By Taylor-Ann Smith
Explore Big Sky Staff Writer
BOZEMAN –Producing everything from retail thank-you cards to exquisite product tags, Birdwalk Press is Bozeman’s new boutique letterpress printing shop, specializing in customized printing for events.
At the heart of Birdwalk Press is Mina Talajoor Johnson, a plant-pathologist-turned-artist from Montana State University. She recently achieved her master’s in plant pathology but has always had a passion for the arts. After years of experimenting with printing techniques from linoleum blocks to screen printing, Mina discovered letterpress.
She instantly fell in love with the medium, she says, because of the reproducibility and tactile quality associated with embossing. Thanks to a chance meeting with Sumner Lokken, former owner of Bozeman’s Lokken Printing on Mendenhall Street, Mina acquired a 20th century Gordon Old Style treadle press. Following copious hours teaching herself this printing practice, Mina sought guidance from Lokken to perfect her craft.
Letterpress is an old-fashioned printing style that leaves physical impressions on paper products, creating tactile designs.
It was the regular form of printing text beginning with its invention by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-15th century, and remained in wide use for books and manuals until the second half of the 20th century. Offset paper printing was developed in 1904, and it largely supplanted the role of letterpress for printing books and newspapers. But letterpress has seen a revival of late in an artisanal form as the premiere printing process for high-end paper products.
Letterpress involves physically pressing an inked-image plate into soft paper. Traditionally made from etched magnesium or lead, these plates are today made using a light-sensitive photopolymer. The plate is inked on a large press that uses its weight – typically over 1,000 pounds – to compress the plate against the paper. Only through the precise calibration of the printer’s plates, bases, rollers, and paper, is it possible to produce a perfectly pressed image. This process is then repeated for each design or color while the presses are operated completely by hand.
The other half of Birdwalk Press is Mina’s husband Ian Johnson. With a master’s in film and photography from MSU, Ian’s eye for composition and affinity for technology pairs well with Mina’s traditional methods. Ian quickly became inspired by the art of letterpress and helps Mina with the prepping process: from mixing inks and oiling the presses, to preparing the plates.
While Ian and Mina hail from out of state – Ian from Shelburne, Vt. and Mina from Seattle, Wash. – both are touched by Bozeman’s community spirit.
“The local culture and tight community really inspires us,” Mina says. “We’re constantly exploring the city and surrounding areas, [and] being … in Bozeman gives our company a lot of character.”
Most of the Johnsons’ current clientele aren’t local but love the store’s “mom and pop” feel, according to Mina.
While the Johnsons recently lost the lease to their proposed shop space, they plan to keep their presses hot and running in their newly renovated garage. They’ve also delved into selling wholesale greeting cards and plan to remain a part of the Bozeman community.
Kelly Murphy, a recent client from San Diego, is getting married at Moonlight Basin in summer 2015 and sought Birdwalk Press for the event. She and her fiancé incorporated Montana into the wedding using a custom monogram inspired by elk antlers and sent invitations imprinted with mountain scenery.
Showcasing its boutique style, Birdwalk Press created a completely original concept for the bride’s save the dates by making them into lift tickets complete with wickets, those clumsy wire clips used to attach the pass to clothing.
Birdwalk Press can complete nearly any printing concept, but illustration is the business’ strong suit. And Mina continues to enjoy discovering the arts. She explains how science is directional and the freedom she has with Birdwalk Press allows her to push her talents.
“Not being restricted to just digital software makes me more fluid in my designs,” she says. “I can easily start a project and get lost in the process, only to be inspired for a new design, hence where the company name comes from.”
“Birdwalking” is an old English term for jumping from topic to topic in a conversation, Mina explains. She says she’s constantly skipping around ideas, topics, and designs that have developed her creative process and ultimately led to her success.
Visit birdwalkpress.com for more information.