Thursday, September 18, 2008

Focus On: Marty Brown

Since I found Etsy I've been addicted to handmade cards. There's something I immediately discovered. Sometimes you feel like a bit of froufrou and sometimes you don't. Sometimes you want something a bit snarky, a bit more honest and straightforward.
There are occasions that demand a Thinking of You and a bow and there are occasions that call for something more solid. For those moments Marty Brown has something just for you!

Name: Marty Brown
Etsy Shop: Letterary Press
Tell us about yourself. What makes you, you?
I grew up in a typical, urban, mid-western, middle-class family in the late 20th-century. Well, of course there is no such thing as a typical family. My parents were academics, and restless travelers. There were always books in the house. I slept in a suitcase for a while. Literally: the suitcase was my travel-bed. As I was growing up, my family would travel every summer. I have seen large parts of the world, which has been a wonderful education and a gift, even if I didn't appreciate it at the time. Left to my own devices, I would rather stay home and read.
I think all that moving about has made me even more watchful and tentative than I might have otherwise been. I tend to stand on the edges and observe. I don't get attached to very much very easily. I try not to take anything too seriously.
Do you see yourself as an artist or craftsman or both?
I view printing as a craft. I think it is a means to end, and not an end in itself. I have always resonated to Beatrice Ward's idea that printing should be invisible, the crystal goblet that contains the marvelous elixir of the message. Literature is an art. Printing is what makes it possible for us to enjoy it. Printing is vitally important, but not for its own sake.

What made you want to be a craftsman?
I have always wanted to work with words and pages and books. I could just as easily have taught Shakespeare or been a writer (maybe I still will), but I sort of fell into the printing and publishing business early on, and it stuck with me. As long as I'm putting words on paper, I'm happy.

Why letterpress?
I'm a sucker for obsolete technology. When I see things that have outlived their usefulness to the mainstream world, I feel sorry for them. I want to keep them alive.

How do you see your style?
I'm a minimalist. I like a lot of white space. My printing is more kiss than bite, but it depends how I'm feeling. I like to think my designs are charming without being precious, irreverent without being disrespectful.

What's the most wonderful thing you've made?
My wedding invitations. They were made to be like children's cootie catchers / fortune tellers. Each corner had the name of one person in our new family: my husband, his son, my son, and me. The little flaps lifted up to reveal different quotes about love and family. They were magical and three dimensional and so much fun.

The oddest?
Little notebooks, the size of a pack of gum, on keychains. I'm not sure what possessed me.

What inspires you?
Old ATF type catalogs, old product labels... Just about anything printed before 1900. I'm constantly amazed that anything got printed at all before the Linotype came along. I'm just one person in a studio. It would take me more than one lifetime to print... say.... Moby Dick. There must have been whole armies of people in composing rooms. Imagine.

What scares you?
Unleashed, barking dogs. Airport security. People who suffer from too much certainty.

Tell us about your creative process.
I'm not a very visual person. I usually start with a good quote and build the imagery around it. Sometimes I start with an idea and look for words and images to support it. Sometimes I just put a color on the press and start rummaging around in the drawers for something that seems to match the mood of the color. I don't do a lot of pre-planning. It's all very seat-of-the-pants.

How did you get on Etsy and where else do you sell?
I forget how I first came across Etsy, but I was immediately hooked. I think I set up my shop the very same day. I also sell directly from my Web site at, and I sell wholesale to a lot of retail outlets, and on Amazon.

Describe your shop.
Lots of cards. Lots and lots of cards. I specialize in quotations from classic literature, but I have my own original cards with a particular brand of sardonic humor. There's something for everyone, and something for any occasion. I ship orders quickly and try to provide good customer service.

Make a recommendation.
I have these boxed assortments of 8 different cards featuring quotes from individual authors. These are a great value, and they make wonderful gifts. Oscar Wilde is especially popular.

Tell us the answer to a question that we didn't ask, but should have. If you can't think of anything, tell us something random.
The first printing press in North America belonged to a woman. Her husband died during the trans-Atlantic crossing to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, leaving her with the printing press (and everything else, I imagine). She remarried shortly after her arrival, and all of her property, including the press, became the property of her new husband (times being what they were). But it makes me happy to know that the first press arrived in a woman's care.


  1. An enthralling interview Sarah and Marty - and I discovered a new favorite!


  2. Wow. Thanks for this interview- I enjoyed reading about Marty and loved checking out her stuff!

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