Where I Write
Jessica Spring & Chandler O’Leary
April 5, 2017 | Category: About Sasquatch | Good Reads
For this series, our authors take us behind the scenes to show us what their work spaces look like. Here are Chandler O’Leary and Jessica Spring, the authors and artists behind Dead Feminists.
As a letterpress printer and professor used to very long days of standing, sitting down for extended writing and research sessions is a challenge. Typically I’ll sit at the long work table in the shop surrounded by printing presses, type, and paper that are all far more inviting than my glowing screen. Some essentials help: a landscape format note pad, liquid gel ink pen, and plenty of coffee. I try to take breaks to walk, snack, and recharge.
Our garage serves as the print shop, renovated from an 1890s structure that was no longer warm or dry. Not much is left of the original building and my new space is filled with light filtering through lots of windows, a pebbled-glass garage door, and wonderful efficient heat emanating from the concrete floor. Despite a modern feel to the shop’s renovation, the contents harken to the turn of the last century. Printing presses range in size from tabletop models that might have been used in Victorian parlors for calling cards and motor-driven platen presses that open and shut like a clamshell to 1960s era proofing presses that still get hand-cranked but can roll out big posters. There are also plenty of specialized machines that do just one job, but do it really well, like perforating gummed paper for stamps or rounding corners on large stacks of paper. There are also many cabinets of metal and wood type, each case divided into small sections to separate the sorts (or letters) ready to be composed for printing. Other cabinets hold a large variety of printer’s blocks—the last century’s answer to clip art or Google image search—sorted into categories like “little people” or “trees and birds.”
Other critical tools include a variety of inks and additives, a glass-covered table to mix them on, and a variety of ink knives and rollers. There are literally tons of paper too, some of my favorites found as leftovers in print shops that just aren’t made anymore. Challenges like glow-in-the-dark ink and faded flocked paper combined with just the right type and ornaments keep me entertained. The shop is also filled with inspiration including the work of friends around the globe that are also printers. A tight-knit community, we do share images on Instagram but also relish regular print swaps to show off new type we’ve acquired, or printing tricks and pun-filled wordplay. There is always more work to do in the shop from organizing and distributing used type to noodling around the next printing project—the thought of sitting to write isn’t nearly as fun.
I’m primarily an illustrator, so adding “writer” to my list of self-descriptors still feels a bit strange to me. Nearly everything I do—writing, illustrating, lettering, designing, researching—is done in my small studio, located in a 1936 cantilevered addition to our house that was once a sunroom. Its main feature is a huge picture window, the sill lined with cups full of paintbrushes, that lets in good north light and makes the room feel spacious despite its tiny size. Along the east wall is a set of French doors that open out onto a balcony that’s all my own. Below is the back yard, and beyond is a sliver of a view of Commencement Bay. The space is basically a self-portrait: fairly well-organized and functional, yet chock-a-block with books, tools, historic ephemera, and travel mementos. The color scheme is nearly eye-frying to offset our gray Northwest climate, with sky-blue walls that show off the vintage citrus crate labels that run along the crown molding. Nowhere in the room, however, is there any of my own artwork, unless it’s there being worked on. I have weird hang-ups about putting my own art up on the walls, and everything I make ends up whisked away to bookshelves, storage units, and flat files in other rooms of the house. Personal complexes aside, it keeps the studio clean and my messy tendencies at bay.
I work at a hand-hewn Doug-fir table that stretches most of the length of the room. An iMac sits in the corner, on the far-left end of that big table, along which I find myself rolling back and forth throughout the day, swapping disciplines as the mood strikes or necessity dictates. An hour spent working on a watercolor will suddenly inspire a torrent of words, and I’ll switch to the computer to get it all down. Or a day of struggling with an essay will send me in search of pencil and notebook, where sometimes roughing out my thoughts visually helps me make better sense of things. A vivid-orange vintage, comfy chair in the corner gives me a slightly different vantage point when I need it, and in the summer I can haul a folding table and chair out onto the balcony for some fresh air.
Still, despite my love of holing up in my microcosm of a studio, sometimes I just need to get out of there. I’m a big believer in an old Hebrew phrase a friend once taught me: “Change your place, change your luck.” At times all I need is a trip upstairs, where the view of the water is better, to shake loose a stubborn idea. Or a walk in the woods at Point Defiance Park might do the trick. Other times I need to hit the road and leave the studio far behind. I do a lot of traveling, usually by car and often alone—my travel sketchbooks are as big a source of inspiration for me as anything else. After all these years, I still don’t have a laptop, preferring instead to trust pen and paper when I work elsewhere. Even on a road trip I toggle between disciplines, scribbling written notes all over my drawings and doodling all over my manuscripts. And when I return home, brain and notebooks full of ideas, the studio is waiting for me, that big work table a clean (or sometimes messy) slate.