On Saturday, Sept. 3, Ladyfingers Letterpress co-founders Morgan Calderini and Arley-Rose Torsone released a new greeting card, sending out the image on Facebook and Instagram. The card is an homage to the breakout Netflix hit Stranger Things. It depicts an iconic scene from the series, simply drawn, with the text: "On a scale from one to ten... you're an Eleven." Torsone's hand-drawn pressed lettering even pays homage to ITC Benguiat, the font used in the show's iconic title.
"It went viral over the weekend," says Calderini. "We sold a thousand cards in one weekend — to individuals. People ordering like one card at a time."
In the weeks since, the card has been an overwhelming success, pushing Calderini and Torsone to print more and more.
"We have the means to just have an idea, make it, share it, then sell it," says Torsone.
"I think being here and having our company be the size it is now — it's just the two of us — we're able to be really nimble and respond to that stuff," Calderini says. "It's exciting to make something that many people are excited about."
Ladyfingers Letterpress formed in 2011. Torsone and Calderini were getting married and, being designers, they made their own poster-sized wedding invitations. Torsone hand-lettered the text, which they pressed in neon inks, a mashup of classic design elements with a striking modern aesthetic. They posted their designs on Flickr, and the papercraft blog Oh So Beautiful Paper picked up on their work. The resulting flood of emails and calls requesting similarly striking custom wedding invites turned into a full-blown business. To this day, every invitation package they make is one-of-a-kind. Their work has netted them a swath of the Greeting Card Association's Louie awards, including a four-year winning streak for Print and Production Excellence.
"[It's] a lot of intensive labor to get into the design and also intensive labor to get into the production of it," says Torsone. They print and produce on presses from the early 20th century, including one press from 1904 which they brought from their original Rhode Island location.
In 2013, they expanded into wholesale greeting cards, which they sell from their 113 E. Bijou St. storefront as well as online and in shops around the world.
Torsone's sense of humor leads in most of the cards. She pens cards celebrating "significant otters," lampooning smartphone foibles, cursing Mercury's retrograde and reassuring a friend going through gender transition. They write for more audiences than many greeting card companies. One great example reads, "Congratulations on your bun in the freezer," depicting a test tube greeting new parents, for all families that need a helping hand from biomedical technology to grow.
No surprise, both had a defiant streak when they were first learning their trades in college, as well as a taste for pre-digital techniques. Torsone says she's always been a compulsive drawer. When she found her design education veering towards digital production, she did as much as she could with traditional materials. Calderini, meanwhile, finished her printmaking degree with a massive silkscreening project — an entire hot-air balloon. While she didn't get to the screening, she was able to accomplish the first few steps: making and selling enough prints and silk-screened goods to buy and learn to fly a hot-air balloon.
"If you think about printmaking in its truest form," says Torsone, "it's the replication of a message. The whole renaissance and the age of information happened because Gutenberg invented this press that could create information and spread it widely and cheaply."
Today, as well as selling and producing cards and wedding invitations, they also teach classes on printmaking and letterpressing, from California to Miami to Iceland, with a special focus on Colorado Springs and Denver. Calderini notes that classes sell out a few months in advance.
"We're starting to think about what that next batch [of classes] looks like, because the response has been so great," she says.
"It goes back to the days of having the community print shop, when we were teaching people how to print and make things," says Torsone. "If you can teach someone how to print their message, if you can give them the ability to mass-produce something they want to share with the world, it's so empowering. We believe in the power of print, we believe in the power of the people, and we're excited to provide that resource here in Colorado Springs."