Meet the Kansas City Artist Modernizing a Centuries-Old Craft

What's behind the art you hang on your living room wall? If it's a Hammerpress print, then it's history, design, and solid craftsmanship.

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Hammerpress - Brady Vest

Photo: Chris Mullins

Brady Vest, founder of Kansas City-based Hammerpress, has his pulse on a letterpress renaissance. Even if you haven’t heard of letterpress, you’ve certainly benefitted from its invention. Until the middle of the last century, letterpress printers were responsible for creating books, pamphlets, and newspapers. To some, these movable type machines are considered junk in our digital age. But letterpress prints, cards, and posters are making a big comeback—as offbeat decor for your home. This vintage tool is leaving its mark on our walls and throughout our houses today.

Now, the letterpress isn’t your dad’s power tool. (For one, it’s probably too large for most home workshops.) But take a look at Hammerpress designs and you’ll find that the vintage machinery is far more versatile than you might think. We had to know more about what motivates Hammerpress makers so we caught up with Brady as he was in the midst of opening his new, expanded Kansas City storefront.

Hammerpress Kansas City

Photo: Hammerpress

The reason I started Hammerpress is…
I suppose my initial attraction to letterpress printing was the machinery and the objects involved in the process. The type, the cabinets, the old machinery. Also, I think the fact that it was sort of a hybrid of art and design seemed intriguing.

Once I got a little more involved, the commerce aspect of it intrigued me—as did the fact that you could mass produce artful products in a way you could not do in the fine art world. Plus, the process seemed to lend itself to collaboration.

Hammerpress print happiness will find you

Photo: Hammerpress.net

The thing I love most about working with letterpress is…
There’s always an excitement when you start working on a design, pulling all of the pieces out of the drawers. I go into a project with a fairly good vision of what it will look like—the ways the inks, patterns, type—will lay over each other, but it always changes. I suppose, in that way, the thing I love is also sometimes the thing I hate. The machinery sometimes dictates what happens more than you can. I love that, but it’s also a little scary.

Hammerpress - Lucinda Williams poster

Photo: Hammerpress.net

My main source of inspiration is…
I look at a lot of things that are outside of my experience. Lately, a lot of textiles—older and newer—a lot of vintage ephemera, photo collage, architecture and space design, children’s books from the past, etc. I try to not just look at things that are similar to what we do.

I’d describe the Hammerpress aesthetic as…
Hard to nail down. I feel like we are constantly trying to keep some continuity while also trying to push ourselves to do things we aren’t totally comfortable with. I think the main thing we always try to maintain in each design is a sense of handwork. Although we do work digitally a lot now, our goal is to always keep handwork involved and not allow it to get too clean or refined.

Hammerpress calendar

Photo: Hammerpress.net

The most challenging thing about this work is…
Trying to maintain consistency and keep it fresh. It’s always a challenge.

My favorite part of the design process is…
Seeing it go to press. Usually—not always, but usually—it’s like the clouds opening up and the sun shining through once you see the actual ink on paper.

Hammerpress - Stay Strong Badge

Photo: Hammerpress.net

I think the biggest mark of Hammerpress design is…
We tend to use a lot of large floods of color and try to work with the layering of colors and textures a lot. That seems to be what most people are attracted to in our work.

The story behind our name is…
I had a friend in college with whom I collaborated a lot. He would put the name “one ton press” on his work, with an anvil as a logo. When we started working together, I wanted something that would look and sound good on collaborations between us. The anvil and the hammer seemed to make sense. And I continued to use the hammer from there on out.

Hammerpress Kansas City store front

Photo: Hammerpress

The new Hammerpress shop is now open in the Crossroads Arts District of Kansas City, but no matter where you live, you can also find their letterpress designs at the click of a button right here.