University alumna Hope Gutwrench has her hands full working in print shops in both Baton Rouge and New Orleans, while maintaining a postcard project she started as an undergraduate student along with teaching letterpress printing classes.
Letterpress printing is a form of printing that traditionally utilizes handset type-- individual letters, and cast metal images-- to print books, posters and newspapers, Gutwrench said. Using Adobe Illustrator, one can design a print that they can turn into a plastic polymer plate.
Before the internet, printmaking was used to communicate with the masses.
“Now people use letterpress as more of an art form, for making books [and] greeting cards,” she said. “I started printing as a way to make my photocopied zines a little nicer.”
Having always been a letter-writer and a collector of ephemera, Gutwrench was drawn to the tactile quality of physical letters and cards and their refusal to be ignored.
“It is harder to dismiss or skim a letter. Even junk mail might sit on your coffee table, so you see it over and over,” she said. “With email, it is so easy to throw away, trash or ignore [them].”
“I love letters I can carry with me and reread later,” Gutwrench said.
Gutwrench’s love for the tactile shines through in the Keep Writing project she started, which involves sending subscribers a folded card each month. One side is a postcard they can keep for themselves while the other tells a story and provides a prompt for the recipient to reply.
Responses from the project are archived, posted to Tumblr and shared in public shows. Prompt themes have included homes, language, assumptions, posture, maps and collaborations.
Gutwrench started the project during her undergraduate years at the University. She said the idea came to her as a way to keep in touch with friends as she went away to college.
“I didn’t think I would be able to keep in touch with [my pen pals] while I was in school, so I started printing a monthly postcard to send to everyone,” she said. “Eventually strangers started asking to be added to my mailing list.”
Another goal of the project was to challenge herself to create something new every month. She said she keeps notes in her sketchbook about ideas for new postcards, ranging from quotes, ideas or even questions she wants to ask.
“Following the results of last year’s election and the flood of feelings about it, I have started asking more questions about identity, who we think we are and how we relate to others,” Gutwrench said. “I think it is important to communicate with people who may not look like you or think like you-- away from the easy anonymity of the internet.”
Gutwrench said she shies away from prompts about particular news events since the project takes several weeks but is inspired by the larger questions raised.
“What is important to us?” she asked. “What are we doing to make ourselves and our communities better?”
Gutwrench said it is important to hone skills we are losing to technology such as writing and talking to each other, creating things by hand and reading books-- not because it is romantic, but because it ties us to the physical world.
“It can be so easy to live more of your day in a digital world, but I think even simple things can slow you down, reconnect you to the people around you,” she said. “Fear, loneliness and anger stem from not understanding something, not knowing.”
Gutwrench said one way to combat this fear is to travel and to try to understand people different from one’s self.
“The internet is a useful tool but it shouldn’t replace reality and experience,” she said.