Locality refers to a specific place, neighbourhood or area. With this in mind, I am launching a new series based on this principal on Jet & Indigo. Join me as I showcase and support businesses, makers and creators who thrive on providing a unique service to their local community. To kick off this series, I travelled to Bath to get an insight into a letterpress printing company.
Meet the talented duo behind the Bath based Meticulous Ink, who are reviving the art of printing. Charlie Cummings and Athena Cauley-Yu offer a unique and bespoke service to those with an appreciation for beautiful paper products and the traditional art of printing.
With the aid of a Heidelberg printing press (circa 1960) that was sourced and transported from Germany, a variety of printing methods are on offer from letterpress to foiling to die-stamping. Not to mention that when the printing press was acquired, it required some work and maintenance before it could function. A task that Charlie, an illustrator and chief printer took on with precision and determination. Athena, a stationary designer and typesetter, also adds calligraphy to her repertoire of skills.
I had the chance to spend a few hours in their studio/retail shop to watch Athena and Charlie at work. With the printing press in action, it was hard not to be transfixed by the whirring and whizzing sounds emanating from the impressive metal fixture that stands centre stage in the studio, commanding your attention. Customers that enter the shop can't help but notice the Heidelberg and are mightily impressed by it's presence.
Listening to Athena and Charlie talk about their work with passion, it was hard not to be inspired by them and mesmerised by the rhythmic motion of the printing press.
// What lead you to start Meticulous Ink?
Charlie: We started Meticulous Ink in 2010, with the sole intention of producing beautiful letterpress goods and bespoke stationery. We both had a great deal of inspiration at the time from presses and products that were coming from the US and Asia. Seeing products and stationery so beautiful and tactile encouraged us to want to create beautiful items ourselves.
// What were you doing before the inception of Meticulous Ink?
Charlie: I was working at a screen printing company in London Bridge, while designing and printing t-shirts in my spare time.
Athena: I worked at a fine stationers in Mayfair, designing bespoke stationery. I learnt most of my stationery typesetting skills on the job, while learning all about the different print methods, which I think gave me a different perspective, and more specific design skills aimed at printing. The combination of my stationery knowledge and Charlie's hands-on print experience seemed perfect, along with our joint desire to create something special of our own.
// Where did you learn the art of printing?
Charlie: I mainly did screen printing when I was in London, it was only until we actually bought the first press at Meticulous Ink that I started to learn letterpress. I met a wonderful man in Bath who came into our shop and offered to teach me about letterpress and typesetting with moveable type. The letterpress world here is incredibly tight-knit and friendly, and everybody wants to help. The way we wanted to print however, is a little different to how the majority of people in the UK at the time were printing. We wanted to get an impression with our letterpress printing, to add another dimension to the design - and this is not something you should do with moveable type. So we had to learn from presses in the US and through trial and error. It has been a testing process, learning something that is not really trained but has come from the development of an error, and learning from nothing but blogs and manuals. We’ve perfected this wonderful textured way of printing now, with great success and satisfaction.
// Where do you get your inspiration from?
Charlie: A lot of our inspiration came from presses in the US, such as Mama’s Sauce - their printing is incredible and I often see things that come from their press and it excites me every time. There are also a lot of presses in the UK doing great things with type and letterpress, such as Typoretum in Colchester. A lot of products that we came across from Rifle Paper when we first started were so beautiful and different, also a lot of stationery from Postalco and Invite L. But I think the true inspiration comes from experiences we have had. A trip to Norway early last year inspired last years Christmas card designs and I always find that inspiration from surroundings and experience is always the best kind - from museums to exhibitions, books to song lyrics - good ideas are never too far away.
// Have you always been interested in paper and printing?
Charlie: I first started out printing t-shirts, with slightly more surreal designs on - I sort of lost drive for this and then switched to paper goods. It was a development of interests and discovery I think, within stationery - seeing what other people were doing and wanting to add to that offering. To be able to see my designs within a product that people can use and enjoy, and too see the illustrations come to life within a traditional print process.
Athena: I am a bit of a hoarder, keeping lots of useful bits and pieces, paper being among my collection of useful items. Growing up I always made things, doodled, illustrated, and painted, and once at University, I was able to learn a variety of print methods, from silk screen printing to mono printing. It’s always been exciting, creating something from an idea, taking a blank sheet and putting yourself onto it.
// Bath is a beautiful town, are you both originally from here?
Athena: I am originally from North London, and Charlie and I met at University. Charlie was already familiar with Bath, so when we decided to start Meticulous Ink, Charlie knew that Bath would be a perfect place to do it.
Charlie: I’m originally from Dorset, and I was in London at the same time as Athena and I was ready to move back and starting a business was also on my mind. Athena had the idea of starting something, and I suggested Bath as a place to start it.
// What type of clients do you work for?
Athena: We produce most of our bespoke work for private clients. People that are interested in the tactile printing we do, as well as our style of design. We do a lot of work for wedding invitations, and have a lot of fun creating them too. My favourite clients are those with an open mind. I can have a lot of fun creating something completely new and out of the ordinary. For the business clients we work for, they always appreciate the bespoke nature of what we do. Being able to have a completely unique business card or set of stationery is a hugely desirable part of what we do.
// What has been the most interesting project you have worked on?
Athena: I think definitely one of the most interesting would have been creating a large wedding suite that was held in an origami folder. Working out the right size of paper, and best thickness - the real intricacies of getting the project perfect was a great challenge and very satisfying to accomplish. I’ve also recently created some very large patterned kraft paper, covered in floral illustrations. Getting the pattern to fit just right was a real achievement for me. In general, I relish a challenge, so any project that gives me something new to get to grips with will always be great to me.
// Where can we find your products stocked?
Charlie: Meticulous Ink goods are stocked in Fortnum & Mason, Liberty, Anthropologie (an exclusvie collaboration) as well as stores as far away as Toronto and Singapore. We love having our goods all over the globe, it’s such an accomplishment - as well as some of the beautiful independent boutiques that we stock around the UK. It’s so nice that people like our products, and to imagine them out there in the world.