September 10, 2009

living la vida letterpress
guest post: by brandon mise of blue barnhouse

{letterpress card by blue barnhouse}

First, a little about who your dealing with: My name is Brandon. Once upon a time I thought I wanted to be a writer, or a publisher, or a professor of creative writing. By some strange twist of fate I was thrown in the business of letterpress, which for me, was intended as an extra curricular outlet for expressing literature. But somehow, client work that I did not seek out kept falling in my lap, and by the time I completed my course work for my MFA, I was simply too busy being a press monkey to look for a real job.

{BBH owner, Brandon Mise, trouble shoots a troublesome photo polymer plate with studio manager, Sarah Roberts.}

I have been a letterpress printer for close to ten years now, and started my letterpress studio, Blue Barnhouse, in 2002. We have seen many changes, but it wasn't until 2007 that we found our true calling: dirty and intelligently perverse greeting cards. There are currently 4 people in my employ, plus the usual handful of miscreant apprentices that pass through our studio on a fairly regular basis. Last year, which was our second year of slinging greetings, we sold more than 50,000 letterpressed greeting cards to retail stores across the nation and abroad.

{No, I did not write this one. We can thank our resident depraved genius/caption writer, Tyler Dockery. To my surprise, this was our best selling card at the Renegade Craft Fair in Brooklyn, NYC, this summer}

So the greatest thing about this job; besides sleeping in late everyday; pounding PBR's at Beer 30; bumping music at extraordinary decibels; and hurling totally innocuous expletives, sexual innuendos, and other forms of taboo hilarity at each other as we slave away in the studio; is the trade show, where a manufacturer can truly live a life like that of a rock star: getting kicked out of bars, trashing hotel rooms, showing up late and hungover to the booth, cracking up the masses with our trashy humor, leaving the booth early to hit more bars. Our travels, so far, have taken us to Atlanta, Dallas, Toronto, Chicago, and most often New York. It's safe to say that we are veterans of the trade show, having exhibited more than a dozen times in the last 3 years.

What's truly great about going to the trade shows, besides, you know, um… making money, is schmoozing with the other rock stars, folks whom you look up to and respect, folks who make a respectable living at selling their handmade products, folks you can aspire to and learn from. The great thing about BBH is that not only do we make products, we sell products from folks we've met in our travels, and I carry everyone I mention here in my own store. So now goes a tribute to my all time trade show favorites, and believe me, I have seen everything worth a spit. Enjoy.

{One of my favorite posters from our friends across the border in Knoxville, TN, Yee-Haw Industries, These folks truly are as old school as it gets when it comes to making a living of selling letterpress products to retailers.}

{Nobody does retro chic better than my good friends at Hello Lucky. With 12 employees and a London office, they are also way up there on my list, in terms of letterpress success.}

{Spitfire Girl and BBH are BFFFFF X 39. Their kitschy gag gifts have always done fantastically well in the BBH retail store and are the perfect compliment to our own F'd up line of greetings. Check out more of her wares here.}

{This totally freaky print from our very good friends at Delphine is not among what you would normally see on display as their usual tradeshow fanfare. They, too, have figured out a very success formula for making a living off of letterpress, and we are constantly talking shop/sharing information.}

{One of my faves from 9SpotMonk's "Recession Line." 9SpotMonk is an eco-friendly letterpress studio run by the Sisters Leung in NJ. The only thing they want from me when I pay a visit their booth is letterpress GOSSIP.}

{This is from BBH alumnus Kyle Durrie, who's press, Power & Light, from Portland OR, made its debut at the National Stationery Show '09 in the BBH booth.}

{Truly, our best selling line in the retail section of the BBH studio, is Red Cap Cards. We cannot keep their cards from flying off the rack. I only wish they did more letterpress.}

{Our friends at Kamibashi, Asheville Folk who travel Japan and Thailand Asia in search of handmade crafts, import cute little buggers of all kinds, including their notoriously popular String Doll Gang: each string doll is wound with one single thread! I have a Stringdoll keychain, so does my 7yr old son. Everybody should.}

Brandon Mise is the owner/operator at Blue Barnhouse, a collective of miscreant writers and artists who document their daily travesties/adventures via letterpressed greetings in Asheville NC. You can check out further rants regarding just about anything BBH on the their blog & via their stoop on twitter. Brandon is currently curating a collection of contemporary letterpress for his Mark Batty Publisher book, Adventures in Letterpress.


  1. Good post, makes me want to be a letterpress rock star instead of just the show roadie!

  2. lol! love the "fuck im from california"

  3. I have an idea for a line of cards that I really want to do, but I'm afraid it would be using my powers for evil rather than good and I really shoot for good.

    I like so many, many people in the world have a less than stellar father. But he is a part of my life enough to buy the annual Father's Day card. I want to gag as I pick up each card, read about five words, "Dad you were always there..." before I put it back and try the next, "I couldn't have asked for a better..." and so on. I end up buying the one of the sunset over the mountain landscape with the simple words, "Happy Father's Day" printed inside.

    Here's what I really wish it would say... why am I giving away my ideas?!...

    "So, Dad, you weren't around much in the 80's being you were all coked out and all, but you really pulled it out there in the end. At least I know where to send this card. Happy Father's Day!"

    I have so many more ideas, too. And it doesn't stop with Dad's. I can rip on the mom's too, even though mine kicks ass!

    Oh and I'll finish this mini-blog comment with a question. Do you know if Blue Barnhouse cards are carried at Presence of Mind on Hawthorne in SE? Because I swear I've mailed out one of their cards to friends in the past and I'm pretty sure that's where I purchased them.

  4. My name is Erin -
    I love that idea for a card line. I totally think you're on to something. The snarky cards I sell do really well!

    Presents of Mind definitely stocks BBH and has for awhile. Isn't it a great shop? I love working with them!

  5. My name is Erin-

    Definitely a market for cards for "loved?" ones that aren't exactly fluffy and nice. We have a card with a Kleenex box on it that says "You Blew It" that we were giving out as samples at a show, this woman came by and said, "I'm about to dump my boyfriend. This'll be perfect!"

    Still want to do a card that says "Sorry my meth lab burned your house down," just gotta find the right image. I'm sure there's a gaggle of folks out there wishing they had that card at this very moment.

  6. I don't know what took me so long to check back for these comments to my mini-blog on your blog. :)

    Carina- I LOVE Presents of Mind and I miss it a lot. It was my go-to place for gifts and cards in my neighborhood. I still use the Petunia Picklebottom diaper bag I got from there. I think I love it even more because I drooled over it at POM for so long. Thanks for the encouragement. I'll keep mulling it over until I get the right images.

    BBH- Thanks for the encouragement from you, too! And yes, there is a large group of people in Montana and Idaho who could use the "Sorry my meth lab burned your house down" card. It's genius. I hope you find that image soon. Love your work!

  7. i think there's a little boutique on 2nd (here in belmont shore/long beach) that carries red cap cards!