Leslie Evans is a printmaker and illustrator with a typography studio, Sea Dog Press, in Watertown, MA. Recently she found my 2020 post “Woodworking Printers of the World, Unite!” and sent me samples of a series of posters she created that year “to address my frustration with the Trump administration and encourage people to get out and vote.” She printed one poster a month and then reproduced them as postcards for use in election campaigns.
Labor Day is fast approaching and a crucial election is brewing. The 2022 midterm votes are key to preserving democracy, and activists are about to perform the final round of propaganda. So this is the last chance for printers to unite for the good of all. Use it or lose it. Remember that every impression makes a statement.
I asked Evans to tell us about the origins of his press and his contribution to the political conversation.
Leslie, tell me about your private press. When was it launched and why?
I’ve always loved drawing, a preoccupation/obsession that led me to Rhode Island School of Design for college. I majored in printmaking, although the medium I eventually preferred, relief printmaking, was not officially part of the curriculum at the time. I took a letterpress elective course where I was introduced to letterpress printing on the Vandercook proofing press, used primarily for letterpress proofing and collage. On my own initiative, I also printed woodcuts and film company posters on the press. After graduation, I had the pleasure of finding employment as a designer and printer of screen-printed posters advertising concerts, movies, and theater performances at the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College. It was a fantastic experience, and it also gave me the opportunity, after quitting my job, to study with Ray Nash in his Summer Book Arts studio on his farm in Vermont (the kind of class I wish I had follow at RISD). The month-long workshop combined book history lessons from Nash’s extensive library in the mornings, along with hands-on printing practice in the barn press room in the afternoons. It was an experience that made me decide to one day have my own typography studio.
How did you start and with which typefaces and presses?
I began my search for typography equipment in earnest after being laid off as an art director at a Boston design studio during the recession of the early 80’s. I was lucky enough to search for equipment when many typography shops were closing, so everything was affordable. My Vandercook was previously used for proofing at a Linotype store and $350 theft. (They cost over $10,000 today.) My primary press is a Vandercook 4 proof press. The largest poster I can print on the press is 13″ x 19″. I recently acquired a Poco 2 press so I could print larger 18″ x 25″ posters. However, it requires inking by hand. I wish I had a larger self-inking Vandercook, but I can’t fit one in my current space. I also have several small proofing presses, including an Adana quarto.
My house font is Bembo. I have an eclectic variety of metal and wood types, ornaments and cuts. I didn’t expect to expand my collection of wood species much, because wood species have become very expensive. But I recently was lucky enough to come across a collection of reasonably priced wooden typefaces that I can’t wait to incorporate into my posters. I had been frustrated in the past with not having a big enough press to make full use of the large wooden typefaces, but short and direct political messages are a great use for them.
Where does the name Sea Dog Press come from?
I finally found a name for the press when I got my first Labrador mix in 1991, Morgan Ddu, which is called ‘Black Morgan’ in Welsh. His nickname, Morgi, literally means “sea dog” in Welsh, but is actually the name of a fruit bat in Wales. I developed a Labrador alphabet based on his many poses.
When did you start making political messages?
My first political print was a sticker/poster for Obama’s 2008 campaign. The 2020 poster project was a cathartic and very enjoyable experience for me where I felt I was doing at least Something to influence change, no matter how small. As you say in your blog, having the press and the guy, you might as well make good use of it. I offer my prints, posters and cards on my Square shop site, Etsy shop and on the various fairs in which I participate. A portion of the proceeds from sales is donated to targeted political campaigns. To broaden the reach of the 2020 posters, I decided to have them reproduced as postcards. They sold quite well.
I received negative feedback on the Biden/Harris postcard from someone in Arkansas, who thought I had sent the card to him (because my press name was on the back). It was part of a 1,500 postcard campaign from a local Arkansas Democratic committee. He told me he had burned the card, and after a brief back and forth, I let him know that we could agree to disagree on the subject, and I never heard from again from him. When I print out-of-state posters, I usually forget my press name and city, because I guess Southerners, Texans, and Westerners don’t want to be lectured by a “liberal of the East Coast” (although I was born in Pittsburgh and raised in Michigan).
Aesthetically speaking, do you keep a personal style?
I don’t think I have a particular style. I like to work various typefaces into a nice, readable puzzle of shapes and images. So many typographic posters are just simple, straightforward capital letters, which can be effective, but I just like to play with type more. I appreciate when people understand the work of arranging and printing posters (usually other printers or graphic designers).
You have started the 2022 elections. Are you ready for 2024?
I made a poster for the upcoming midterm elections, Keep Congress Blueand I plan to print more in the coming weeks, mostly focusing on just getting people to vote, like what I tried to get across with my “don’t vote” posters previously.