n the early 1980s I started a home typesetting business without knowing much about typesetting except that I could type really well! Investing in the latest technology of the time, a Varityper "cold type" machine that took up half of my office and all of my savings, I launched (or lurched) down the road to business success. The machine sat in my office for weeks before I could manage to turn it on—a computer typesetting machine? I didn't have a clue. Fortunately, my then 13-year-old son was not so intimidated, and against all my admonitions not to touch the expensive machinery, he sat down in front of the monitor, looked at the codes (no WYSIWYG then), and typed away. So began my career in the printing business. I found work producing everything from meat-packing labels to YMCA swimming brochures, wedding invitations to résumés. I met printers who were still using "hot type" (linotype) equipment and graphic designers who drew their type by hand—it was a fascinating world and I loved it. And I was very appreciative of the humming monster in my office that could do what they did in less than half the time.
In the mid-'80s I sold the business, moved from Nebraska to San Francisco, and was hired as a typesetter, using Compugraphic equipment this time, at Jossey-Bass Publishers. In nine years, starting in journal production, I progressed to director of typesetting, handling in-house book production, then moved to the marketing department when outsourcing book production became more economically desirable. I produced all the company's marketing materials and welcomed the innovation of the Macintosh computer and publishing software. And there were new challenges: remember the "desktop revolution"? Could just anyone now create and produce printed materials?
"Vive la typographie
Pour servir la liberté......"
(Jeu de Carte de Barricade, 1832)
It was time for me to look at the craft of design, to improve my skill set, and to work again with books. I started taking classes in book arts at Mills College, thanks to the support of Steven Piersanti, then CEO at Jossey-Bass (and now the esteemed founder and CEO of Berrett-Koehler Publishers).
The years that I spent at Mills, taking a class or two at a time, are the foundation of my love for making books and the keystone of my appreciation of good book design. At Mills I learned the craft of typography—how to make books that read seamlessly—as well as the history of print production and the future of the publishing industry. I spent hours working on a platen press and produced my own artist books, something that I would like to do again.
In 1998 I decided to stop commuting and opened my own shop as Girl of the West Productions. The challenges continue, of course: each year brings technological improvements in getting words to print, and that means upgrading, conferring with publishing colleagues, reading manuals—or giving my son (now a director of IT) a call! But these years have been good ones because now I am able to work directly with many different publishers and authors designing and/or producing the books that they envision—a process I find both gratifying and exciting.