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Olivia San Mateo of Olive-Route, Letterpress Printer Extraordinaire!

We took a few moments to chat with our friend Olivia “Via” San Mateo, the brilliant artist behind design and letterpress studio, Olive-Route. It was Olivia who took our logo to new heights with perfectly registered and wonderfully tactile letterpressed business cards–let’s learn a little bit about what she does.

How did you come up with the name Olive-Route? 

It’s the meaning of my name: Olivia, means olive and via (my nickname) means route.

Why letterpress? 

I’ve always loved working with my hands. I originally went to architecture school, where we made 3D balsa wood models. When I got into graphic design, I got into color, composition, and type, but missed the tactility you get from architecture. Letterpress satisfies all the aspects I enjoy about design. It’s also ridiculously satisfying to see and feel something you’ve designed in print.  

How did you get into it?  

By chance. While studying graphic design, my instructor introduced me to David Goines of St. Hieronymous Press, a local poster designer and printer in Berkeley. I walked into his shop and asked for an apprenticeship. One whiff of the inks and solvents, and the sight of the vintage presses, pretty much had me at hello.

Tell us a little about your studio’s long history in printmaking. 

Telling you a bit about the history of my studio means paying respect to my printing mentors next door (David Goines, Richard Seibert & Roger Plumb). Olive-Route is 2 doors down from St. Hieronymous, which has been around for over 40 years! I often say that my shop is an annex of their shop, because I still use a lot of their equipment and expertise. After 5 years in business, I’m starting to find my own ground. The apron strings will probably never be completely cut off, though!

Do you have a lot of help or do you do everything yourself?  

I do everything myself, for the most part. But help comes in many forms–I have the guys next door if i have a technical question, or need another set of eyes. I’ve had interns help me with unglamorous shop tasks, like trimming paper, cleaning presses, assembly, and packaging. I also have good relationships with collaborators who become part of my design and production process: freelancers, paper artists, calligraphers, book binders. Almost every aspect of what I produce is handmade, and if I can’t do it myself, I end up collaborating to get the job done. It’s a great way for solo business owners like me to gain a network and not feel so isolated. 

Tell us about the machines that you use, and what makes them special. 

My first one, a Chandler and Price 10×15 platen press, was acquired 5 years ago for $500! That’s pretty much unheard of now, I think they’ve tripled in price since. It’s special because it was my first one and it’s my workhorse. My shop wouldn’t exist without that press! My second one is a Vandercook 4 proof press, great for art prints and small runs. I printed most of the Poketo letterpress prints on that machine. It’s a great press to experiment on, and it’s the one I use to teach my interns. 

You letterpressed our business cards with the new Poketo logo (designed by Joel Speasmaker), and it must have been a challenge–especially with the color overlays. Needless to say, the cards are perfect, and the impression on the paper is just delicious. What was it like working with this design? 

I love the whole “building block” idea with the Poketo logo, each stroke a primary color. It’s a simple idea, but not as simple to print! This was a tight register, so I had to feed each color perfectly into place in order for it to work. Can’t go wrong with the 2-ply cotton stock paper, takes a super good impression–delicious is right!

What kind of work do you do? What is your favorite? 

My work is almost all referral-based, so I work on whatever seems interesting, and will keep the momentum going. I design and print my own stuff, and also work with artists & designers who bring their work to be letterpressed. I’ve done small business collateral, poetry broadsides, posters, art prints, and social and personal stationery, which includes anything from wedding invites to baby announcements. I don’t produce cards for wholesale, since I’m mainly a custom shop, but I do have an Etsy site where I throw small-run paper goods from time to time. I love collaborating, so my favorite is when i get together with an artist or designer that I like to make prints. 

You have worked with a lot of Poketo’s artists, including Kate Bingaman-Burt, Leah Chun, Anne Cibola, Andrew Jeffrey Wright and more. Tell us about that. 

The 2 months it took to make all the Poketo prints was a super fun experience. I remember Leah Chun and Peskimo’s art prints having tight registrations, so I chose to print those on my platen press as opposed to the Vandercook. I had just acquired the Vandy during that time, and wasn’t as confident using it. It took a lot of ink and multiple hits on my press to get the black areas as saturated as they are. Tim Gough’s had good use of overprinting colors. It was a 3 color job, but the blue and yellow mixing gave it a 4th green color– bonus!

What is the ultimate project? What haven’t you done? 

A book. Haven’t done yet but would love to publish a small run one day. 

When you are not in the studio, what are you doing? 

I recently bought a ukulele so i’m trying to teach myself how to play, preferably outdoors on a warm sunny day :).

If you were not a letterpress printer, what would you be doing? 

I love food and wine, and would really love to be good at making both! Living in California, I’ve met many chefs and wine-makers who think like printers–fine attention to detail, a love for working with their hands, and always finding ways to refine their craft. It would be an easy transition, except for the fact that I can’t cook a damn thing!

Thanks to Olivia for granting us a view into her awesome work! Check out the lovely prints she has lovingly letterpressed for our Poketo artists here.

More on Via and Olive-Route letterpress here.

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