By Cameron Rhudy • July 06, 2014•Writers in Residence
Sometimes certain events or experiences in my life turn out to be buzzing oh so subtly with an underlying theme. These themes generally serve as reminders for a particular life or professional lesson. Does this ever happen to you? For me, lately that theme has been patience.
Patience is probably most commonly thought of in the context of relationships, with our friends, family, coworkers, and even clients. For example, I try to be patient with my husband when we are running late for an event and he stops to turn on the television one last time to check the score in a basketball game. If it was just during basketball season then it would be one thing, but he actually does this with football, soccer, and baseball too. So I try not to lose my cool. I am successful only about 25% of the time, but I think 25% is not bad, and that he should actually be grateful that the percentage is not lower. But patience can be employed in a variety of ways. It can mean stepping away from a problem for a few moments to regroup your thoughts, it can mean not jumping to conclusions too quickly, or it can mean taking time to plan or be precise when tackling a particular project.
There is that old adage that “patience is a virtue.” But in our modern age of texting, emailing, online shopping, and all things digital, it can be difficult to see real examples of how having patience pays off. We are now able to do so many things with just a few keystrokes on a keyboard, things that would have taken us days or even weeks to accomplish in the past. So sometimes I forget to have patience when my days are filled with so many ways to achieve instantaneous results. After all, there really are many benefits to utilizing technology. I can correspond with coworkers, clients, friends and family via e-mail without the delays of snail mail or the details of setting up face-to-face engagements. I can conduct legal research fairly quickly using research systems online, I can buy a new book I want to read or pay my bills from the comfort of my couch, and I can take a photo of my silly dogs and share it with my husband via text message in less than 30 seconds.
The theme of patience, however, hit a high note for me during a one-on-one letterpress-printing class I recently took at the San Francisco Center for the Book with Thea Sizemore of Kavamore Press. Thea is amazing and I learned so much in that one day that during my drive home, despite the ache in my feet from standing on concrete all day, I practically felt electricity in my fingertips because I was so excited to try the tips and tricks I had learned on my next printing project.
For fear of getting bogged down in the specifics, I will not go into the nitty-gritty details of what letterpress printing requires, but if you are unfamiliar with letterpress printing or what a letterpress printed product looks like, you can check out The Beauty of Letterpress for examples of the results of this printing technique, and Letterpress Commons for an introduction to, and articles about, letterpress. To quickly summarize, however, letterpress printing is like taking a step back in time, the presses used are basically antiques, and the design stage through the final finishing touches of any given project, such as an invitation or notecard, can take weeks; or for someone like me who tries to fit it in around being a full-time lawyer, months.
During the class, I printed on a Vandercook press that looks like this (the press I have at home is a little different, it is a Chandler and Price table top press and looks like this). Unlike the typical inkjet printer that is probably hooked up to your computer, these presses require that the paper be fed into the press one piece at a time, and I can only print one color at a time. At which point I must clean the press before I can print the next color. And I only get to the actual printing part of the process once I have designed what I want my end product to look like (i.e. wedding invitation, business card, broadside), and prepped for printing, which may include setting type one letter at a time, mixing ink, choosing and prepping my paper, and the real tricky part, ensuring that I have proper registration (a fancy way of saying that the printed image or text is straight, centered, or matches up with what has already been printed).
This may sound like an agonizing process, but the results are unmatched. Letterpress printed pieces have a unique look and feel to them; they are, after all, handmade. For me, it is extremely satisfying to hold a finished piece that I have designed and printed, especially if it has turned out exactly as I had envisioned. When I buy a letterpress notecard that someone else has printed or I receive a letterpress printed invitation, I know that a lot of attention and care has been put into each one.
To be interested in this type of printing, I suppose one does have to have a certain amount of patience to begin with, or at least an appreciation for the art of printing, which I have. The purpose of the class, however, was to learn how to make my prints look more professional, and if I had to summarize what I learned that day in only a few words, it is that I need to step my patience up a notch. What I learned is that I need to slow down, be more precise, and not let the desire of seeing the finished product get in the way of creating a quality product.
For the class, I came prepared with a project, it was for a postcard-sized card, using a polymer plate for the text (which can be used in lieu of metal or wood type) and two linoleum blocks I had carved the previous week for an image. Before we even ran our first test print, Thea took many measurements. When I thought a test print looked pretty decent, Thea saw that there was too much ink on the press and she then took several steps to modify and retest until it met her standards. And when we printed the lineloem blocks I had carved before the class, I could see how rushing through that stage earlier in the week hurt the quality of the image I had tried to achieve. I could see that quality takes precision, and that precision takes patience. I could see in real time, right before my eyes, how my impatience during various parts of the process hurt the end result and that little mistakes added up. I could identify, when I thought back to past printing projects I had attempted, exactly where I had missed opportunities to fine-tune because I was impatient. Thea, of course, still helped me walk away with something to be proud of, but I learned that patience is one of the major differences between amateurs like myself, and professionals like Thea (there is also her background and knack for design, but I am working on those as well).
During the workweek that followed, I couldn’t help but continue to think about the the importance of having patience. I have concluded that I also need to be more patient in my work as an attorney. For example, sometimes I am impatient with the research process, which leads to my research path and findings being less organized than I would like. I also noticed how, in one particular instance recently, I should have been more patient with a given project even though I was under a tight deadline, because failing to do so created additional work for me later.
Last month I wrote about how practicing law takes a lot of practice. But this month I learned that patience is like practice’s sidekick, it is something I need to remember to apply when I am practicing, both in and outside of the office. Having patience will help me form good habits (or correct bad habits I already have), it will ensure that I get the results I intend, and it will prevent me from having to duplicate my efforts. Having patience will be the difference between being an amateur and a professional.