Printing a document takes just seconds in the digital age, but letterpress artist Jacqueline Goh accomplishes the same with decades-old machines.
In 2013, with a S$50,000 loan from her mother — who initially disapproved of the idea — Jacqueline started the Fingersmith Letterpress in a specially-constructed backyard studio in her Yio Chu Kang family home.
“She wanted to kill me… about five times,” Jacqueline said jokingly of her mother, who now helps to put cards into plastic sleeves while they watch television and receives a monthly rent from the business.
Breaking Even, And Earning An Income From Letterpressing
It was not all smooth-sailing for Jacqueline, who graduated from the LASALLE School of the Arts — her business was in the red in the first year.
But over time, she managed to break even and repay her debts. For a while, Jacqueline taught children painting to supplement her income, but has since quit to focus fully on her growing business.
The art of letterpressing is a printing process that involves impressing a raised, inked surface against a sheet of paper.
This is made possible by her friend “Klaus”, a vintage Heidelberg letterpress machine manufactured over half a century ago in Germany.
Klaus has a special provenance — Jacqueline was about to pay a five-figure sum to have the machine shipped in from Germany when she received an offer from a family friend who printed Taoist paper offerings and was letting go of his machine for way below the market rate.
Modern printing is a process by which digital images are transferred onto paper, but using Klaus involves many more steps by hand to produce each of Jacqueline’s artisanal designs.
I could mix the paint, smell the paint, and be with old machines which I love – vintage machines. I feel like they have character. They were the best technology of that period of time.
Integrating Modern Tech In A Traditional Process
Despite its vintage appeal, Jacqueline’s printing process incorporates modern technology.
In the past, letterpress pioneers would would carve wood blocks or metal plates to create the mould.
But Jacqueline’s printing process starts off in Adobe Illustrator.
The design is then transferred onto a negative film “cut-out”. Under UV light the impressions are exposed to a light-sensitive, water-soluble photopolymer plate.
Paint is mixed, applied to Klaus, and printing is done layer-by-layer.
Yet, Jacqueline finds all the trouble worth it.
Klaus is accompanied by Thelma and Louise, a press named after the 1991 classic film starring Geena Davis.
She also purchased “Edward Scissorhands Sr” – a huge guillotine – to accompany Klaus in her workshop, which is now filled with printing paraphernalia.
Today, Jacqueline undertakes commissioned work which include name cards and wedding invitations. Prints from The Fingersmith Letterpress have also travelled to regional art fairs.
“I hope my works will travel further than I would… It’ll be fun to travel to some place and see my stuff there,” she said.
Despite her success, Jacqueline believes in ethical business practices and lives by her mantra: “When in doubt, do the right thing.”
Stay true to your roots. You don’t want your conscience to eat you alive when you sleep. Money can come later, but when you do what you believe is right, everything is just worth it.
Check out a video interview with Jacqueline here:
This article was written by Christy Yip and Nicholas Yeo of MADE IN:, a student-run Facebook content site.