Shop Local: Livingston Letterpress
Need graduation announcements, wedding invitations or some new wall art? Melissa Livingston is firing up the presses.
Before kids, Melissa Livingston was a book and calendar designer. Once her youngest was in school, she began contemplating what to do next with her professional expertise.
“I was a stay-at-home mom for a lot of years, so my skills for graphic design were pretty antiquated,” says the Oakton mom of five. “I gave letterpress printing a try and fell in love with it. I bought a little tabletop press and printed my niece’s wedding invitations on it—and Christmas cards.” Livingston Letterpress was born in 2012.
That little starter printing press has since broken, but her collection of presses has grown to include a large antique press named Oliver (in reference to the spoked, O-shaped wheel on its side); a Potter cylinder press (named Harry, naturally) that works well for posters; a small press made in 1890 (named Mertie, after her grandmother, who was born the same year); and a foil stamper dubbed Ernest as a nod to its manufacturer.
Mertie and Ernest are portable—small enough to take to stores like Botanologica in Falls Church, where Livingston sometimes hosts bookbinding and letterpress workshops, teaching folks how to make journals and valentines. She has also participated in the boutique’s seasonal pop-up markets, selling cards and prints.
When she’s not at Botanologica or other private letterpress events, Livingston is either hosting workshops in her home studio or designing new cards and posters. She still does wedding invitations, too, though that market lost some momentum during the pandemic.
“I’ve always loved letters, and I really like to show off the simplicity and beauty of the letter form,” says the artist, who uses thick cotton paper and hand mixes all of her own inks. “I print with the old metal and wooden type, and then sometimes I design something on the computer and have a polymer plate made and print with that. It could add a design element, or it just gives me access to any size or font that I want.”
Recent cards have been pressed with sentiments ranging from “Black Lives Matter” and “Hello from Virginia” to “It’s a good day to be happy!”
“I’ve done a poster that’s been very popular that says ‘Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly, regard humanity,’” she says. “I like to do things that have a sense of heart to them, that have some meaning.”
But, she adds, “I do silly things, too.”