Smile Politely

John Bonadies and his letterpress

John Bonadies runs his own graphic design business in Champaign, Ill. and I stumbled upon his wickedly amazing talent through a friend who forwarded me his Kickstarter project: a virtual letterpress for the iPad. There are so many Kickstarter projects out there, it is almost overwhelming. But, when people have an exciting concept and they have already completed a huge majority of the legwork — how can one not support such a project?

On April 21, the project was fully funded and now Champaign-Urbana will get to reap in the many benefits of John’s success, such as having access to three full-functioning letterpress machines, along with many catalogs of wood type that John has purchased or collected from all over the world.

Yes, we all know that the letterpress is a dying art form. Certainly, the idea of streaming a live concert over the internet is not a bad one, and recently for fans of a band like say, LCD Soundsystem, that access provided a lot of their fans worldwide a type of access that we couldn’t previously attain. But there is no question that the live experience is still important and relevant. And John is making that happen. In the same vein, I do not think that replacing the letterpress with a digital application makes the original form less dynamic or less important. It’s the letterpress that kicked off this whole printed word thing we call writing, and without it, Smile Politely wouldn’t be around. So there’s that.

One thousand, six hundred and one people believe in John’s project (there are definitely more individuals out there who didn’t have a chance to donate) and you should, too. Smile Politely proudly approves of John Bonadies.

Consumed by: eBay/craigslist/

Age: 48

Hometown: South Bend, Indiana

Occupation: Principal and Creative Director, Bonadies Creative Inc.

What is your favorite font? Dido

How long have you been working on this particular project? I came up with the idea in April of 2010.

What was the one greatest pieces of advice you were given when working through this application? From my collaborator, Jeff Adams: “Avoid the use of dialog boxes.”

What made you stay in Urbana-Champaign after you finished your graphic design degree? I began working at Wolfram Research while I was a graduate student. I stayed with the company for 11 years. It was the most exciting times of my life!

When did your passion for the press begin? Did you have previous experience using a letterpress? I’ve always had a high respect for commercial printing and the skill it requires, being a designer and working with good printers throughout my career. While an undergrad at Indiana University, we had access to their letterpress studio. Most of us didn’t take advantage of it. I used it for a few projects and started rummaging through the type cases and saw these large old wooden letters. They were so cool! They stuck in my mind. Unfortunately, I didn’t know the great asset I had under my nose. And when I came back to grad school the focus was on computers. As years went by, I began learning woodworking and lutherie. I studied hand techniques and began collecting vintage tools.

Moving to collecting wood type was more recent, but pretty natural since it involves all of my personal and professional interests. I didn’t jump into being serious about letterpress until after I came up with the idea and we created a prototype. All of the research I did put me in contact with collectors and printers. Some had very nice equipment that was collecting dust, so I would make them offers. I knew I would need the type and a press or two to create the App — but I wanted it to be much more. I knew that these things were hard to come by and most people cannot house an 1,100 lb press in their home or studio. I also knew that, realistically, I would not be using them all the time and it would be a shame to have them sit idle, so I came up with the idea to create a co-op … I can go on…

What makes Champaign, Illinois a city in which living and being an artist and developer is feasible? The talent pool is very high for a small college town. There seems to be a high number of designers and developers in our little town. There is also a lot of entrepreneurial enthusiasm.

What makes this particular iPad application so unique? There is nothing like it available — at least for now. I was so sure someone else had already thought of it. Letterpress has gained a lot of popularity over the past decade.

Which font that you’ve purchased has the most emotional value for you? Everything I get has some emotional tie. Right now I’m waiting in anticipation for a set to come from France that is from the Art Nouveau period (see wood type in image in the drawer, below). It’s very stylized. I think I get most excited by the stuff I get from the UK and Europe, since it is usually stylized and has a longer history.

I see that you were thinking of doing a web version, but — do you think you’ll ever come out with a desktop application (or Android!) for all platform users? Yes. Actually, a desktop version (Mac) may come sooner than a web version at this point. But we are just focusing on the iPad version now.

Do you envision the Living Letterpress space being a training site for those interested in learning about the art of printmaking? Or a place where printmaking workshops can be taught by others? Or a space where people can visit to see the historical plates of type?
Yes! The Living Letter Press was an integral part of my overall business plan. I want the type and equipment to be used by those who want to learn and/or create with letterpress. We hope to have, workshops, studio access to artists and designers who want to incorporate letterpress into their work, as well as using it for creating additional content for the LetterMpress App.

What do you believe are the top three untapped resources of U-C? I think it’s more of an issue about letting people know what you are doing so they can offer their suggestions and connections. I’ve been able to get equipment and other resources just by putting the word out on what I was doing and if anyone may have the same interest — sending emails to acquaintances, meeting someone over a coffee.

The best place in Urbana-Champaign to find some history is…. Just walking around the downtowns of Champaign and Urbana is great. I think it’s pretty inspirational to see a unique piece of architecture that was built specifically for someone’s dream to house their shoe store. They weren’t just creating it for a business, they were creating a way of life. That’s what I hope to achieve.

John’s current workspace is housed inside of Dixon Graphics. LetterMpress users will be able to save the files and print their designs at home — but, they hope to have Dixon Graphics professionally print out the files, too. Collaboration within our community is a beautiful thing, eh? More of John Bonadies’ work can be found on his website.

Also, I would like to personally thank John for keeping his business in our town. He is creating such a remarkable opportunity for those of us out there that would love to have access to a letterpress. Now, off to buy an iPad…

Photos by me

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