SO, THERE. Since 2010 Alison Lang has been printing the little sayings and characters from her head onto cards, journals, and fabric to share with the world. She uses a collection of modern and antique tools– including a giant letterpress– to print, bind, trim, and fold it all herself. She is inspired by problems that need solving, materials that need to be reclaimed, typography, nostalgia, and a dry sense of humor. You can find her work online at www.andsothere.com, at her studio in Downtown Issaquah, and at the annual Historic Shell Holiday Shop pop-up in Issaquah each winter.
Most of my work starts as a little idea in my head that turns into a sketch, then a design, and then is printed on my big old California Reliable Letterpress. I do all the folding, trimming, and binding of the cards and journals in my Issaquah studio because I love to work with my hands, and I believe that process is a big part of art-making. It also gives me the chance to make sure that the environmental impact of my work remains low, and I can reuse or rework materials– like turning paper scraps into handmade paper for more cards. I often try to repurpose vintage materials in unique ways, using those materials as inspiration for new things. No matter what medium I’m working in, the themes come through- I love typography, nostalgia, and a good dose of humor.
Happily made in issaquah
by Alison Lang. There are a lot of ways to use a graphic design degree, and after a few computer-driven jobs I decided that I really wanted to use my own two hands to make neat things. In 2009 I began printing with a vintage tabletop letterpress, and have since expanded my studio to include a large letterpress from the 1880’s and all the other tools I need to make paper, cards, journals, and more.
Where does the art come from?
Every design starts as a little idea in my head, I like to play with words, nostalgia, and problem-solving. I spend some time on the graphite sketch that will be the basis of the design. After a lot of drawing and erasing I use a combination of inking, digital inking, painting, and redrawing to get a design that matches up with what’s in my brain.
Small Batch and Handmade
Almost every step of production is done in my Issaquah studio. I print, fold, trim, bind, package and even make paper as needed for the line. I make pieces in small batches so that I have to control to ensure that they are just right, keep their character, and don’t create any needless waste. There can be some variation, which keeps each piece special.
Letterpress + more
Most pieces are printed on an antique California Reliable letterpress in my studio. I use polymer plates to print some designs on amazing, thick, cotton stock, and turn the trimmed scraps into handmade paper for even more cards. Every once in a while a design lends itself to a larger range of colors, so there are some digitally printed pieces in the line.
Earth friendly + thoughtful
It’s much easier to be friendly to the environment in a small shop, and it’s something I keep in mind every step of the way. Cards and journals come without plastic sleeves or other extraneous packaging. I source recycled, recyclable, durable, and reclaimed materials. I turn scraps from production into handmade paper. Since I work in small batches, I can incorporate reclaimed materials from other sources that would otherwise be waste. So, There strives to make designs that use materials on-hand, and keep extra bits out of the landfill. It just requires a little bit of creativity!
More about The Process(es)
I am all about process. I’ve never been very happy sending a design off for someone else to complete; I want to have a hand in every step. This means that almost everything is made in house– some pulped, pressed, printed, folded, trimmed, etched, and stitched. Here’s what I mean…
It Starts with a Pencil
My designs start with a piece of paper, pencil, and lots of erasing. Once we have a sketch that’s close to what I want, I move to inking and scanning, or digitally inking with a stylus and tablet. There’s a lot of back and forth to get the exact look we want, sometimes even more pencil and eraser. Once we have a digital version of our drawing worked out, we will either move straight to printing, or have it made into polymer plates for the letterpress. Some designs have painted elements added in, texture, or pattern that’s all combined to make the final product. If you’d like to watch some lettering, check out the blog post here.
Environmental consciousness is at the heart of my business. I believe that small businesses have the natural instinct to be frugal with supplies and product, resulting in less waste and more earth-friendly practices.
In printing and production, lots of little pieces of paper scraps are generated, and typically those little pieces would go straight into the trash. I decided that just wouldn’t do, and began turning the scraps into new, soft, sheets of card stock. I break down the paper scraps into pulp, then use a screen, deckle, and book press to make flat sheets that are then air-dried. Handmade paper takes a letterpress print beautifully, and then it’s folded and trimmed into cards.
My favorite way of putting ink to paper is with the antique California Reliable platen press I’ve managed to make friends with. (It’s hard to claim ownership of anything that was born before your great-grandparents.) I typically print with polymer plates made from my illustrations. The foot powered press rolls one hand-mixed color of ink across a plate, then closes on the paper, leaving a beautiful (lightly debossed) design. Every color is set-up and printed separately, making each print session an exercise in good planning.
Although they take a bit more work, letterpress prints have a quality that can’t be captured in any other process. The colors are mixed before printing, which means they are “solid” instead of made up of dots of basic ink colors. The light impression that is made in the paper makes you want to brush your fingers across it. Best of all, a letterpress can print on stocks that a regular printer would never try: thick chipboard, handmade paper, and even fabric.
I love playing with new materials, especially ones that mean a second life for something that might have been headed to the trash.
Some designs just aren’t right for the letterpress, and that’s ok. I also love digital printers- ink and toner alike. Smaller run projects and designs with lots of colors are much easier to work with modern technology.
Binding + Folding + Packaging
Jotters and journals are also bound in-house (because I know just how I want it done!) That means that I get really used to saddle stapling, spiral binding, and stitching our books together. This also gives me a level of quality control that ensures I’m not wasting materials, and the ability to do small custom runs by request. I also fold, trim, round, and wrap almost all the products I make.
Re-using + Reclaiming Materials
Some products begin with an instinct to reuse the special and abundant materials around me. Although this can result in very different type of product, it’s a great way to apply my experience, art, and supplies in a new way– stretching my creative muscles and my footprint. I get to develop new skills (like sewing card catalog cards together or freehand etching on glass) and express myself in a new way.
A little History
Alison Lang (the hands behind So, There.) has a mixed background in retail, art, and design. She graduated from the University of Texas in 2004 with a BFA in Design. The program’s multidisciplinary approach encouraged students to see different forms of design as just parts of the big picture that makes life better. She especially embraced product and packaging design, along with graphic design and art.
It was in Austin that Alison got to try her hand at letterpress printing for the first time; printing with wood type from the Rob Roy Kelly collection and polymer plates on a massive Vandercook. She was enamored with the history and tactile nature of the process– the limitations and the possibilities. After relocating to the Pacific Northwest, she began printing with a table-top Craftsman Imperial platen press before graduating to a much larger California Reliable press.
In 2010 she began developing the So,There line of letterpress greeting cards, journals, and jotters, before opening a brick+mortar shop in Issaquah’s Old Town. So There: Clever Handmade Gifts & More featured the work of more than 45 local artists and craftspeople, curated to appeal to customers with a sense of whimsy (and humor) and an appreciation of quality handmade goods. Along with useful products by other creators, Alison stretched her line to appeal to the local audience. She began to focus on typography, reused materials, and nostalgia to flush out both her own line of goods, and the selection of the shop.
After 2 years at the shop, she had a clearer vision of what she could offer her customers, and how to balance creating and shop-keeping–which resulted in the difficult decision to close her Front Street Shop. Running a retail shop was a valuable inspiration for her work, and so she holds annual pop-up shops (Historic Shell Holiday Shop) inspired by her first brick+mortar, and looks for other ways to connect to potential customers face-to-face, and help represent other talented makers.
Alison splits her time between building the So, There line, freelance graphic design and production, and curating gift shops.
She has a working studio in Downtown Issaquah and home studio just outside of Issaquah in a weird little house– where she lives with her husband, and three cat/roommates. When she’s not “working” she can be found in her kitchen garden, fostering cats, building things, or oil painting.