- Associated Press - Saturday, January 30, 2016

ALEXANDRIA, La. (AP) - Rise and Shine Letterpress wouldn’t seem a likely candidate to earn the title “hidden gem” given owner Ryan Howell formerly worked for an advertising agency.

But a lot about the evolution of the Alexandria business located in a once-abandoned storefront on Lee Street is unlikely. The first being that Howell and his wife Leslie Graham gave up comfortable office jobs to rent out a studio space for their letterpress printing venture. The second is how they got into reviving the classic printing method in the first place.

Howell remembers when she showed it to him.

“I just touched it, and I could tell it was unique and something amazing,” he said.

And that was it. He wanted to find out how to make it for himself. A few Craigslist searches later, and the couple had their very own letterpress machine. After that came a lot of trial and error.

“There wasn’t really anyone to teach us how to do it because it’s kind of a dying art,” Howell said.

At the time, the couple lived in Philadelphia. Graham, a native of Alexandria, went to school at Philadelphia University to study graphic design. After, she started working for an internationally renowned design firm. Howell studied and then worked in the field of advertising. But an office job just wasn’t fulfilling in the way his new craft would become.

“I wanted to work with my hands and get dirty … to create something that didn’t have to be sold, but would sell itself,” Howell said.

So that’s what he’s doing today with Rise and Shine. You won’t ever see an advertisement for the work. And Howell noted, “we don’t even have a sign” identifying the shop. Kind of like letterpress printing itself, Howell’s philosophy is that the business is better experienced than talked about.

“It’s something you can discover, and then it’s something special,” Howell said. “If we were like, ‘Hey, everybody, come get some letterpress cards,’ it wouldn’t be as special.”

The printing method developed by Johannes Gutenberg today is known as letterpress, Howell explained. The German-made Heidelberg presses belonging to Rise and Shine date back to the mid-1900s and were purchased through Craigslist. One was salvaged from a former print shop in Abbeville, Louisiana.

The couple said that even those unfamiliar with the craft can see and feel qualities of letterpress prints. Those include color, precision and texture.

“It’s a very tactile experience,” Graham said.

Howell added that all goes back to the creation and what it’s like to work with a letterpress machine.

“It’s like having a connection to an earlier era when things were done more deliberately, when it was OK to take your time and not only OK, but encouraged,” Howell said.

“(Today), it’s all about efficiency,” he added. “But we (at Rise and Shine) are not trying to be efficient. We’re trying to be interesting.”

Other services of the business include foil stamping, die cutting and screen printing. The shop has been located at 2401 Lee Street for four years now. The building - and its affordability, character and space - became part of the reason the couple relocated to Graham’s hometown. They also are able to live there on the second floor.

“We’ve adapted to the letterpress lifestyle,” Howell joked. “It’s not like a job. It’s kind of an existence.”

Since moving to Alexandria, three employees have joined Rise and Shine. Like owners, Howell and Graham, who are in their early 30s, they’re young, too. It’s a testament to a renewed interest among some younger design students to want to do hands-on work, Howell said.

“In the past, (going into design) meant you would be drawing or cutting and pasting,” Howell said. “Today if you want to be a graphic designer, you’re gonna spend a lot of time behind your Mac. … So, there’s a disconnect.”

Because of that, Howell said he wouldn’t be surprised to see the niche market flourish for years to come.

“I see a bright future for letterpress,” he said.

___

Information from: Alexandria Daily Town Talk, https://www.thetowntalk.com

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