With a line of simply illustrated cards that are astute and sassy, Bri Davey’s NE Portland letterpress operation, dubbed Creative Lab Press, is 100 percent hands-on. Her hand-drawn designs often feature straightforward but playfully composed imagery accented by her impeccable calligraphy, which offers messages that range from touchingly thoughtful to cleverly cheeky (with a pinch of saucy irreverence where appropriate). After she’s devised a concept and it’s been written and illustrated, Bri makes the proper plates for Clara—her 1,700-pound, octogenarian Chandler & Price letterpress. She then cuts, prints and scores every card at her home studio under the watchful eye of her namesake. You see, her studio is not a laboratory—it’s no sterile environment or research facility: It’s an inky, and sometimes fuzzy, workplace. Just check the dogdanna-sporting logo—the studio is named for Bri’s “furry love,” Jackson, her giant chocolate lab.
Say Hello to Bri Davey (and Jackson!)
Where are you from?
I was raised in small-town southwest Montana and have lived in Portland for seven years.
What’s your experience and education?
My education is in business (Montana State University) and nonprofit management (Portland State University); however, ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been drawing, creating and working with my hands. I started doing web and marketing design work about eight years ago for a company in Montana, and when I moved to Portland, I got turned on to letterpress. I quickly realized it was something I had to learn more about and found myself taking classes at local art schools. I’ve always wanted to have my own business and thus, Creative Lab Press was born. When I started the company in 2011, I was very lucky to have several friends getting married or having babies at the time. My first clients were friends or friends of friends that let me experiment with the craft and create something unique for them. I still do custom design work for weddings, holiday cards and birth announcements. This past spring, I launched a greeting card line at the National Stationery Show in New York City—debuting over 70 cards, gift tags, coasters and a calendar—all with my hand-drawn aesthetic.
How did you start Creative Lab Press?
I knew I would love letterpress since you are literally working with your hands through every step of the process. I took a few classes locally and then shortly after I found my press online in Portland and purchased it before I even had a place to put it. (It weighs nearly 2,000 pounds!) I rented a studio space shortly after and ran my first print in the summer of 2011.
Where do you create your cards? Do you have a dedicated studio or do you work from home?
All of my cards are created in my home studio in NE Portland. I have a great space where my letterpress is set up and I can get my hands dirty. For most of my cards, I initially illustrate the artwork by hand, then scan the art and have plates made for printing. I cut all the paper, print and score every card, and package each at my home office.
How does living in Portland and the Northwest inspire your designs?
I love taking advantage of all that the Pacific Northwest has to offer. I spend a lot of my downtime exploring the beautiful scenery of the beach, Gorge and mountains by hiking and skiing. I also enjoy tending to my garden and, in recent years, have spent windy days sailing out on the Columbia River.
I’ve enjoyed printing on wood veneer and have some die-cut cards that are in the shape of Oregon and Washington. Our lovely beaches, forests, mountains and iconic city images are often depicted on these cards with a hand-drawn style.
Where else do you get your ideas from?
A lot of my ideas come from just sitting with a sketchbook and drawing! Some of my best ideas have come from just a random doodle! Other ideas come from conversations with friends at a barbecue or over coffee with my husband. I like to keep my designs fun and a bit quirky—not something you see every day.
What artistic techniques and processes do you use?
The majority of my work starts first with hand-lettered calligraphy. I’ll draw out an entire card in my sketchbook and then scan it to create digital artwork on the computer. The digital files are then used to create polymer plates ready for letterpress printing. All of my cards are printed on my letterpress from 1931. They are individually fed into the press by hand and each color is a new press run. I also die-cut on my press with my most popular shapes being those from my new state-shaped collection.
Can you tell us the story behind your bingo card?
My husband and I have enjoyed playing bingo at fundraisers for the local nonprofit My Voice Music. My bingo greeting card was created to be able to be used as a “love” card or even for a close friend saying, “When I first met you, I yelled… BINGO!”
What’s your favorite part of your day?
Getting the press inked up and running that first print. Such immediate satisfaction!
How does Jackson figure into your process and the workday?
Jackson is so spoiled! He gets to hang out in the yard when it’s nice outside and rolls around in the grass and gnaws on a bone while I am printing. Tough life. It’s so great having him around during my work day—he definitely provides some stress relief and a good excuse to take a break and walk to the park.
How do you avoid creative ruts?
I generally like to get outside when I am fried and feel like I am in a rut. It’s a great way to get re-inspired and have some fun.
Tell us three things you love, need and can’t live without.
- My husband
- My dog
Anyone else you’d like to give a shout out to?
Just a big THANK YOU to all my friends here in Portland and my family and friends back home for their amazing support. And especially to a handful of gals in PDX that have helped me endless times packaging cards and letting me bounce my crazy card ideas off of them. You know who you are!