In The Shop: Commune and Aardvark Letterpress

Letterpress Printing with a Los Angeles Landmark

09.3.2021

The story of Aardvark Letterpress begins with Luis Ocon. Luis came into the world of typesetting at the ripe young age of 13. While working at a newspaper in his native Mexico City, Luis began teaching himself the linotype trade after hours and quickly began (to borrow a recently learned phrase here) “setting slugs” with the best of them. After arriving in Los Angeles in 1964, Luis found work at Aardvark Typesetters before eventually purchasing the business in 1978. As the rise of technology and digital printing began to kill the world of mechanical printing, Luis had the intuition to shift the business from typesetting into letterpress printing, rebranding the business as Aardvark Letterpress. Joined by his two sons Brooks, right after he finished high school, and Cary, after a decade-long career in law, Aardvark has been a family business its entire life.

The Aardvark shop is somewhat of a time capsule. The archive covers more than 50 years, the machines date back more than 100 years, and collectively the team has more years of experience than any one of them can add up. Loosely organized in flat files, binders, and folders throughout the shop, you can blindly pull any number of insane things out of their archive: work for those untouchable people like Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey, musicians like Miles Davis or even Kanye West, designers like Valentino and Hedi Slimane, local artists and architects like Ed Ruscha and Frank Gehry. The machines are clearly from a bygone era and you can imagine the history of each one, long before they arrived here in MacArthur Park. Molten lead is readily available to cast into type, cans of ink litter every shelf as colors are constantly being mixed, and the paper… sourced from their supplier and next door neighbor Gary at McManus & Morgan, which is the oldest paper store in Los Angeles. Founded in 1923 by two USC students, McManus & Morgan has been supplying our city with the best papers from around the world for almost a century. Weight, texture, content, sheen can all be explored for days on end here.

We’ve printed a lot of work with Aardvark over the years - business cards and stationery, invitations and posters - but we’re really excited about our latest effort: Commune’s Golden Rules of Artist Collaboration. Set and letterpressed by Aardvark’s Bill Berkuta on 100% cotton stock with custom mixed ink, finished with Aardvark’s printers’ mark.

For anyone looking to print just about anything, please be sure to visit the team at Aardvark. Tell them Commune sent you.