Peep Show: Jen Farrell - Design Bureau

Jen Farrell of Star-Shaped Press

Jen Farrell of Star-Shaped Press

Jen Farrell of Star-Shaped Press

Peep Show: Jen Farrell

Monday, August 1st, 2011

This week's Peep Show comes to you with great enthusiasm, as we get to sit down with the fantastic Jen Farrell from Starshaped Press.  As a fellow letterpress printer, it was my pleasure to get to sit down with her and her energetic daughter to talk about typefaces, Bollywood, and rollerskates. In a world of wedding invitations and super-impressed type, Farrell "keeps it real" by focusing all of her talent on the more traditional forms. No plate-making here — every line of type is 100-percent hand-set! You go, girl!

How is using traditional methods of letterpress better than the familiar plate-making processes that most shops tend to lean towards?

I wouldn't necessarily say that working with traditional letterpress materials is better than modern methods, but it's more appealing to me because I find it to be a more challenging way to exercise creativity with the designs that we do. The parameters are much stricter, so when I'm able to break through some of the traditional limitations, the outcome is deeply satisfying. These types of challenges don't necessarily exist when setting type digitally, so I feel I've become a better problem solver and designer by working with antique metal and wood type.

Tell me a little about what Starshaped Press is?

Starshaped is a design and letterpress studio in Chicago, specializing in working exclusively with antique type and materials to design and print a number of types of projects from business cards and social stationery to unusual one-offs and posters. The studio began in 1999 and has been going strong since.

How many families of type would you say you have?

That's a bit challenging, as we haven't done an accurate count lately. There are definitely families that we collect to round out the choices we have now for our projects,  but we love the wacky loners that we occasionally come across, especially the 19th Century typefaces. If I had to guestimate, I'd say we have over 600 fonts of wood and metal type.

If we were to walk in on you unannounced at your home, what would you most likely be doing?

Sadly, cleaning or designing, as much of the design takes place at home, so that we can get right to the nitty gritty of typesetting in the studio. And embarrassingly, probably watching any given Masterpiece drama while doing either of these things.

You are a collector of early wood type families and have quite the impressive arsenal of type...if you could "date" one of your typefaces, which one would it be and why?

One of our popular metal faces is called "Easter," and it dates to 1889, which I luckily stumbled across in a book. We also have a few wood typefaces that were originally patented in the 1860s, though whether or not ours were cut at that particular moment is unknown. I can't help but feel a bit awed when thinking that these ones may have printed ephemera related to the Civil War.

What two items do you wish you could bring back from your childhood?

My early prototypes for making paper from the reeds in our yard, and my rollerskates with pink wheels, both of which would probably help in the studio.

What is the most played track in your iTunes music library?

There isn't one or two, per se, but the schmaltzier the better...pop songs from the '20s and '30s, up to Abba and Frankie Valli. If I want to look cool, I'll pull out the early Factory Records collection.

Other than type, what else do you collect?

I love Bollywood films (and not the cool '70s variety...the extra dorky, over-the-top, early '90s variety), and had a pretty good collection of them. I also used to collect tiny sewing notions when I sewed all the time, but had to cut back. Home and studio can only house so many bits and pieces from the 19th Century.

If you wanna learn more about this amazing, magical place, check out Farrell's website here. And if you want to take a peek inside and submerse yourself in drawers and drawers of type, paper, ink, and wonder, Jen holds summer open houses where you can come visit, learn, and get inspired.

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