A Little Piece of You: Letterpress Printer Elizabeth Weil Talks Shop with Use All Five
Elizabeth Weil is a partner at VC firm Andreessen Horowitz by day, letterpress printer and owner of Paperwheel by night. We talked to her about letterpress printing and the revitalization of analog communication.
To the outsider it appears like you are leading two very different lives – a stressful position as partner at a highly influential VC firm, and a fun, light-hearted position as a letterpress designer and maker. How do you balance these two positions?
Elizabeth Weil: I think working as a venture capitalist and a letterpress printer are actually what keep me balanced! I need both of these jobs to be good at either one. I crave flexing the two hemispheres of my brain—when I am focused purely on tech and business things for too long, my creative side starts begging for attention. I actually started Paperwheel ten years ago because of that craving.
The first thing that drew us to Paperwheel was watching your soothing video of the letterpress machine in action. What’s it like to work with the machine?
Elizabeth Weil: It is therapeutic! I absolutely love letterpress printing. No matter how stressful of a day I’ve had, being out in my studio working on the letterpress is a perfect outlet. Letterpress is largely a combination of being a machinist in addition to a creative artist. I love the tinkering that is required to successfully print on a 1923 antique press. Every day is a little different.
I have a file drawer filled with these notes from more than three decades. Handwriting is a little piece of a person that will never be gotten back once that person is gone.
How do you think society has coped with the disappearance of analog items like cards, albums, film photography, etc? How strong have resurgences like letterpress and vinyl been? What do people miss?
Elizabeth Weil: I am just as addicted to my iPhone as you likely are, and I appreciate the speed, power, and knowledge it allows me to have at my fingertips. But, I still find a handwritten card to be thoughtful, memorable, and treasured. There are some moments in life when a card is unbelievably better than an email. I have a file drawer filled with these notes from more than three decades. Handwriting is a little piece of a person that will never be gotten back once that person is gone. Letterpress is another analog form that could be lost—there are no “new” letterpress machines being made. The high-end letterpress industry is built on restored, antique letterpress machines from the last four centuries.
Why are brands interested in letterpress?
Elizabeth Weil: Many of Paperwheel’s clients are larger brands and startup companies. As we go about our tech-focused lives, I think many of us crave things crafted just for us with quality and attention to detail. Letterpress shows care and attention to detail. Many of our clients order 100% cotton letterpress cards with their logo imprinted on them. They tell us they use them to write their customers and employees handwritten notes. When I worked at Twitter in the early days, this was one the things I did each week. I had letterpressed hundreds of cards with the Twitter bird logo on them and hand-wrote each new employee a welcome card. These type of gestures really put a human touch into a company.
Running out on a dirt trail in some pretty place usually clears my head and turns on some of my creative juices.
Where do you look to for inspiration when designing cards?
Elizabeth Weil: Everywhere! But I must confess some of my best ideas come when I’m out on the trails. I’m an ultramarathon runner, and being out on a dirt trail in some pretty place usually clears my head and turns on some of my creative juices. In addition, many of my ideas come from day-to-day work. Working in the tech industry, I look for things that are nerdy, funny, and rarely put on a card… let alone a hand-crafted letterpress card.
What sentiments in letterpress messages have been the most popular? What do you think accounts for it?
Elizabeth Weil: Most of the letterpress designing we do is custom work for individuals–so we work with those individuals to help create just what they have in mind. But a few of the cards in our Paperwheel lines that have been flying off the shelves are our nerdy tech-inspired series like our iPhone card, and then our geeky food-pun line.
One of the rules that comes when I gift Paperwheel cards: “If you don’t use them, you don’t get more.”
Do you have any cards you’ve held on to for a long time? What is it about cards that makes you want to keep them?
Elizabeth Weil: I confess, I have a card habit. My husband humors me and in every new city we visit, we seek out the local stationery store. I love searching for niche designers, clever sayings, and memorable artwork. But, cards are made to be used! One of the rules that comes when I gift Paperwheel cards: “If you don’t use them, you don’t get more.”