Jessica C. White
grew up in Taiwan where she learned to love storybooks, art, and traditional crafts. She is now a studio artist in Asheville, NC, where she makes prints, book, and illustrations. Her work is inspired by children’s book images, folk tales, walks through the forest, and the daily news. She enjoys exploring themes that revolve around fear and courage, blind optimism, naïveté, and wonder.
Her work has been exhibited widely and can be seen in private and public collections including Yale University, Stanford University, Lingnan University Hong Kong, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her publications include Letterpress Now: A DIY Guide to New & Old Printing Methods, published by Lark Crafts, and Ladies of Letterpress: A Gallery of Prints with 80 Removable Posters, published by Princeton Architectural Press. She is the co-founder of Ladies of Letterpress, an international trade organization of women printers, and is a member of the Southern Highlands Craft Guild. Fancy degrees she holds include a BFA in sculpture from East Carolina University, an MA and MFA in Printmaking from the University of Iowa, a Graduate Certificate in Book Studies from the UIowa Center for the Book, half of a pilot’s license and half of a sailing certificate. Feel free to contact her about prints or books, but no requests please for flying or sailing the high seas.
Some frequently asked questions:
Where did you learn how to make prints and book art?
I studied sculpture, primarily metal work and iron casting, as an undergraduate student at East Carolina University where I also learned to repair books while working at the university’s Joyner Library. After graduating from ECU in 2000, I worked for three years as a conservator of works on paper at the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Massachusetts. During this time I set up a studio and took workshops where I learned the basics of book art and printmaking. From there, I moved to Iowa City where I earned an MA and MFA in Printmaking in 2008 and a certificate in Book Studies in 2009 at the University of Iowa.
How do you make these prints?
Each of my prints are hand pulled from letterpress printing presses. My studio is equipped with a Challenge 15MP (Sweet Pea), Chandler & Price 10x15 (Ernestine), a Showcard Press, and a Kelsey 5x8. I also have a small etching press for intaglio prints.
Each print starts from a drawing, which will then be made into a photopolymer plate or cut as a wood block or engraving (many prints actually include elements of one, two, or all three of these). The text is printed from photopolymer plates or from handset metal type.
Here is a short video of me setting type for the "Elephant's Rope" print:
And here is a close up of the Challenge Press (Sweet Pea) in action, printing the text for Quimby's 15 Rules for Life:
Followed by the printing of the image here. Text and image blocks are often printed separately because they have different requirements for roller height, printing pressure, and amount of ink.
My digital prints are made from scans of the original limited edition prints. These are inkjet prints using high quality pigment ink and printed on archival paper.
Do you teach classes or workshops?
I am not currently teaching, but have taught book arts, letterpress, papermaking, and drawing at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, NC, and printmaking at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC. I continue to teach occasional workshops at Asheville Bookworks, (check here for my current class listings) along with other arts and crafts schools (check my Calendar or sign up for my mailing list for updates).
Where can I see your work in person?
In the Asheville area, you can see my prints at Blue Spiral 1 Gallery, artist books at Grovewood Gallery, and digital prints and ephemera at Horse + Hero, an indie crafts boutique in downtown Asheville.
To see more of my artist books, please visit Vamp & Tramp Booksellers (Birmingham, AL) or check out my work in these public collections:
- Brigham Young University
- Lafayette College
- Lingnan University, Hong Kong
- The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
- Scripps College
- Stanford University
- Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library
- University of California, Los Angeles
- University of California, Santa Barbara
- University of Iowa
- University of Wisconsin, Madison
- Yale University
You can also check my Calendar for any current exhibits or upcoming craft fairs where you can visit me in person!
Where are you located, and can I come visit your studio?
My studio is nestled in the beautiful Appalachian Mountains in Asheville, North Carolina. It's in the basement of my home, where I have a sunny ground-level view of my backyard, a woodsy area, and a small stream. I keep my binoculars nearby so I can spy on the woodchuck family, a well-fed hawk, and an occasional fox or black bear. I stay optimistic that the bunnies will return one day.
I don't keep open studio hours, but you're welcome to visit as long as you give me a heads-up and enough time to straighten up the house a bit.
What is letterpress printing?
Letterpress printing is a type of relief printing that uses type, or letters cast from metal or carved from wood, and presses made specifically for printing type. It originated in China with the development of movable type around 1040 AD, when entire pages of text carved out of one wooden block was replaced with carved characters that could be rearranged independently. Movable type was then further developed by the Koreans who created a system of casting the type in metal alloys and printing from them using oil based inks.
When Johannes Gutenberg introduced letterpress printing and movable type to the west in the 1450s, it made an enormous impact and changed the way western civilization regarded printed information and literacy. Though there was some early resistance to this new method of recreating textual information, it was soon embraced and Gutenberg’s methods of casting type and printing from them spread like wildfire across Europe. These methods remained essentially unchanged outside of minor improvements for the next 500 years.
Today, letterpress printing is no longer the primary method for all things printed: newspapers, books, packaging, tickets, etc. However, it has been embraced by artists, hobbyists, craftsmen, ad a sprinkling of commercial printers who refuse to let this extraordinary craft go. The processes involved in setting type, preparing and printing on a press, and finishing the printed sheets involve a tactile quality that courses through our fingers. The finished product also has a physical quality unlike any other form of printing. Combined, these unique characteristics of letterpress printing are bringing about its current revival, and it continues to grow and change as a living craft.
If you’re interested in learning more about letterpress printing, check out my book Letterpress Now: A DIY Guide to New & Old Printing Methods, or consider signing up for one of my workshops.
Can I hire you to print my wedding invitations?
I'm not taking any printing commissions at this time, sorry.
I have an idea for a book. Do you want to work on it with me?
Well, maybe. I stay pretty busy with my own book and print projects, but I'm always interested in new book projects. Contact me and we'll talk.
What is Heroes & Criminals Press, and what do you mean by that name?
Many of my books, prints, and ephemera are printed under one of two imprints: Heroes & Criminals Press or Little Phoenix Letterpress. H&C Press is usually reserved for artists books and related stuff, and it comes from my respect for people for do heroic deeds even if it includes criminal acts. I'm also interested in that fuzzy line between being a "good" person vs. a "bad" one, and that fun place in between where most of us live.
Little Phoenix Letterpress is my imprint for work inspired by Chinese culture, mostly cards and small prints at this time. I'm half Chinese, born in Taiwan and moved to the US when I was nine, and find myself looking for ways to reconnect with that part of myself. Little Phoenix is the English translation of my given Chinese name, Xiao Feng.
Who are the Ladies of Letterpress?
The Ladies of Letterpress is an international trade organization for letterpress printers and printing enthusiasts founded in 2007 by me and Kseniya Thomas. Our mission is to promote the art and craft of letterpress printing and to encourage the voice and vision of women printers. We strive to maintain the cultural legacy of fine press printing and to advance letterpress as a living, contemporary art form as well as a viable commercial printing method. Membership is open both men and women who print or have an interest in letterpress printing. Join or find out more at www.ladiesofletterpress.com.
Here are a few things said and articles that have been written about me and my work:
"There was both a somber honesty and an unsullied optimism that damn near brought me to tears."
"It's the good dream you want to remember."
"It's what you'd get if Beatrix Potter crashed into Edward Gorey."
"You works reflects a highly refined sense of absurdity."
Printeresting: Letterpress Now
Felt & Wire: Behind the Book: The Making of Letterpress Now
Poppytalk: Giveaway - Letterpress Now
CNN.com: Ripple Project for 9/11: 10 Years Later (the last image under "The Day")
Asheville Citizen-Times: The Artistic Type
Mountain Xpress: Read the Storyline at Blue Spiral 1
Verve Magazine: One for the Books
Panel Patter reviews: Art School Chronicles
Do you have any more questions that I haven't answered? Feel free to contact me!