. When it comes to pinch points, we won’t be having them run the press themselves. If anything the older ones will be allowed to touch the handle to crank the paper through.

I have 5 volunteers assigned to this tent, so lino cutting won’t be an issue. Sadly I don’t own any wood type or larger fonts as of yet, let alone ones I want being handled by children.

Bob: Sadly I own just the vandercook 1 and a c&p 10x15, which sure as heck ain’t moving.

Thanks for your thoughts!


Good luck, hope you all have fun, and remember that if the press is on a stand it is very top heavy. That needs to be carefully considered and the necessary precautions need to be taken when using it and moving it, to keep it from tipping, or from getting into any other situations which might cause injury, or damage the machine.

Absolutely. We just moved into the house and the press detaches from the wooden base it’s on, so the press becomes quite easy (albeit 260lbs) and stable to move. Thanks again for the advice and concerns! It always helps to have others chime in.

Why not try a multi-print page and cut each page into blocks—that way each pull is several prints to give out once cut

Last year we did two events. One was on the 4th of July and the other at The Shaker Village in Mass.
I was able to create a simple system for moving my C&P Pilot along with a base to bring the press to each of the two events.
In preparation for the events I printed specific 3 color keepsakes on a 8 x 12 C&P and had “guests” imprint them at the event.
We would have each participant sign the card and then print it on the pilot. As you will see from the pix some kids needed a little help from Mom and Dad. We then hung the prints on a clothes line and asked the folks to pick them up in 20 minutes or so. (We provide envelopes as the rubber based ink was still a little wet.)
My only regret is that we didn’t charge $1 or $2 dollars each, as we thought people would have the courtesy to at least buy a greeting card, or more) at $3 a piece. Apparently not. We were very gracious and accommodated mis-feeds and multiple child families.
A decent number of adults tried their hand at printing as well. We hope we made some letterpress friends.

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I did live demos while selling christmas cards at a street market. I took a Kelsey 5 x 8 to the market with the words “Merry Christmas” already set in the chase. When kids walked by, I offered to let them print a card. I hand inked the type already locked into a chase, placed the chase into the chase base, and then let the child pull down the impression handle - once complete, I gave the card to the child, warning the parent about still wet oil based ink. All the while, my wife tried to sell cards to the parents.

Alone, I would not have wanted to do more. Since you have help, you could come with pre-printed posters and then use a table top to add a few words to the poster. Also, you could have a few word choices so that you could demonstrate how to lock type into a chase.

I realize that you have a new press that you want to show off, but it really isn’t such a good idea. Too hard to move, too hard to set up, too many opportunities for something to go wrong, and too much liability (the sponsor absolutely needs to check with its ins carrier to make sure there is liability coverage that will not subrogate back against you). Anything that takes more than a minute or two to demonstrate will not hold the interest of kids.