Before the children, Melissa Livingston was a book and calendar designer. Once her youngest was in school, she started thinking about what she was going to do next with her professional expertise.
“I was a stay-at-home mom for many years, so my graphic design skills were pretty antiquated,” says the Oakton mom of five. “I tried letterpress printing and fell in love with it. I bought a small table press and printed my niece’s wedding invitations and Christmas cards on it. Livingston Letterpress was born in 2012.
This small starting printing press has since broken down, but its collection of presses has grown to include a large antique press named Oliver (referring to the O-shaped spoked wheel on the side); a Potter cylinder press (named Harry, of course) that works well for posters; a small press made in 1890 (named Mertie, after his grandmother, born the same year); and a punching machine nicknamed Ernest in a nod to its maker.
Mertie and Ernest are portable – small enough to take to stores like Botanologica in Falls Church, where Livingston sometimes holds bookbinding and typography workshops, teaching people how to make journals and valentines. She also participated in the store’s seasonal pop-up markets, selling cards and prints.
When not at Botanologica or other private typography events, Livingston holds workshops in her home studio or designs new cards and posters. She also continues to make wedding invitations, although that market has lost momentum during the pandemic.
“I’ve always loved letters and I really enjoy showing the simplicity and beauty of the shape of the letters,” says the artist, who uses thick cotton paper and mixes all his inks by hand. “I print with the old type of metal and wood, then sometimes I design something on the computer and have a polymer plate made and print with that. It might add a design element, or that just gives me access to any size or font I want.
Recent cards have been pressed with sentiments ranging from “Black Lives Matter” and “Hello from Virginia” to “It’s a good day to be happy!”
“I made a poster that was very popular that said ‘Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly, respect humanity,'” she says. “I like to do things that have heart, that have meaning.”
But, she adds, “I also do stupid things”.