In the studio with Pop Press

Falling in love with Pop Press was easy: their beautifully made and colourful designs jumped out at me across Instagram when I was trying to find something personal and bespoke for the guests at my wedding (sugar almond coloured notebooks with ‘Evil Plans’ embossed proudly across the front). As one of the first brands I approached for Form SE15, I wanted to find out a little more about the Nottingham dwelling Steve and Ming, the creative duo behind this stationery gem.

Can you tell me a little bit about how you and Ming ended up in the stationery game? Was it something you always wanted to do?

Way back in 1995 we were living in a tiny flat in Stoke Newington when we designed our first greeting card ranges. We had a very small budget so getting our designs litho printed was not possible (digital printing was not the norm back then). So our financial circumstances shaped our production methods. We used linocuts, burnished with a spoon to make prints and hand painted watercolour details. We stained onion skin paper with tea and sewed them to greeting cards. It was very laborious and our living space would become a factory when we made up our orders for shops such as Paperchase and Scribbler. Every square inch was covered in cards. Our first child came along about this time and we had to reassess our lives, deciding that we needed more space and security. So our card and printmaking adventures were swapped for family adventures. About fifteen years later we were living in Nottingham and working in different careers when we decided to start designing and making again. After the hard work of hand printing our own designs the second time round we wanted to do things differently! However we still ended up hand printing individual items, just a little quicker now! We invested in a half ton treadle letterpress and installed it in a workshop in the back garden and began making greeting cards and notebooks. Full circle after 20 years!

Nottingham seems to nurture a wealth of creative talent. Have your surroundings influenced your direction?

The thing about Nottingham is that there has been active nurturing of creative talent whether it’s financial or creative business advice. It provides an environment where you can afford a cheap studio, meet up with other creative makers and start movements. It’s fiercely independent and opinionated and small enough that if you want to start something different it can start to ripple and spread. So for anyone with big ideas it’s a great launch pad.

Your products seem to have so much warmth and personality about them. How do you decide what becomes a finished design?

Ah thank you! A finished design is a cumulation of life, hoovering up all the incredible work that’s out there at the moment, past and present. Also we work and rework the design until we absolutely love it. Because we started illustrating greeting cards 20 years ago - we actually have a ridiculously large library of designs that have yet to be printed, but these can take months or even years to percolate into existence because the finished design has to be just right. Each card is individually letterpressed. Sometimes with up to 3 colours. They are vibrant and textured because we mix each colour by hand which is them printed in separate layers by treadling a large flywheel which opens and closes the press. We’ve made a film of the process on our website if you want to check out our the process.

Your Arab letterpress Doris is a faithful employee. How long has she been with you and how did you find her?

Doris is our 1924 Arab Crown Folio treadle letterpress and was bought from The Logan Press in Northampton in 2013. The guys at Logan Press delivered and built the press in our newly built garden workshop and then showed us how to set it up as well as some useful troubleshooting tips to get us started. If you want to buy a letterpress you can find them on sites like Ebay and Briar Press but they’re extremely heavy so you need to factor specialist moving into the cost. And then you need to have a space that will accommodate the huge metal beast! If you’re very lucky you might come across an old letterpress printer who wants to pass their old equipment onto someone who will keep the craft alive, but most people will see the opportunity of making some money on Ebay.

You make amazing bespoke notebooks. What’s been the strangest thing anyone has asked you to print on them for them?

Well I think our Evil Plans and Killer Ideas as wedding favours for a certain someone were a stroke of genius!

What music do you listen to in your studio?

Gilles Peterson’s Radio 6 shows are amazing. Ming loves Joni Mitchell Anderson Paak Greg Foat group Jazz Funk, Blue Note, ECM, Dub, Electronica...etc. Name three must-do’s for me when I visit Nottingham! Visit the Nottingham Contemporary. Go hunting for the hidden Bromley House Library (round the corner from our studio in a former Victorian Music Hall!) Have a drink next to the Sky Mirror by Anish Kapoor at the Nottingham Playhouse.

Jo Johnson