Michael Kelley is the traveling card salesman of Portland’s handcrafted letterpress scene. Arriving at Ecru in his lovingly restored, vintage VW Bug with his leather satchel in tow, Kelley lays out the linocut cards and notebooks he has to offer, which frequently feature garden themes that burst with blooming flowers and fluttering birds—really, the bounty of the Pacific Northwest. Working full-time under the Pushmepullyou Press moniker, the creative and printing processes can be solitary, but these house calls to local retailers fuel Kelley because he really values visiting shops, meeting and greeting people, and “seeing what other things will be sharing space with my cards,” Kelley explains. “Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I think personal contact is important.” And a homemade, personal touch is exactly what you can impart with one of Kelley’s cards.
Say Hello to Michael Kelley
Where are you from?
I was raised in Dallas, Ore., and have lived in Portland for 42 years.
What’s your experience and education?
I studied art and design at U of O and California College of Arts and Crafts. I freelanced as a graphic designer in Portland.
How did you start Pushmepullyou Press?
I’ve always had an interest in printmaking and printing. I bought a small letterpress in Berkeley while I was employed at UC Berkeley after art school, and have been involved in printing since then. I decided to go full-time into letterpress about 18 years ago.
I started my current business as a move away from more traditional graphic design endeavors and computers into a more personal mode of expression. I really enjoy the craft of printing because it requires the mastering of many related crafts: drawing, linoleum carving, typesetting and printing. Also, being in control of a project from conception to final delivery is very satisfying. I also enjoy the personal interaction between the buyers and clients and myself.
Where do you create your cards? Do you have a dedicated studio or do you work from home?
I have transformed a garage into a very light-filled, comfortable studio, and I spend most of my time there.
How does living in Portland and the Northwest inspire your designs?
My wife is a garden designer and my studio looks out at our garden. That inspires me every day, to see what’s blooming and what birds have been attracted.
What artistic techniques and processes do you use?
The main process that I use to express my art is linoleum carving. It is easy to carve but is unforgiving; if you make a mistake it can’t be fixed, so you need to learn to work with the medium (and sometimes it works you!). It is a line art medium—you deal with positive and negative space. There are no grays, so conveying light and three dimensions can be problematic. That, in a nutshell, is the gist of making a successful linocut.
Can you tell us the story behind your Chinese New Year cards?
The card I did for Chinese New Year, the Year of the Horse, came about because I was trying to find a way to make a horse convey a Chinese feeling. I started looking at various art works, and while looking at some fabric designs, it suddenly occurred to me that I could use a Chinese fabric pattern on my horse. The combination of two unrelated ideas produced a striking image that has turned out to be my most popular card.
How do you spread the word about your business?
I try to reach people in many ways. I’ve lived in Portland for many years and have a wide circle of friends who pass my name around. I put my work on Facebook and Etsy. I have studio sales in my studio. I approach shops and make a personal contact with the owners and managers. I have my work in various art shows, including the Sitka show every November.
What’s your favorite part of your day?
My favorite part of the day is in the morning when I open up the studio and plan the day. It doesn’t always go the way I’ve planned it, but at least I feel I have some control over what happens!
How do you avoid creative ruts?
I don’t see myself getting into a rut. One area of thought or expression gradually changes and develops into something more intense, or it may change focus. I see it as a continuous journey, always learning and growing and moving forward.
What’s the best “thing” you’ve recently come across?
I have a scrap file that I’m always throwing things into. Sometimes it is an illustration out of the New York Times, or a color combination from a magazine, or something I download from the Internet. It all gets looked at and stored away in my subconscious, and influences me in some way.
Tell us three things you love, need and can’t live without.
2. New York Times crossword
3. Beer at the end of the day
Anyone else you’d like to give a shout out to?
I couldn’t do this alone—many people help. My wife, Joy, helps me strategize and is my main color consultant. Lisa, Kerry, Tammy and Yayoi have all helped in the shop, and all of the people and merchants who buy my wares keep the wheels rolling.