A Decade of Letterpress: Sarah Kulfan
November 24, 2020
Each year, in a project led by Sierra Nelson and Ann Teplick of Writers in the Schools, and the School of Visual Concepts, long-term patients from Seattle Children’s Hospital and a team of letterpress artists join forces to create an extraordinary collection of handprinted, limited-edition broadsides. These works of art—which you may have oohed and aahed over at the SAL info table at in-person events or seen at local libraries or galleries as they toured around Seattle—are always colorful, fantastical, and deeply felt.
To celebrate a decade of this letterpress project, we’ve asked artists behind the press to give us an inside look at the process of turning youth poetry into art in a series of retrospectives on some of their favorite pieces over the years. Below, Sarah Kulfan talks us through the process, focusing on “Beliefs,” a 2018 broadside created using a poem by Amanda Longee (then age 11).
How many years have you participated in the project?
This is my seventh year participating in this fantastic project. I first got involved in 2013 and have been involved every year since then with the exception of 2019. It was so great to be a part of the 10th year anniversary of this project.
Where did you find your inspiration?
“Beliefs” was written by Amanda Longee, who was 11 when she wrote the poem. The way in which Amanda talks about her beliefs transitions through the poem from belief, to disbelief, to a wish to believe, whether she is talking about the people and things that bring her comfort, moments of pain, or a desire to move beyond a physical challenge. I wanted the imagery to reflect these moments of transition and I also wanted it to impart a sense of optimism. I printed a split fountain gradient in the first pass to try and capture the transition of light that happens during sunrise. The perspective of looking through a forest and up towards the sky is uplifting and the promise of a new day offers a sense of renewal.
What’s the process like to turn a poem into a broadside?
Some poems are very rich in imagery and ideas jump out fairly quickly and others require more time to percolate and cultivate a concept. Once I have an idea for what I want to print, I often will set a personal challenge and will try a printing technique that is new for me. For “Beliefs,” I wanted to print a bleed, which is when the image extends from edge of the sheet of paper to the other without any standard margins. I usually start with a digital mockup which informs the composition of the type and how it interacts with the imagery. From there, I carved a single block of linoleum to get my four color layers which make up the sky and trees. I finished by printing two layers of black for the poem and colophon. Then it’s down to careful trimming to finish things up.
What’s your favorite part of the project as a whole?
I love getting to work with so many wonderful people who dedicate so much time and talent. Beginning with the poets who are courageous, inspiring, and creative–Ann and Sierra–who help the poets put their experiences to words; Jenny, who has given this project a home for 10 years and who orchestrates the many moving parts; Jules and Bonnie, our fearless leaders who guide us through the portfolio construction process. And our talented groups of printers, many of whom I’ve seen all seven years that I’ve been involved with in this project, who dive head first into the poems that they’ve been assigned and always turn up something magical at the end.
When you are not working on this project what do you do?
I work as a freelance graphic designer and when I’m not doing that, I like to split my time between getting outside and printing in my garage/studio. I run Gallo Pinto Press and most often print landscapes of places that I’ve visited in the outdoors, most often in WA.
Thank you, Sarah!