Letterpress, giving, pinecones, and fractals (keep up) - Sudden Write Turn Freelance Writing

Letterpress, giving, pinecones, and fractals (keep up)

This week in Letterpress class, I finally printed a real project. It is a bookmark to commemorate a mission at my church, the Giving Tree. You might know the Shel Silverstein children’s book of the same name, about giving, pretty much until it hurts, out of love. The Giving Tree at church has collected hygiene items and coats for the homeless, school supplies and backpacks for local schoolchildren, food for the local food cupboard, and Christmas gifts for local families. There’s not much pain involved for the giver in these missions, unless you count my painstaking typesetting in the composing stick.

My impression

Vandercook loaded with Emerald Pine ink.

I coat Vandercook’s rollers in “Emerald Pine” ink and Mitch tells me to “go find some paper.” In this Letterpress Shop, there are literally mountains of paper of every stock and color imaginable – a ream here, a ream there, and on one wall are floor-to-ceiling shelves of open reams piled up in a way that reminds me of Ollivander’s Wand Shop in the Diagon Alley of Harry Potter’s universe. Here I find a small stack of a ribbed, mustard-yellow stock, already cut down to a half-sheet size. Perfect.

Mitch helps me to lock up my type on the press bed, blocking it in with “furniture” to fill in the space, much like the spacers used to snug up the type in the composing stick (as I described here two weeks ago). I sense a pattern of parts coming together to not just make a whole, but to make something entirely new: Type blocked in with spacers, all slid off onto the press bed, locked in place with furniture, electrifying green ink on Vandercook’s rollers, the perfect paper fed through the press. These parts do not merely assemble; these parts come together to each play a distinct role to print my bookmark.

Vandercook does it again.

Form for Function

A few days after producing my limited edition bookmark, I am walking through a park during lunch as a pine cone falls from a nearby tree and rolls toward me. It is the nice woody variety of pine cone that crafty-types would drown in glitter and potpourri. My contemplation during this walk is about my future – where I’m going, how I’m getting there, and whether I have the courage to do what it takes. I’ve been assembling pieces – reading books, studying websites and blogs, writing this blog, planning, dreaming – in hopes of creating a new whole.

The pine cone is perfectly formed for its purpose. Inside each woody “petal” rests a seed, and the possibility of more pine trees. As the cone dries, the petals open and scatter the seeds. The further the seed settles, the greater the chance it has of establishing and thriving.

Fractals are cool

A peaceful, easy feeling.

Look closely at a pine cone. There is a “whorl” to its form that is peaceful and comforting – and makes me think of fractals. A fractal is: any of various extremely irregular curves or shapes for which any suitably chosen part is similar in shape to a given larger or smaller part when magnified or reduced to the same size (Merriam-Webster).

Fractals are mathematics and, therefore, reside in a realm where I sit in awe, but cannot fully grasp. It represents a sense of being a part of something bigger than oneself, playing a role that contributes to something entirely new. Pieces fitting together in a pattern that when viewed from afar is perfect.

The Neat Package

Make your mark.

I am not now nor have I ever been smoking anything. Stepping back, I see the pattern. Setting the type, applying the ink, feeding the paper – deciding to change my life, branching out creatively, summoning the courage – the pine cone opening, the seeds floating into the world, a tree growing. Am I living in a fractal? Will my bookmark inspire someone to donate a pencil, a coat, or a meal? To a second someone who can then learn, stay warm, or eat? What does that compel the second someone to do?

A fractal is infinite, as is the chain of good that comes from giving or the future that grows from a multitude of seeds. First you must set the type. Then turn the crank on the press. What comes out is entirely new.


Reader Interactions


  1. What a good husband. Also, a super good post. Can I have a bookmark? I used to think I would want to try the letterpress thing, but it seems a lot harder than I thought!

    • Of course you can have a bookmark! I will drop one in the mail tomorrow. Letterpress is NOT that hard, it just requires patience and attention to detail. And I KNOW you have that. You could always have Mr. L build you a press out of pipe cleaner and bottle caps…all kidding aside, try it. Don’t let my fumbling scare you away. Thanks Grace.

  2. You kinda left out the part about how The Giving Tree was created by you and continues to be managed by you. Do you ever stop and think about all the seeds that have been planted as a result of your mission?!

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