Storytelling through Type
Patrick Vincent interviewed Nashville-Middle Tennessee designer, printer, musician Heather Moulder on 9/17/22 4 pm CST. The conversation explores Heather’s current practice and evolution as a designer, letterpress printer—discussing how art and music weave throughout.
PV: How do you describe yourself as a person, as an artist, as a maker?
HM: I’m a designer and a printer. I’m also a piano player. Those are my three great passions in life; I split my time between all of those things.
PV: Your website and Instagram are Lordymercy, where does that come from?
HM: I bought lordymercy.com in college because I was going to a million conferences and was trying to show every big wig my portfolio, and I just thought nobody remembers anybody’s name in this scenario, so no one is going to remember an undergrad college student’s name. I created Lordymercy as an entity so people could remember what my projects were. [Lordy Mercy] is kind of a Southernism that says a little bit of what I’m about, and my aesthetic.
PV: In a previous interview, I read that your interest in letterpress has to do with folk stories and folk music—do you see your letterpress and music interests overlap?
HM: I think so. I feel that at the heart of everything I do there’s an element of storytelling. It’s like country music– a lot of times, at the root of it is a storytelling element. Inherently in letterpress, even if you’re objectively making a poster that’s marking a moment or event, that becomes a part of a greater story. I feel the same way about a lot of folk songs, they mark a certain place and time.
Even if you aren’t looking at letterpress as an art—if you’re looking at it as a craft or a way to make your flyers—you’re creating ephemera and this ephemera is representing something interesting that’s going on.
PV: I’ve been to the She’s a Rebel a few times, and you’re a key part of the band for that project. You also went to a teen rock camp when you were younger…
HM: Yes! The Southern Girls Rock & Roll camp was a very formative part of my life, as a printer and as a musician. In Murfreesboro, right outside my hometown, my friend Allen Haynes runs The Music Stop, and I was painting a mural for him; he paid my tuition to rock camp for painting this mural for him. I went the last year I was eligible to go as a camper. As well as learning about your instrument and writing songs, you also get to take a workshop on the very practical side of rock n’ roll—you could do song writing, band photography, music history, or screenprinting. It was the first time that I saw that you could be a gig poster artist for a living. The people teaching it were the folks from Grand Palace, which was located in Murfreesboro at the time. I couldn’t believe that I could make posters when I grew up, and rock camp was also the first time I played songs that I wrote for people. This was just as I was becoming an adult. I continued to volunteer with them, and I taught silkscreen for several years.
I think another great thing about rock camp is that some of the best musicians and talents are volunteering to teach there. You get this built-in community. Whether you’re a camper or you’re volunteering, you’re meeting such great people who are very passionate about the same things that you are. That community was really important for me—meeting people who were likeminded and also figuring out what I love to do.
That was where I met the girls that started She’s a Rebel: Tiffany Minton, Jessi Zazu, Nikki Kvarnes, Laura Taylor. I met them all through the rock camp circuit. People that I’ve met in that community, we call each other for gigs or refer each other…it’s a magical resource.
PV: I do want to briefly talk about Hatch [Show Print] because I assume your immersion into letterpress is through Hatch and your visual identity today seems pretty letterpress oriented. At the camp you talked about screen print, but you’ve been doing letterpress for 10+ years right?
HM: Oh yeah.
PV: What would you say is the difference between Lordymercy and Hatch?
HM: A lot of it is in the aesthetic. Hatch has an incredible 143 years of this archive that has iconic imagery and very specific set of type they’ve been using all of those years. I almost didn’t intern at Hatch because I thought it was too elevated, it was this museum—you can’t touch these things… I grew up seeing all these posters, so when I design at Hatch I’m trying to continue and honor that well-known aesthetic. When I’m illustrating for Hatch, I try to illustrate within that realm. Versus at Lordymercy I don’t have that archive of type, so if I’m going to have to carve something new, I try to push what the letterforms might look like, maybe do more decorative lettering that might not exist in Hatch world. I’m definitely trying to create my own angle when I create posters outside of [Hatch].
PV: Hatch has many employees, artists, printer-designers like yourself that make the posters for Hatch. Do you think you all are trying to hide your design identities in favor of a consistent “Hatch” look or can you tell which one is a Heather Moulder and which is a Cory Wasnewsky…?
HM: The deeper you are, the more you look at it, the more you can pick out some of the design nuances. The exciting thing about new people coming in, new interns or employees, is that we are using these same tools, the same cuts and typefaces, but arranging them in totally different ways. One way everyone individually makes their mark is—although we don’t add new typefaces to the collection—we all illustrate and carve, so sometimes the illustration can be the mark of the maker.
When I first started, the look was still often justified left to right… your bread-and-butter Hatch poster is gonna be star bars, justified type, red and black—maybe a yellow burst or background.
We often mess with that formula these days– especially now that you’re not using posters as much to advertise, they are a keepsake. If you look at the Ryman website’s Hatch gallery, you can kind of see those changes over the years. Seeing people come in and use tons of negative space, setting type in a more modern way– it’s really good to see that. It made me a better designer because I wanted to try these kooky approaches to laying out posters. In the past when I’ve felt burnt out, one of my favorite games was trying to lay out a poster like I was Devin Goebel or Cathy Batliner, or pretending I was one of my other coworkers and thinking about how they would approach it.
Sometimes you can get a little hint [of the printer-designer]; if we’re really proud of something, we’ll leave our initials after the Hatch Show print tagline—that little mark of the maker. Other than that, on the surface it’s anonymous who put together this poster. A lot of these poster designers are really great artists in their own right. Traditionally letterpress was very much a craft—we were like Kinkos— I think we’re a few steps away from that now, with these designers making pieces of art more so than a throwaway kind of thing.
PV: The printer-designer is unique to Hatch and letterpress: in a different print shop the printer is executing someone else’s design. A lot of people don’t see that at Hatch you are the designer because there is no other way to do it. You have to move the type around, mix the ink, and design while printing—all the design decisions are happening physically. Is there a difference for you in the design work and the print work for Hatch and for Lordymercy?
HM: I think of it as one continuous cycle. The folks at Hatch are working on at least 3 or 4 projects at once, so everything is happening in waves. Some days you’re just pulling type and other days you’re printing back-to-back. One of the greatest parts of seeing that whole process through is it gives you more room for experimentation. You can try things out that you may not wish on another person because you don’t know if it’s going to work, but YOU can see it through because you’re the technician and you’re the idea maker. That creates results you may not get if you were really segmenting that process.
I haven’t printed nearly as many posters under my own name as I have for Hatch Show Print, so I’m still trying to figure out what my style is. Even though I’ve printed a ton of posters I’m still trying to figure out what makes it look like my poster. I’m in the process of gathering my work horse type—the type that feels like it belongs as part of my collection. I don’t have the boundless library of imagery either, so I’m carving a lot of my own.
PV: Is this establishing a Lordymercy “house style” versus Hatch’s look?
HM: One great thing about Hatch is that people come to them because they know what a Hatch poster looks like. You don’t have to think too hard when making a poster there because there is an established aesthetic. Whereas when I’m making a Lordymercy poster, I end up working with the client more. On one hand it’s great for the client, because I’m making everything from scratch, but on the other hand, I’m still establishing what you’re coming to me for.
PV: Are there other letterpress entities you want to broadcast, like Ladies of Letterpress or Hamilton Type and their Wayzgoose?
HM: I’ve taught a workshop at Ladies of Letterpress, and met a really great community of printers there. I especially love seeing the ways other women (and non-women!) in this group are approaching print– whether in their businesses, art practices or communities.
I love Hamilton’s Wayzgoose, I’ve been going the last several years. I love the scope of people that the Wayzgoose draws in. You have printers who’ve been printing for a lifetime, decades longer than I’ve even known about letterpress, and then you have a lot of young people—you may have designers who are just curious about letterpress. It’s a nice crossroads. Like a lot of printmaking, letterpress printers are very generous with their time and knowledge. They want everyone to succeed because they want this craft to continue. The Wayzgoose is such a good place for all of that exchange to happen.
They’ll bring in speakers—Debbie Millman is going to speak this year, and Louise Fili has spoken in the past—it’s funny, because she’ll be plopped next to a guy who’s never heard of her, but they’re both passionate about letterpress. There’s no ego there, everyone is there because they love the letterforms.
PV: Shifting a little. You are the White Oak Program coordinator for The Arts Center of Cannon County—talk about your experiences there.
HM: I’ve been a vendor at the White Oak Craft fair—this was its 32nd year, so it’s a long-running craft fair—but this was my first time on the organizational side of it. I have found it to be exponentially more difficult. It is very gratifying when it all works—unfortunately one of our days was rained out this year. Huge learning curve for my first year. Typically, when I’m a vendor I don’t really get to leave my booth. This year I got to meet a lot of vendors, people who have been coming a decade longer than I have. This position has been a great way for me to meet other artists and see how working artists operate in their day to day. I’ve had to do a ton of organizational and marketing things—filling a lot of gaps I never really explored from a maker’s standpoint.
I want to continue with the Arts Center. I’m part of this community, I got to see a lot of art at the Arts Center growing up, and I want to make sure that it continues to be here. I’m pretty sure I saw my first Hatch posters at the Arts Center. We had an exhibit about working people and Hatch had created a poster for that.
PV: You found some of your type in Cannon County, what did you find?
HM: I had seen someone list a rusty old press for sale—I had no desire to fix it because I had already spent the last year fixing up my own—but I emailed this person to see if they had anything else, and they DID. I was able to get a type trimming saw, and some larger wood type from someone that lived 10 minutes away from me! That’s been the name of the game, if I see an ad for one thing, I follow the trail. Some of them are stinky dead ends, but the type I was able to get from 10 minutes down the road was immediately put to use at our craft fair last year. We had a kid’s activity at White Oak where they got to make prints using wood type that came from here, which was definitely the goal.
PV: Because of how old type can be forgotten and stored away, there can be a very regional quality to letterpress and type collections, is that an interest of yours?
HM: Chances are very high that you know somebody who knows somebody who ran the newspaper. Even since the Cannon Courier article that ran recently, I got a phone call from someone who printed at the Cannon Courier, telling me about his time as a printer. People do want to share their story. It’s not too hard to dig around a small town and find people who are connected to that craft.
Most printers I know can tell you the lineage of the things they have—my furniture cabinet traveled from Little Rock where I got it from John Horn… Or I went to a local high school, and I bought some type and equipment… It’s like antiquing, they can tell you the story of where they got this certain piece because they certainly did not go to the “type store.”
PV: This goes back to one of my initial questions about storytelling, finding the type and the story connected to the type, and that translates into the print.
HM: Oh yeah. I think that’s why a lot of people, when they’re selling [letterpress] stuff, they want to keep it together, so they know that the collection is intact. It’s not always feasible. I see that often, someone’s passed away and the family wants to see the collection is passed onto somebody. Even if they don’t know how to use the equipment, there is this sentimentality of the collection and the things themselves.
PV: What’s next for you?
HM: Virtual class for Southwest Print Fiesta. I’ve taught in-person classes on poster making, but this is my first time teaching how to make posters virtually. There’s an interactive quality that I’m hoping I can maintain. In general, I enjoy teaching and I’ve taught a lot at Hatch. I am hoping to teach classes at the Arts Center soon as well.
I have also been doing some graphic design freelance. In the graphic design realm, I get to work digitally, which is still totally informed by my print work. I’ve been so used to doing this very specific thing, making letterpress posters for the last 10 years, that it’s fun to see what I can do when the work is digital—there’s certain rules you don’t have to follow in that space.
I don’t have anything huge going on with my own music at the moment. The artists I have been playing with the most lately are Paul Burch & the WPA Ballclub, and also my friend Mark Thornton. Mark runs the Nashville Show Truck, an old flatbed truck that is a mobile stage, so we’ll pull up to events to perform.
PV: Finally, you do a lot of work: you’re a freelance designer, you work at Hatch, you have your own press, you’re a program coordinator at the Arts Center of Cannon County, you teach, you’re a musician… How do you manage so much?
HM: It’s a bad habit. I think it all aligns. The honky tonk music, the honky tonk posters… A ton of my personal poster jobs are coming from people I meet through those shows. I also schedule gigs on days that I work downtown [Nashville]. I try to make it continuous. I feel like some of my favorite design projects have come from people I play with. That musical circuit has been such a great connector for me. At Hatch, I’ve met so many musicians I care about, and learned about so much music that I now love by working on their posters. Moving from one to the other seems very natural.
There is a weird gap of time between printing posters at Hatch and waiting to play a show, so sometimes I bring my keyboard to work and practice in the back room. [Print and music] invade each other’s spaces, usually in a harmonious way. I do have to synchronize watches very often…
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