Ashley Flinn enjoys the tactility and the tediousness of her art.
“Certain artists are drawn to things that have a lot of steps or have a lot of paraphernalia involved with them, and letterpress is this perfect Venn diagram meshing of lots of process and lots of these tools I have to use to make the object I want to make,” she said. “It’s very detail-oriented, and I love that.”
Flinn discovered the method as a student at Kansas State University. She took an art class on letterpress printing and was hooked. She has been working with letterpress for about seven years, and she formally started her company, Two Crow Press, about a year ago, making greeting cards, invitations and art prints. Flinn creates the designs on her computer and then has them made into plates to be put into the letterpress machine.
Letterpress printing uses essentially the same method Johannes Gutenberg did when he developed the moveable type press around 1450: an inked type plate is pressed down upon a piece of paper with a hand lever. The pressure makes an indention in the paper that gives letterpress products a certain look and texture that’s different from those made by other methods.
That type of press was a dominant form of printing until the 1960s, when offset printing replaced it in popularity.
“Artists tend to utilize old technologies in new ways,” she said. “There is just this unique texture with letterpressing, and you can print with metallic ink. You definitely can’t do that with an ink-jet printer.”
Flinn said she likes working with different kinds of paper as well. She said the feel of cotton fiber or bamboo paper is extremely different from the smooth, glossy feel of standard printer paper.
Flinn said she believes that about 500 artists practice letterpress printing in the United States, and she is the only one she knows of in Manhattan. She said she knows there are two in Lawrence and at least five in Kansas City.
Flinn earned a bachelor’s degree in fine art from the University of Kansas. She started her fine arts degree at K-State; she transferred to Lawrence to finish the last two years.
Before she left, she met and began dating her husband, Brandon Flinn. They continued their relationship long-distance, and they married in 2010 after she returned to Manhattan.
Flinn said she returned to Manhattan more out of convenience than for a desire to start a family and a career in the town where she has spent most of her life.
“It’s been a challenge to move back here and establish myself as an artist,” she said. “Thank goodness for the Internet; I don’t think I would be able to have my business without it.”
Flinn said it is easier to be an artist the farther east a person lives because there are more venues available. She said not only are there more galleries to show work in, but also more people willing to buy artists’ works.
Aside from her challenges, Flinn said she has been able to stock her work in a couple of places locally. She said Varney’s stocks her cards, and a friend she met at K-State has a shop in Lawrence that gives her space to display her art.
Looking forward, Flinn said she hopes to return to school to get a master’s degree and possibly a doctorate in fine arts, and eventually she would like to get a job as an assistant professor in art. She said she has always enjoyed teaching, and every year for the last seven years has been an assistant director in the Manhattan Experimental Theater Workgroup.
Flinn said she is looking into several graduate programs around the United States, but has her hopes on the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. She said it would be interesting to go there because that is where her parents came from, and it would bring her life full circle.
One thing she will miss when she leaves Manhattan is spring thunderstorms.
“Kansas has epic thunderstorms,” she said. “That’s something I’m definitely going to miss; they also have thunder-snows; that’s something you can’t experience anywhere else.”
In the meantime, Flinn has a part-time job as a computer lab assistant at Manhattan High School East Campus and gives tech support.
When she isn’t working, she is in her basement, printing hand-made cards on her 1950s press designing greeting cards, wedding invitations and pictures.