graphic design background

im just curious as to how many of you out there have a graphic design degree as to how many are self taught. I’d also love to see some of everyones work! Im new-ish haven’t started printing yet but am in the process of getting everything together!!!

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no graphic design degree for me… a gd class or two along the way to an architecture degree/sculpture minor. They kind of all overlap a bit, but I’m self-taught (if that includes reading textbooks on my own) with all the graphics software.
I’ve been thinking about going back to get a graphics degree or possibly a business degree… can’t decide which would help more.
I’m interested in the responses from others here as well.

I have 20 years of experience in graphic design. However, that didn’t help in learning how to print on my presses or set type or apply the right amount of ink, etc ….. and the list continues. But, I take the design knowledge I have and try different techniques setting type, carving images, overprinting, etc…

Casey McGarr
Inky Lips Letterpress


Devils tail press:

That would be very interesting as well. no degree here but I am able to draw. not fantastic but i sure can!

I always start with a pencil. I teach typography and design and the students don’t show anything on the computer in the early stages. However, it’s difficult for them since they are all computer based at an early age. I tell that you think with a pencil and on the computer all you’re doing is moving pixels around.

Three + years of mechanical drawing in high school and a couple of years of cartography in college are the extent of my graphics education. I’m pretty much self taught in printing but have observed a lot of printers and asked a lot of questions of them over the past 30 years.

I couldn’t draw a straight line without a straight-edge nor a circle without a compass. Pretty good with a computer mouse, though.

I don’t have a graphic design degree but rather an BFA in Printmaking with a Minor in Advertising Design. Back in the days when there were no computers except IBM mainframes and the Boole & Babbage Calculating Machine. Joking a little but when I started, everything was done with ruling pens, 00 brushes etc. Rapidographs came later.

You bet I can draw or I wouldn’t have gotten into the design business in the first place. But I don’t think you need to be a graphic designer to be a letterpress or any other kind of printer. It helps a lot. Bruce Rodgers wasn’t a Graphic Designer but he had a highly developed design sense. Remember that W. A. Dwiggin invented the term in 1922.

It is really a matter of enjoying the process and learning from experience as Arie said. Of course it helps if you have one or two great teachers along the way. Boy do I know what you mean when you say you asked a lot of questions.

Actually, most graphics degrees require at least 2-3 hand-drawing classes with the option to take many more than that. When I decided on an architecture school I made sure to go to one that stressed hand-drawing and model-making over the computer and 3-d methods. An accredited Architecture degree is a 5 year program and not until the last 2 years were you even allowed to present a computer generated drawing. I turned down a scholarship to a ‘better’ school because I felt that, if I wanted to be taken seriously in my chosen profession, I needed to learn the ‘old school’ way and the ‘new school’ way….. not that it helps in every situation, there will always be people who look down on the younger generation and deem them less knowledgeable or less skillful because the techniques and/or applications of such are different.
I’m sure Paul’s comment wasn’t intended that way, but it’s a huge pet peeve of mine. I’m young and I’m a woman in a professional field where I’m in charge of multi-million dollar projects and leading teams of older men who take one look at me, call me ‘girlie’ instead of using my name, and fully expect me not to know what I’m doing. I take great pleasure in proving them wrong.
My point is that even in the digital age there are many of us who know, respect and use traditional techniques everyday…. that even includes using a pencil.


i have had an interest in printing since i was 10, i got one of those presses where you set the rubber type, a superior i think, then when i was 13 my grandfather bought me a 3x5 kelsey, it came with 3 sets of type 2 square cases and a few other things to get you started. Back in 1961, the whole kelsey kit was around $50, that really got me started. My only schooling was vocational school where i took printing, never liked school so college was out. I learned letterpress printing by working full time and asking lots of questions, mostly to the old timers, over the years i bought all kinds of letterpress equipment, as much as my mom would let me put in her cellar. when mt linotype job was taken over by computers and i couldn’t find a job my mom said you have a cellar full of junk, why don’t you make it pay, so i started doing letterpress for other printers, like die cutting, numbering etc. that was the mid 1970’s, been full time ever since, learning as i went. I’m still learning to type, and my computer skills are not good, if it wern’t for my 11 year old i might not have ev er touched a computer, and would not have found Briar Press, now I try to return some of the things i learned from the old timers to the next generation of letterpress printers that are coming up. Dick G.

Wow. Some of these comments bring back some real flashes from the past!!!!! I took Mechanical Drawing/Drafting in high school. When I started in college, “Graphic Design” was called “Commercial Art” (boy, how’s that for dating myself?). I took a brief hiatus to participate in the Viet Nam war, and when I returned the term “Graphics Design” had replaced Commercial Art. I also liked to draw and paint so I graduated with a double-major of Graphic Design/Illustration.

I wholeheartedly agree that getting away from a computer and working in a more basic medium forces one to think. Not only that, but the limitations of letterpress and handsetting type also force one to be extremely creative because all you have are the materials at hand. Some of the most creative solutions were forced by being out of sorts or not getting a particular ‘originally planned’ font to fit a given space.

I find that it also makes for a design-as-you-go scenario and lots of decisions and changes are made “in the stick” as the composition comes together.

We can become “blind” to things that we are working on because our mind is often overriding our eyes. A useful “trick” from drawing lessons is to turn the proof or print upside down and study it from that perspective for balance, flow, etc. It might amaze you at what you see when you do that.

Also, proofread carefully to see you left any words out.



I studied both a 2 year Adv. Diploma and a 3 year degree in graphic design, and worked 10 years professionally before getting into letterpress. Now I also lecture on graphic design at a private college. We always stress to the students although you dont have to be a good drawer or illustrator to be a designer, you do need to use your pen and paper and develop the ideas and concepts by hand. A computer program is just a tool - it cannot design for you.

I actually began printing before I attended college, but my undergrad BFA is in Design, with an emphasis on graphic design.


I have a BA in Fine Arts Ed. and 10 of the 30 years of my career were spent designing and hand drawing structural plans for commercial architects. I believe both have helped me move into letterpress design. And, when all else fails, I just ask for assistance from my wife, who is a professional artist with a superior sense of design and color. In my opinion the real gift is to not only have graphic art/drawing skills, but, have excellent mechanical apptitude. I cannot imagine doing what I’m doing with out both.

Devils Tail Press,

None taken from your comments Paul. You are correct in the assumption that the computer usually does take the place of hand skills in some cases. I was lucking enough to have a professor in school teach us to think and use pencils to make those ideas come to life on paper. However, this all done prior to the computer. Most student use the computer for thinking instead of pencil on paper. The computer just makes for a lot of bad design done faster. Its just a production tool. I have tried to make this point to my student repeatedly some listen while others do not.

Nice thread reading everyones comments.

Inky Lips Letterpress

My printing started around 12 years old, but my formal education included book and advertising design (Journalism degree) when we had to “comp” type for headings in pencil and do copycasting to determine space required for body copy.

I’ve always been more engaged with the technology end of things (M.S. in Printing Technology), but enjoy playing around with design.

I met three printers/artists at an exhibition in 1968, they demonstrated printing on an Adana and a proofpress. I spent an entire afternoon hanging around. The oldest of the three invited me to their workshop, and with my parents permission, I went there and from that day on I helped them out on my free afternoons or after school hours. I learned a lot from them, including printing slices of red cabbage, cut to type height!

I saved up my pocketmoney and bought a 5x3 Adana and two cases of type and started printing. I got formal training in a technical school, typesetting, printing, binding and blockmaking (yes, with the acids etc.) before going to artschool, doing graphic design.

After artschool, I worked for three years as a production controller of one of largest publishing groups of magazines in the Netherlands, before becoming a graphic designer. In the early 1980s, I moved to London and worked there in publishing, before moving to Paris in the late 1980s, where I returned last year after a spell of 4 years in Scotland. I still set type and print in letterpress, only small print runs, but it gives me more satisfaction than working on a Macintosh.

Nowadays, I work with publishers, who have print-runs of 3000-9000 copies and I like spending days overseeing the jobs.

I’ve got three different degrees… and none of them are related to Graphic Design.

I got my start in printing while I was a kid, living among Hippies. We did silk-screen posters for the Free Store, rock concerts, Get Back to the Earth, and PEACE NOW FREEDOM NOW, and Drop-Out, Turn-On Tune- In! ….. all that sort of thing. I actually saw one of my posters on the Antique Road Show not too long ago, appraised at quite a hefty price. Too bad I used the backs of the left-overs as make-ready!

My only exposure to the academic world of “School-Learned Printing” was at a prestigious Art / Printmaking institute in New Mexico for a few years….. where I got tossed out for openly challenging their “Litho Stones are the only REAL printmaking method” snobbery.

I only picked up letterpess as an adjunct to silk screening…. mainly for political flyers, signs and the like… at a small shop in the 1970’s. Almost everything I know about letterpress comes from a fellow named Sheppard who ran the shop….. or from later experimentation in my own shop.

I got a bfa in Graphic Design. When we heard that my school had a couple of Vandercooks being neglected in an old run-down building a few of us students started volunteering to clean it up and get it going full swing again. Now VCU has a full blown letterpress shop and is about to double the amount of available students learning the dark art.

My design professors would complain that I wasn’t using my computer enough, as I would letterpress almost any assignment that I could.

I was fortunate to learn the basics of letterpress printing itself from a master at an art-school public program, and there’s good support on the internet for printing problems one might encounter, but with regard to design I am completely self-taught. Therefore I’m always afraid that I’ve broken some design rule or that my work looks lame when viewed by trained designers. I’ve studied books such as The Elements of Typographic Style, Finer Points in the Spacing and Arrangement of Type, and Paragraphs on Printing, but I’d be terrified to submit anything to, say, for a critique.

My approach has been to (1) fiddle with things until they look right, and (2) perform ad-hoc research for specific projects. Regarding the latter for example, I was working on a title page so I studied DeVinne’s A Treatise on Title-Pages. I learned my lesson about using certain typefaces when I exposed my inexperience with Hammer’s American Uncial , so when I bought some fonts of Civilité I swore I wouldn’t even open the packages until I had done my homework. I don’t know whether the use of specific faces, especially historic ones, is covered in design school, but still, I’m working from a baseline of complete ignorance.

I would love to go back for a BFA since I feel it would tie together all the bits and pieces of information I’ve managed to acquire. For example, I learned about layer trapping from a comment on Flickr, but if I could take some actual courses on using Illustrator and InDesign I wouldn’t have so many moments of “Oh, so that’s what that function is all about.” But my family responsibilities keep me close to home so I must continue to hobble along. Luckily I’m just a hobby printer!


I’m a Newbie to this field, but I have an AS and BFA in Graphic Design. And now I am going backwards and wanting to work more with my hands, type, ink and my press- Bob. :) Though the computer is still a good tool to use.

I have a 4 year bachelor in Graphic Design and worked in private and government studios for 6 years before beginning letterpress printing.

I’ve also worked as an illustrator and oil painter, both of which are my first loves. It saddens me that GD students these days can’t draw (I’m generalising here). It’s such a useful skill to have. And I like being able to illustrate a job for a client. They find it so much more unique and really seem to treasure it.

I have a BSD in Graphic Design from ASU in 2005, and was very lucky to have Rob Roy Kelly as my visual comm. teacher during the last year he taught. The letterpress studio class was a big deal while I was going to school. I was never able to fit it in my schedule though.
I learned letterpress printing through Mike O’Connor at the Paper Studio in Tempe, he’s a great teacher.
Now, I am learning as I go. I love that I can design and print what I design. It’s great! Just wish the press had a command+z button! :)

And Devils Tail Press, yes I can use a pencil! I sketch before I design anyway.

Double major in comp sci and business here. No graphic design training at the university level. Out of college, one of my first jobs was with HP’s laserjet printer division, doing postscript engineering. We were pretty continuously trained in layout, whitespace, typography, design, etc… I drifted out of engineering and into administration over the years, and changed employers.

I always retained the document layout and proper design techniques I learned back then and finally came sort of full circle when I ended up in letterpress. I have to confess my primary love is metal type. Computers and printers have not yet matched the beauty or clarity of pages printed with metal type. As for my drawing skills, they seem to delight my 5 year old niece, but not many others… :)

Thus jumps in at Devils Tail Press (4th response down).

I have a BFA (1970) & MFA (1971) in advertising design. 4 drawing classes. 4 painting classes. All required. Also graphic design, typography, illustration …

Honestly, I don’t think doing ideas with pencils helps you get better ideas. I think the advantage is that it slows you down from “jumping” to the “finish” before you have an idea worth taking to a finish. When you are on the computer the “finish” is only a Command-P away and that just seems far too tempting to the contemporary student. Doing comps by whatever method to get you to a powerful “idea” or a “concept” is what was important to me when I was teaching graphic and advertising design.

By an “idea” I mean something that takes the project away from the viewer’s “eyes” and puts it into their “gut.”

I used to do a project (I retired in 2006) with assignments where I required 100 small comps to try to find a couple of ideas that were worth continuing with. I didn’t care how you came up with them, but you needed a hundred of them. You could draw them with markers or whatever. Using markers or pencils helped you record a hundred different paths easier than the computer. And you had to keep the ideas in the order you got them.

This accomplished two things. The students would quit worrying about getting to the “finish” and just worried about getting the 100 ideas. And over the 100 they got a better idea of what the project actually was. Not the typeface. Not the layout. Not the line measure. Not the photography. Just an idea to get into someone’s gut.

Once they had those hundred I would have the students pass them around and get other students to mark the ones they thought were the best IDEAS. Not layouts. Not images. IDEAS.

Just a check mark in the corner that says, “I think this is an interesting idea.” I would also do it for every student.

Three would be chosen by the student and would be taken to the next step. Slowly some ideas dropped away and others kept becoming more and more refined.

Then I would get the student to go back and see where those ideas were in the sequence of 1 to 100. Was it your first idea? Sometimes, but then you had a reasonable feeling that it really might be a good one because the other 99 didn’t seem to be better. Most often it was way down through the list of ideas. #27 or 45 or 73. Down when you quit worrying about the project and were just trying to get ideas to fill the requirement for 100. Usually somewhere in there the “problem” got out of the way and a “solution to the problem” slipped in and took its place.

One of the greatest ads of all time was the Volkswagen “Think Small” ad from back in 1960. You could just as easily come up with that on a computer as with a pencil. The idea actually came from an engineer giving a talk who said “Think small.” He didn’t mean it conceptually in the same way it ended up being used in the ad, but it worked.

To put this in the context of graphic design, one of the best annual reports I’ve ever seen was one for an organization that worked with issues relating to cancer. The opening pages were blurred. BARELY readable. Slowly as you moved through the report the pages got sharper. Made a great point. You could just as easily be working on a computer to get it. You felt the idea of discovery as you paged through.

The question is how do you keep the student from wanting to “leap” to a final solution before they had an idea worth taking to the final.

Most of the time today, I would say that the problem with students using computers is the instructor, not the computer.

Ah, that was fun to write.

It is also worth mentioning that one of the things I love about letterpress is how you can work spontaneously toward a solution WITHOUT DOING A COMP. At Lead Graffiti we run what we refer to as “Creative letterpress” workshops. Just come and have fun. We usually have some kind of group project (we try to do these for groups of 6). The final result is then a collective piece where the sum is hopefully larger then the sum of the parts. We discourage them from doing a drawing. Just try to imagine it. The accidents will be much more interesting than what you are TRYING to do.

You can go to the bottom of this page and see a few samples from these workshops.

Lead Graffiti

Nice contribution. Well stated. Yes, from the gut.
Your students will benefit from your approach.
Our craft needs more teachers/mentors like you.
Thank you for being there.


Thanks. I did pretty well as a teacher. Enough that the Art Directors Club of New York awarded me the honor of Grandmaster, which in the design teaching world is a big deal.

As an aside, I love your letterpress work.


I have a BFA in graphic design. I been a graphic designer for 12 years and I’m so happy I have it. I do stationery and custom invitations. While it does not help you learn letterpress do when you do it’s nice to have an understanding of the trends out there. I love type and design. Also if you use plates you can design yourself some awesome plates. I like to draw and use logo-type designs so I have organic and geometric shapes. I want to bring that to letterpress. one day I would like to learn moveable type, but in weddings I need a lot more options. I’m still very new to letterpress, but I dream big :). I think design wise your work will be good.

I have a BFA in graphic design from the University of Florida. Much of my foundational work was in printmaking, though it was mostly intaglio and monoprint. I did get to fiddle with the one press we had and I regret not rearranging my schedule once I got accepted into the design program to take a letterpress class and learn to set type. Still, the vision of that beautiful machine stuck with me and I’ve been obsessed ever since. Eleven years after graduating and I’m a happy owner of two Pilots, anticipating a few more additions down the road as we get to know our machines and our business. :)