Pushing the Press: Typecraft’s Dazzling Collection on Display

Written by in Collections, Color & Texture, Inspire

Paper, Paper Everywhere
and O! So Much to Touch!

700 Diverse Print Artifacts from the Typecraft Design Library

The Typecraft Design Library is not an encyclopedic collection, but it is dazzling. Fifteen years of print projects from more than 450 designers is something worth seeing – and touching. Pushing the Press is an exhibition that provides this rare opportunity. Appearing at Los Angeles’ A+D Museum, the entire 700 (and growing) piece collection is on display through February 29. Take the leap.

FYI: A Designerly Printer

Typecraft, based in Pasadena, California, is a famously designer-friendly printer (and experimenter). The Typecraft Design Library is the brainchild of Typecraft’s David Mayes.


Photo courtesy of Mario de Lopez.

I’ve never experienced such a diverse display of design, behind glass or otherwise. This celebration of designer-printer collaboration is a tactile trip, a magical mystery tour of fine printing. With the exception of half a dozen one-of-a-kind samples protected under a vitrine (on loan from USC), absolutely everything is literally at your fingertips. You can: feel the emboss, turn the pages, inspect the ingenious binding, tilt the cover to see the foil stamping catch the light. And while you are interacting, you are touching paper, in all its textural glory.


Curatorial excerpt: “The collection presented here is a celebration of the enduring power of print as a medium and a tribute to the talented and visionary ensemble of professionals who contribute their skills and dedication to the art of graphic communication and expression.” Photo courtesy of Danny Flores.

Client work abounds, much of it for artists and arts institutions. There are also announcements and invitations for AIGA initiatives, design school events, and other pro-bono programs.


Think about ink: Gail Swanlund often uses a split fountain. Her poster for an MFA exhibition at USC uses metallic blue blending into metallic gold. The over-print of bright yellow makes a fourth color: green.

Steve Child of the USC Roski School of Fine Arts Design Department curated the show, selecting the pieces to be displayed. About 180 pieces are arrayed on pedestals and ledges, and the remainder of the design library is fabulously filed by designer first name (from Aaron Horwitz to Yusuke Yokoyama), in clear plastic bags, complete with a sheet of basic production notes.


Clearly prolific: A cascade of plastic bags houses Gail Swanlund’s numerous pieces in the Typecraft Design Library, many of them utilizing split fountains.

Child comments, “Our organizing principle was to show the work by process or specialty technique: embossing, foil stamping, diecutting, split fountains, and so forth. We also included a Paper section and a Bindery section. It wasn’t our intention to judge the projects on their design merits, but rather to showcase what the designers and Typecraft have done to make these pieces special.”


Connecting the dots: Changing Identities poster designed by Kim Baer, David Handschuh, and Keith Knueven for AIGA Los Angeles (2004). Photo courtesy of Dale Walton.

Child’s Special Projects class at USC designed the exhibition, an extraordinary opportunity for his students. A temporary wall of quotes about design provides a contemplative counterpoint to the visual riches. My favorite is this gem from Jayme Odgers: “Often, the best graphic design is invisible. As a young ambitious graphic designer, I took my first award-winning annual report home to show my mother. She looked at it, then asked, What did you do? Did you write the words? No. Did you take the photos? No. Did you print it? No. Everything she asked was a No from me. She couldn’t see the design, the glue that orchestrated a zillion minute details, forms, colors, images, copy, into a synchronous whole” He concludes, “After putting one’s heart into the work, to have it poorly printed is numbingly depressing.”


Elegant minimalism: Catalog designed by Jayme Odgers for a Peter Lodato exhibition at the Frederick Weisman Museum at Pepperdine University (2000). That’s a single hit of opaque white surrounded by deep eggplant. Photo courtesy of Katie Forgey.

Child says, “David visited my Special Projects class almost every week; Amita Makdani, an interior designer, and Tibbie Dunbar [executive director of the A+D for more than a decade] came; and we invited several other people to come and review the class’ progress. It was very much a communal effort.” He adds, “We also had a field trip to Typecraft, so the students could see how pieces get produced, including the various processes.”


An epic envelope: Linda Cobb designed this handsome presentation envelope for a leave-behind catalog for Weiss Artists, printed on Neenah Classic Crest Smooth Digital Epic Black 100 lb Cover.

Linda Cobb offers an example of Typecraft’s delight in pushing the production envelope: “Instead of printing the black, they suggested using a black paper—which is matte and blacker than any print job can achieve—and printing white ink on the black. I was skeptical that they could print those colored stripes, but Typecraft laid down a few layers of white before printing the colors atop them. And is there any trace of the white layers beneath? Not a bit. Well played, Typecraft.”


Material affinities indeed: Catalog designed by Haven Lin-Kirk for an exhibition at the USC Fisher Museum. (Professor Lin-Kirk is vice dean of design at the USC Roski School of Fine Arts.) Photo courtesy of Andy Reed.

Child easily puts the exhibition in a broader—and higher—context. He observes, “Design is a practical affair. Most of these pieces are for clients and so their value may not be recognized, because they are commercial products. But these pieces are also cultural artifacts. They tell a lot about the continuum of humanity.”


It’s a wrap: Brochure for Otis Graduate Graphic Design program with poster-wrap cover, designed by Juliette Bellocq. Photo courtesy of Andy Reed.

Child’s curatorial statement concludes: “Beyond their engaging design, the power of these pieces lies in their materiality—physical objects with mass, texture and color, designed to be held and treasured. Our hope is that you come away from this collection inspired to create, enjoy and experiment with the endless possibilities of pushing the press.” I’d say that’s a certainty for students and educators as well as for designers—and for those of us who consume rather than create, it’s more than a treat. It’s a treasure.

Three-fer Thursday!
Baer, Mayes, Adams at the A+D!

AIGA Los Angeles is hosting a companion event  Thursday, January 28, at the A+D Museum—a conversation with David Mayes of Typecraft (long-time chapter board member and an AIGA Fellow) and designers Kim Baer and Sean Adams , both long-time design educators. The highly-illustrated, highly-informative, and highly-lively conversation will explore 20+ artifacts in the Typecraft Design Library. Also on display, Sean Adams’ amazing “front silver back lift” haircut, a miracle of arts & craft handicraft, 60s Pyrex bowl templates, and old math principles. A must see and touch!—Matthew Porter

  1. 01

    LA is lucky to have AIGA Fellow David Mayes and Typecraft. With contagious passion and meticulous criteria they have catalogued much of the great work of the LA design community created in recent decades. This archive is a treasure for all of us to enjoy. Thank you Dave!

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    Sean Adams said:

    The exhibition is a great collection of design history in LA post 1990. I’ve already stolen several ideas.I’ve been working with Kim Baer and David Mayes for tonight’s event. I’ve heard great stories and found beautiful work inthe exhibition.

  3. 01
    David Mayes said:

    Wow! Alyson, this is so great, thank you kindly.

  4. 01
    Steve Child said:

    The AIGA event with Sean Adams, David Mayes and Kim Baer was wonderful! It added dimension to the understanding and appreciation of the work in the Pushing the Press exhibit at A+D museum.