An Interview with Graphic Designer and Letterpress Printer Nieves Uhl

An Interview with Graphic Designer and Letterpress Printer Nieves Uhl

Welcome to the fourth installment of These My Nominated Bitches! Today's bitch was nominated by friend, artist, and fellow bitch, Agnes Barton-Sabo. Agnes, take it away!


I had the extreme pleasure of meeting Nieves during a magical time in the mid 2000's whilst we were both employed at Hatch Show Print. In addition to getting along pretty smashingly as coworkers, we were also navigating the early days of selling art on Etsy, watching LOST in handmade Dharma Initiative uniforms before it got unbearable, and laughing over terrible garbage we got from online craft swaps in which we participated out of some sort of masochistic curiosity.

These days I mostly get to admire Nieves from afar, but thanks to the internet, we still get to keep tabs on each other and shop from each other's businesses! I think it's awesome that she has carved (wink wink) out her own corner of the letterpress printing world and continues to make cool stuff with this inky witchcraft we learned in olden times. Nieves is also highly inspirational in my personal fashion world and may or may not be emitting neon rainbows out of her heart at any given moment. She is a valuable comrade in the battle to remain weirdo artist creatures and care for small humans at the same time. Most recently, we have started working together on a long-distance collaborative art project in which we are each using various printmaking methods to create an edition, and then trade editions and add to each other's prints! -- Agnes

What do you do and what is the name of your business?

I’m a graphic designer and letterpress printer at Sawtooth Print Shop.

When did you first learn about this field of work?

I feel like I’d always seen letterpress posters, but didn’t understand what it actually entailed until I visited Hatch Show Print for the first time in college.

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

A good friend from college was working at Hatch and I was looking for something different than the regular freelance design I’d been doing. I’ve never loved working on design on a computer, so the design by hand aspect of moveable type and images was very intriguing to me. A couple of years after I graduated I had the opportunity to intern at Hatch and a couple of months later was hired on, and worked there for almost five years. After I’d been working there for a year or two my mom told me that she wasn’t surprised this was what I ended up doing. She reminded me of the whole set of upper and lowercase letter stamps I made in middle school. I cut out every letter, cut wood blocks for the uppercase and pieces of dowels for the lowercase, sanded them, glued them on, and used them to make little cards and comic books for friends. I realized I’d been working with moveable type for years!

What is the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?

You can not do it all yourself, and know when to get help. I know my limitations in what I can and cannot do in the business, and know who to reach out to to help with what I don’t know or can’t do on my own. I’m great at the creative part, it’s the business stuff that I still have to seek help with.

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned or that helped improve the way you work?

Letting go of the fear of failure! It was always such a scary thing for me. I grew up in a bit of a crazy household and came to be a control freak to help me cope. When things were not in my control I felt paralyzed. You can imagine this is a horrible way to live life, not to mention bad for a business owner! Having a child that has his own agenda and way of doing things has made me loosen up and help me push past a lot of my OCD issues. Also, if it weren’t for my friend and business partner Chris Cheney’s “Let’s just do it!” approach to the business I would probably still be planning every tiny detail. Not being afraid gave me permission to be more free and loose with my creativity and trying out a new aspect to our business. If it doesn’t work I know that and can always try a different approach or cross it off the To Try list. So many of the things I would have been terrified of doing in the past have brought about really fruitful results, and tremendous growth. I’m so thankful for failures now!

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

Ugh! I already steal time away from when I should be sleeping to try to read or bake at night! I always get a second wind around 10:30, when I should be going to sleep, and start doing something crazy like reorganizing my vintage fabric and patterns! I’d love to have two more hours to do that stuff and still get plenty of sleep!

What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made?

My shop partner and I started this business when my son was very little, and before my partner’s children were born. I had no idea how hard it was going to be trying to balance my life as a spouse, mother, homeowner, business owner, and creative person. There really is no “balance.” There is always something that suffers and I have to decide every day what is the thing that is not going to get my full attention. Probably my biggest personal sacrifice is not having enough time, creative energy, or momentum to keep my personal projects moving along like I did before becoming a mom and working a job where I have to be creative all day.

What is your greatest success, or something you’re most proud of related to what you do?

I’m really proud at all that I’ve learned about the craft of letterpress in the ten years I’ve been doing it. There are so many things that are involved in taking an idea and seeing it through to a finished printed piece. I feel like I’ve mastered the intricate problem solving that is required in getting all of our antique type to print properly on the press. I know our press inside and out, how it works, how it should sound and feel when I’m running it, what to do to fix it when it’s not. I love being able to talk to a client about their project and know how to turn what they have in their mind into something beyond what they imagined.

Do you have a morning ritual that helps you set the tone for the day?

I often start the day with some snuggle time with my son when he comes in and wakes me and my husband up. I also try to avoid my phone for as long as I can. I’ve been trying to incorporate a daily morning meditation habit, but it’s rather sporadic as I have to get my wild child and myself out of the house.

How do you decompress at night?

Again, I try to avoid my phone. It’s something I need for the business, but it’s also something that I seem to have a terrible habit of getting lost in and feeling bad about wasting precious time. I don’t have any social media apps on it now, and that’s helped. I really enjoy the time alone with my husband after our son is asleep. Sometimes I’ll knit or embroider while we watch TV, or I’ll listen to podcasts or audiobooks and draw or carve a lino block while he works on his projects.

What helps when you’re stuck? Do you have a motto or quote that inspires/motivates you?

I find that when I don’t write daily in my journal I can lose sight of my goals and progress. Sometimes just getting my thoughts out of my head opens up the space I need to get my mind around a project or problem. I always have so much running through my brain that I can’t wrangle until I can see it in front of me.

What does self care look like in your life?

Currently a very real part of caring for myself involves avoiding too much news exposure. I’m also a big believer in mental health therapy. I have a standing monthly appointment with my counselor. Whether I think I need it or not that month I always get a lot out of it. I’m empathic sometimes to an overwhelming degree and always need to remind myself that something I think I might be feeling about a person or their actions are almost always not about me or something I’ve done. The phrase “It’s not all about you!” is a regularly used tool in my coping toolbox. I have a wild imagination and I can end up whipping myself into a frenzy of a story I’m making up about a situation or encounter that is not even remotely factual. I also used to train as an amateur muay Thai kickboxer and have to at least get two weekly kickboxing classes. Also, yoga. Also, lots of glitter and sparkly things.

Are there any women who helped pave the way for your success?

Is this a trick question!? Of course! So many I’m not sure where to start! My maternal grandma worked for her whole career as the district court clerk in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She was also an insanely prolific crafter, seamstress, knitter, cook, baker, gardener, and one of my fashion icons! She taught me that I can always make something myself instead of buying it or relying on someone else to do it. My mom always made my big sister’s amazingly intricate formal dresses for prom and homecoming. We didn’t have much money, but she made sure we had what we needed. I’ve had incredible role models on how to be resourceful, and as an example of how I can pave my own way. I also have some incredibly talented creative business women that I call friends! Cheering each other on in all our successes (or failures!), big and small, feels like we’re all winning! Support like that is better than anything else. Like we’re all paving the way together!

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

Oooo, good question. Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of Comedy Bang! Bang!. It’s so ridiculous and absurdly funny! It’s perfect for the end of a stressful day. I’m also really looking forward to the new Twin Peaks and Stranger Things seasons! I’m sure they’ll end up among my favorites just like the first installments!

I love to snack on dark chocolate, peanut butter on anything, or fresh mango with lime, chile and salt! So yum.

All photos courtesy of Nieves Uhl

P.S. Meet last week's bitch:  Full-Time Mom, Part-Time Farmhand, Carrie Wingfield!

P.P.S. See a full list of all my Bitches here!

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