Opening Day

Opening Day

Hello, friends.

If you didn’t read my post of a few days back, the time has come to move over to our new blog at We’ll be redundantly placing posts both here and there for the next few days, but very soon, this URL will take you to the landing page of the new website and not to the blog to which you have been accustomed for so long. And we don’t want this to cause you alarm, worry, dismay, or any such related emotions.

However you typically find this blog, whether RSS feeder or routine keystroke, it’s time to recalibrate to this new URL:

Now on to our regularly scheduled post.


Yesterday was the much-anticipated (by us, anyway) Grand Opening of our latest creative/business venture, Haywire Letterpress.

In attempting to reconstruct a narrative for your benefit, I realize that it was one of those blur days where everything moves a little too fast, where you have to choose between getting things done and remembering the details.

But let me back up for a second. Before we could officially open our doors to the public, there was the matter of providing them with snacks. And so, on Friday afternoon, I went to Trader Joe’s to fill up munchies.

A (http://robbiandmatthew NULL.jpg)nd to Chipotle, to fill up on napkins.

And then there was the matter of getting set up. The Haywire opening was downstairs, but upstairs, we put together a mini bookstore for showing off our Idiots’ and Bobbledy wares.

Friday saw a late night of dusting, arranging, and other associated industry.

Saturday saw a gorgeous morning perfect for the opening of doors that had been shut for so long.

It was the first time the barn had been open to the public in nearly four years. So we put out a sign to remind everyone that we were still there.

In case you are wondering, the jewelry in question is a collection of gorgeous, hand-made pendants, bracelets, and bookmarks hand-made by our dear friend Robin Rice out of vintage glass that has been tumbled in holy water from sites around the world. The aforementioned craze of the day kept me from taking a photo of her stuff, but I will remedy that oversight today.

In any case, the doors opened at 10:00.

A few minutes later, we had our first Haywire sale.

That it happened to be a stack of “Oh Shit!” cards made the moment all the more satisfying (and our prospects for long-term success feel that much more likely).

Lots of people came, in a steady stream, all day long. We thought we would have moments to catch our breath.

We were wrong.

There was lots of interest in the press itself. Which was not surprising. It is a gorgeous old living anachronism.

In addition to browsing the stuff we’ve already printed, visitors get the chance to operate the press themselves and print their own, limited edition Chestertown broadside.

While we gave tours, answered questions, and made change downstairs, the kids kept themselves busy with electronics and unconsciousness in the hayloft.

It was a very good opening day.

We could have gone promptly to sleep at the stroke of 5:00pm, but tired as we grownups were, the kids had other ideas. So we drove out to visit our friends for a bonfire in the woods. It would have been nice had I taken at least one photo to share with you.

Home again, we collapsed into the deepest type of sleep, from which I have only just recently rallied. We’d like to stay in bed all day, but this is not going to happen. The doors open again at 10:00am for more of the same.

So come join us, please. Some snacks remain, as does plenty of inventory (though I must warn you that the stockpile of “Oh Shit!” cards has been significantly diminished.)

Pressed into Service

Pressed into Service

If you have been paying a shred of attention, you’ll know that we are in the midst of a torrid fling with a 1,200lb Chandler and Price, en route to a brand new venture into letterpress. The new press is called Haywire, and its grand opening is tomorrow, October 25, from 10:00am-5:00 pm at the barn on South Queen Street.

You will notice that there are three people in the photograph below. In a stunning breach of ten years of working as a two-for-all, Robbi and I have recently added the wise and talented Jodi Bortz into the fold. She is the heart and soul of Haywire. We come up with the pictures and words, but she does the real work, the actual printing.

In the Studio (http://robbiandmatthew NULL.jpg)
Jodi’s dad was a printer, and until walking into the barn a few months ago, Jodi had no idea that she had inherited the family gift. But the woman is a natural printer, a virtuoso. As beautiful as this old press may be, she is a temperamental creature with many creaks and idiosyncrasies. But Jodi is the press whisperer, knowing just how to ink the disk, just how to register the plate, just how much padding to stack behind the tympan.

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Without Jodi, there would be no Haywire. Which means, there would be no Animals Uncensored cards.


And I will say, with some immodesty, that they make the world a better place.


If not a more colorful one.

DSC00232 (http://robbiandmatthew NULL.jpeg)

Haywire aims to say that which needs to be said but is so often left unspoken.


But lest you worry that Haywire is nothing but a potty-mouthed affair, know that we offer sweeter stuff as well. Such as our Baby is Disappointing card set.


And our “White Christmas” holiday card, which celebrates the letterpress-only allure of blind emboss.

DSC00254 (http://robbiandmatthew NULL.jpeg)

And our custom stationery sets. We will be launching with four concepts (the others involve golf, inkwells, and lunatic donkeys), but will be taking orders for bespoke designs.


There is also room in the Haywire oeuvre for Robbi’s brand of weirdly adorable (or is it adorably weird?) line art.

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DSC00311My favorite design is certainly this ass-kicking ninja. I’m pretty sure Robbi modeled him after me.


I’m talking about the donkey, of course.

How does all this make us feel? This picture speaks 10,000 words.

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So, please, please, please, if you are free, come see us this weekend. We’re so excited to finally share our stuff in the flesh. As lovely as letterpress looks in a photo, there’s nothing like running your finger across it and enjoying the tactile pleasure that can only be achieved from this ultimate labor of love.

And if you live in, say, California (just out of range, we’ll admit), know that the Haywire site will launch as soon as we can enter all the products and work out the bugs. Not much longer now, we promise.

For now, Jodi continues to print, Robbi continues to stay up all night tinkering, and I continue to marvel at these two remarkable women I’m lucky enough to get to work alongside every day. Occasionally, I throw them bits of language, which inevitably finds a deserving home.

Just look how my words get to spend their days.

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I ask you, has a writer ever been so lucky?

Come see us this weekend or next:

Oct 25-26; Nov 1-2

10:00am – 5:00pm all four days

100 South Queen Street
Chestertown, MD 21620

Bad Words Aplenty

Bad Words Aplenty

This arrived today. And, boy, are we excited.

If you are wondering, it’s a sheet of high-density polymer that we’ll use to print a series of letterpress greeting cards. Back in the day, all letterpress work had to be hand-set. Type had to be lined up in perfect rows of tiny lead characters, letter by letter. Illustrations had to be carved by hand in wood or forged in lead.

We have neither the time nor the patience nor the skill set for that sort of mastery. And so Robbi creates her designs in Adobe Illustrator, converts them to a PDF, and sends them off to Boxcar Letterpress. A few days later, we get a sheet of polymer, which we then cut into separate chunks, adhere to the printing plate, and use to create our stuff.

I wish I could show you some of the finished cards printed from the plate above, but I can’t because they are not yet finished, but I can show you some other stuff that we’ve been up to, including our Baby is Disappointing letterpress card set (http://store NULL.idiotsbooks NULL.asp?ProductCode=IB015-01-0018), which includes six illustrations from the book (http://store NULL.idiotsbooks NULL.asp?ProductCode=IB015-01).

Perhaps my favorite is the baby with the flaming baton.

Our partner Jodi is doing all the actual printing. In addition to being a savvy business woman and an excellent printer, Jodi is a flautist, and an accomplished one at that. She goes to all sorts of flute conventions where flute-loving people gather and engage in flute-related consumer frenzy. To sate their desire for flute-themed merchandise, Jodi teamed up with various famous people who have made famous observations about the flute to create a set of art prints.

Perhaps you did not know that the flute was an instrument of questionable moral standing? Are you willing to question Aristotle?

Perhaps you did not know that the flute is nothing but an elaborate metaphor for the body at work?

I am particularly excited about our set of Matthew Draws greeting cards, featuring four of my favorite portraits.

These will eventually be fore sale on the Haywire site, but for now, every Idiots’Books subscriber will receive one card with his or her copy of Matthew Draws Anthology (http://store NULL.idiotsbooks NULL.asp?ProductCode=IB000-43), which is due to go out in a couple of weeks. If you think your subscription might have lapsed, here’s the link (http://store NULL.idiotsbooks NULL.asp?Cat=3).

Yes, the Chandler & Price is getting something of a workout these days.

Jodi is busily printing, creating inventory for the Haywire store, which we hope will launch some time this fall.

We say “hope” because, like all things, the ideal is a moving target. This fall we’re also trying to launch a new umbrella website (, overhaul the Idiots’Books and Bobbledy Books stores, illustrate our book with LB Kids, write and illustrate two more Bobbledy Books and two more Idiots’Books, give two talks, and do a workshop/presentation at a local elementary school.

So we’ll see what’s doable. In the mean time, we’ll keep sharing work as it rolls off the press.

The Kutrimmer

The Kutrimmer

We’ve been making books for about 10 years now. And by “making,” I don’t just mean writing and illustrating, but physically producing by trimming, scoring, folding, stapling, glueing, etc.

We started by trimming with X-acto knives. Our first book was about 170 pages long, and we had to trim all four sides of each page, one at a time with a single blade. It was awful. Tedious. Mind-numbing.

Robbi did it.

Then we started Idiots’Books and knew we needed better tools, so we got a Carl rotary trimmer.

Pros: cheap, lightweight, easy to deal with.

Cons: only lets you cut a few pieces of paper at a time, requires constant replacement of trim guard, and is not 100 percent accurate/square, etc.

When we started doing a higher volume, we purchased a guillotine cutter (pay no attention to the lingerie model in the background).

Pros: cuts through many pages at once.

Cons: heavy and cumbersome to store and set up, damages top and bottom sheets of a stack of paper when clamped, almost impossible to get a 100% square cut, and is much more expensive than the Carl.

Now that we’re doing letterpress jobs, we have a couple of options:

We can either pay the company who sells us the paper to cut each job for us ahead of time or we can order large sheets of paper and cut them ourselves. The latter option is much cheaper, of course, but it’s also riskier. With letterpress, it’s absolutely critical that each piece in a series (say we’re printing 200 invitations, for example) be exactly the same size, the reason being that, because each color is printed separately, in order for all the different colors to line up for every single invitation, every single invitation must be exactly the same size to begin with.

So we needed a cutter that was extremely accurate and not likely to damage the paper. And, ideally, one that would cut more than a few sheets at a time.

We prowled the letterpress listserves (ok Robbi did all the prowling; I’m not much of a prowler) and found the Kutrimmer (http://www NULL.whitakerbrothers, which is, apparently, accurate, reliable, and affordable (a relative term, I realize).

We placed our order and, a few days later, a large box arrived. It was heavy. I was excited.

Jodi helped me unpack.

The Kutrimmer is too much for just one man to handle. (Maybe a larger, stronger, more ambitious man could handle it).

Jodi inserted a piece of paper. The real question was this: would the Kutrimmer cut an 8.5×11 sheet of paper exactly in half, creating two identical, 8.5″x5.5″ pieces of paper that lined up with one another exactly.

You may not think this is asking a lot, but with either of the other two trimmers the answer is either “no way,” or “not without a whole lot of dinkering.”

And so we made our first cut. Like butter, it was.

The resulting sheets? Exactly the same size. And EXACTLY SQUARE!

The verdict? I love the Kutrimmer. I love it very much.

Why we have been so long estranged, I cannot say. But that stretch of sadness ends now.

First Impressions

First Impressions

I am in Kansas City for a few days watching basketball with my dad. The day before I left, Robbi and I decided to take the press for a spin and see if we could get it to actually print.

We have the ultimate luxury of having a good friend who just happens to be a master printer. His name is Jim and he lives about 100 yards from the barn.

We asked Jim to swing by and show us a thing or two.

The first step was setting our printing plate into the “chase” which is an iron frame that snaps into the press. the plate holds the type in place and the chase holds the plate in place.

Jim used “furniture” (strips of wood the same height as the plate) to make the plate fit snugly in the chase.

Once everything was “packed out” (in other words, filled with furniture) Jim inserted the quoins, turned the key, and tightened everything in place.

Meanwhile, I was busy doing the really important work, which was wiping decades of crud off of the “disk,” which is the round metal piece that holds the ink throughout the printing process.

After he had set up our plate in the chase, Jim put a piece of typman paper onto the surface that would be holding the paper we would be printing on. Tympan paper, which is like a thick, smooth wax paper, provides a smooth, clean surface that protects the paper (and that can be slightly “built up” in certain places to create a deeper impression when the type hits the paper. These are the nuances of printing that will take a long time to learn.

Robbi, meanwhile, was busy cutting our polymer plate into smaller pieces.

Jim inserted the chase (with plate) into the press.

All of us admired the fruits of my vigorous wiping.

Jim applied several blobs of ink to the disk.

And Robbi reveled in a moment of pure “OMG, are we about to actually print something?” bliss.

We turned on the press to see what would happen. As the press moves, the rollers roll up over the disk, thus getting inked. Once every cycle through the rolling process, the disk turns a tiny bit, which, over time, causes the entire disk (and every bit of the rollers) to get covered in ink.

As shown.

Although the aim is for the rollers and the disk to be inky, the plate itself is NOT supposed to be inky. Not at all.

But, for whatever reason, the rollers were too close to the plate, which caused our plate to be entirely coated in ink.


The only thing that should be getting inked is the polymer, which we hadn’t even bothered to mount on the plate at this point. And good thing we didn’t, because it would have created a mess.

We consulted the internet, which suggested that it’s not uncommon for the “trucks” which are the metal wheels at either end of the rollers to get worn down over time, which causes the rollers to travel too close to the plate.
Solutions included getting new trucks or…as Robbi discovered by reading various printing intel online…using electrical tape to build up the trucks so that they, once again, hold the rollers far enough from the plate to avoid excessive inking.
Lacking electrical tape and sufficient hours that afternoon, we postponed the truck salvage mission for another day.
We licked our wounds and cleaned up the press. From what I can tell in the early going, about half of the work involved in printing is cleaning up the press over and over again.

I have it on good authority that Robbi and Jodi have since solved the worn-down truck problem and will soon be showing you photos of their first successful printing efforts.

But for today, I thought I’d chronicle the first failure.

There are likely to be many more to share in days to come.

Paper and Plates

Paper and Plates

Having gathered the various tools and equipment we need to start printing, we lacked only two important ingredients: paper and printing plates. Perhaps the two most important ingredients, one might argue.

We sat around lamenting our misfortune, but just the other day, UPS brought the missing pieces. 

Jodi did the honors, opening the large, flat package. 

As we suspected, it contained the plates for our very first job,

The plates are a thin sheet of plastic with raised ridges where type and Robbi’s illustrations are supposed to be. Instead of carving these out of wood, as we would have had to do in the old days, Robbi just sent a PDF to a guy at a place called Boxcar Press (http://www NULL.boxcarpress, and a few days later, our plates appeared.

Our first job is a set of wedding invitations and RSVP cards for our friends Lauren and Mike.

We’ve designed the invites as a four-color job, which means we’ll need four plates for each panel (black, red, green, and a blind emboss (which means the fourth plate won’t “print” at all, but will just make an impression on the paper). Lining up all these colors exactly right is going to be extremely tricky.

Which is probably a terrible idea for one’s first project, but there you go. Excitement overtook us. And we will get it right (in case Mike and Lauren happen to be reading this). 

But there was another box to open. I did the honors this time.

It was our paper.

And envelopes.


Now we have our press, our ink, our paper, our quoins, our quoin key, our furniture, our polymer plates, our tympan paper, our gauge pins, and our oily waste can.

I guess we have no more excuses. It’s time to start printing.