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In Print + on point: in the studio with Paper Jam's Arianna Orland

Real vacay’s gonna have to wait a season, but ‘till then our In the Studio series is providing some crucial escapist, summer sabbatical vibes. In this new installment, we step inside the cool, communal SF artspace where Arianna Orland cranks out incredible prints. Orland is a designer, business leader, branding genius, and the brains behind Paper Jam Press, the letterpress printing biz responsible for this straight-shooting, perpetually pertinent word art edition of ours. She’s an outspoken, endeavoring, versatile wonder woman. Just last year she took her creative practice a step further when she co-founded the In/Visible Project and its conference arm, In/Visible Talks.

During SF’s upcoming Design Week, In/Visible Talks will be participating in a panel discussion at the non-profit studio and gallery space Creativity Explored, coinciding with an extra special art opening (more deets on the panel and exhibition to drop soon). In the meantime, gather up your extra art supplies: In/Visible Talks is kicking off the 1st Annual Bay Area Creative Studios Art Materials Drive. Find them April 27th-29th at stARTup Art Fair, where they’ll be collecting art materials to donate to Creativity Explored’s incredible program. While you’re in the area, you won’t wanna miss In/Visible Talks co-founder Dava Guthmiller moderating a panel as part of stARTup’s art conversation offerings.

Can’t make it to SF to get in on Arianna’s art and design action? No need for fomo. We’ve got a solid serving below...

Studio Speak
Where's your studio?
I print at SF Center for the Book. It’s a beautiful collaborative collaborative studio and education facility in Potrero Hill in SF. I took my very first letterpress class there in 2009 and it’s been love ever since. Once you’ve satisfied the printing fundamentals you’re allowed to rent the presses by the hour. If you live in the Bay Area or are planning to come for a visit I highly recommend checking out their class roster.

What's your favorite tool in the studio?
That’s easy, my typecase. Ha, I say my typecase because I’ve been using it since 2009 but technically it belongs to the Center for the Book. It’s an uppercase bold gothic wood type primarily used for headlines back in the day.

The type is created using a pantograph which means each block is traced by hand using this device which causes slight variation in form from one to the next. If you look close enough, no two letters look the same. The wood is slightly porous too, so over time the type has taken on nicks and scratches as well as stains from the different colors of ink.

Another secret I’ll let you in on about this particular typecase is there are no I’s or K’s. I bring my own with me every time I print. Can I Kick It // Yes You Can is a best seller of ours and we have to print the Can I Kick It poster in two passes. One pass that reads “Can I Kic It” and the second that reads “k”.

What do you wear when working in the studio?
Jeans, a black v-neck tee and my favorite self edge denim apron. I overprint the black ink and things can get a little messy.

What's on your in-studio playlist?
Since it’s a shared studio I usually listen to whatever the studio monitor has playing. If I want to get in the zone I’ll put on some old school hip hop.

What's the first thing you do when you arrive at your studio?
Set my stuff down, grab a galley tray, open the typecase and pull the letters I need.

It can take quite some time to set type, so printers are allowed to leave formes set up for days at a time. And since there’s a limited number of each letter in a case I have to make sure I’ve got enough letters available to print what I have planned.

What's your work style? Late nights? Intense creative bursts? Slow and steady wins the race?
I’m a planner and a bit of a workaholic. I love the feeling of being in the zone. I like context switching and get quite a bit of energy from having a lot on my plate and moving between things to find flow.

Your background is in design and brand development. What led you to launch your own printing biz?
As design outcomes became increasingly more digital I felt disconnected from the foundational skills required to design. I missed holding a ruler. I missed using a blade. I missed having tangible artifacts as part of my work. I shared these feelings with my boss at the time and she suggested I take a class. After my first letterpress class I was hooked. Originally, I was just giving the posters to friends. At the time I worked out of a shared office in DUMBO (68 Jay!) and one of the other people who rented a desk there was a design blogger, Swiss Miss. She blogged about them and the rest is history.

Paper Jam Press is just one of your many pursuits. How do you balance your time between all your various projects, and how do they interact?
My mom used to say if you do what you love it won’t feel like work.

I love systems thinking, problem solving and manifesting ideas and I’m insatiably curious. I think the diversity in my projects allows me to stretch across my skill set so I’m never bored. One moment I’m curating design conference programming, the next moment I’m defining a user journey and the next I’m locking up type on an 50 year old printing press.

All the projects inform each other on an energetic level. It’s kind of like surfing a set of waves. One comes in, you ride it for a while, you bail out and then onto the next one. Each wave is distinct and yet all contribute to a velocity or a flow, if that makes any sense.

What's your favorite way to procrastinate in the studio?
Taking pictures of the space, taking pictures of the process, and taking pictures of the prints in the space. Sometimes I feel like the posters are my children — I’m constantly taking pictures of them wherever we go.

Which artists' 20x200 editions do you most covet?
There are so many!

Dorothea Lange. I minored in photography in college. The camera was the first tool for creative expression I had some mastery over.

Walker Evans. Same as above.

Amos Kennedy, of course. He is a prolific letterpress printer who lives by his own rules and makes really energetic work.

Kelli Anderson. That mobile? How lovely is that mobile? Everything Kelli does I think wow, to live inside her brain if only for a few minutes.

Two of many steps in Arianna's letterpress process, plus the machine that makes it happen.
(Photos by Marie-France Latour) 

Whens, Hows & Whys

When did you first realize you wanted to become an artist and how did you get there?
I knew from a very early age but tried to repress it. I felt that being an artist was not an acceptable thing in the eyes of my family.

I remember having to choose a major in college and going to my grandmother because I’d finally mustered the courage to say I wanted to be a photographer. I told her and she said “Why would anyone want to do that?” I was crushed and promptly declared an American Studies major because humanities degrees are so much better?

I fought the idea for a long time after that because I thought I didn’t deserve to call myself one. I viewed the term artist as something that was earned. It was something that people with more talent than I had got to call themselves, and that somehow I was an imposter. There was a time when I couldn’t say the word out loud about my own self. And then I realized you can’t be an artist unless you first give yourself permission to become one.

Bottom line is that I am happiest when I am creating. Art is the way I am able to bring myself back into alignment.

How do you get over creative blocks?
I switch my context, whether it be turning my mental attention toward a different focus or literally getting up and walking away from the work. 

What do you like best about 20x200?
Your mission — art for everyone. Art shouldn't be something we have to trek off to a museum to experience. It should be on our walls and in our lives. It should be ubiquitous.

Why do you think it's important to have a dedicated work space for your art? What advice would you give to artists looking to build a creative work space?
I print at a communal studio so I think there are many ways to make space for an art making practice that doesn't involve a 2,500 sq. ft loft. A corner, a favorite bench and a notepad, the hours out of your day or week you’re willing to devote. To me it’s more about a dedicated practice and less about the dedicated work space.

I would say to other artists you and your creative practice are worth it. When we make space for things in our lives we are saying yes to them. We are saying I want you here.

(Photos by Marie-France Latour) 

(Photo by Marie-France Latour)

(Photo by Marie-France Latour)

(Photo by Marie-France Latour)

(Photo by Marie-France Latour)

(Photo by Marie-France Latour)

The 411 on Arianna Orland + Paper Jam Press
Arianna Orland is a San Francisco based creative director, strategist, and artist with over 20 years experience working on both coasts for startups and Fortune 500 companies leading brand, marketing and product work. In 2009 she founded Paper Jam Press, a letterpress poster business, as a means to get back to the roots of the practice of graphic design. Her work has been featured in several prestigious design publications such as Swiss Miss, Dwell Magazine, Design Milk and Brand New. In 2017, as a response to the results of the presidential election, Arianna co-founded Counter Type a free protest art collective that aims to help people use their words by speaking truth to power. Arianna also recently co-founded In/Visible Talks, a design conference about the creative process that will take place January of 2018 in San Francisco. Although Arianna spends much of her time in San Francisco, Brooklyn will always have a piece of her heart.

Professional Site: Paper Jam Press     Blog: What's Happening | Paper Jam Press     Instagram: @paperjampress