Best of Phoenix

Best of Phoenix 2019: Nancy Hill of Hazel & Violet

Nancy Hill now owns Hazel & Violet letterpress shop on Grand Avenue.
Nancy Hill now owns Hazel & Violet letterpress shop on Grand Avenue. Jim Louvau

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Nancy Hill now owns Hazel & Violet letterpress shop on Grand Avenue.
Jim Louvau
In honor of the theme of our 2019 Best of Phoenix, "Create Your Phoenix," we are spotlighting people who are innovating in their respective fields, helping our community to evolve in ways that we can all appreciate.

Thirteen years ago, Nancy Hill and a friend of hers decided they needed a little tabletop press. “We liked typography and paper,” says the owner of Grand Avenue letterpress shop Hazel & Violet, “and we thought it would be fun.”

Hill headed to Craigslist in search of that tabletop press and found something more. “A guy in Apache Junction was selling his entire print shop,” she recalls. “We bought it. We started Hazel & Violet in my friend’s garage. She moved on, and I moved downtown in 2002 and was in several locations before landing on Grand Avenue.”

It wasn’t long, Hill says, before she realized that letterpress — a traditional form of printing that involves pressing metal or wood type plates into cotton paper — was a perfect fit for her. “I get to work with machinery and tools, everything has a place it belongs, and I can print anything I want.”

It used to drive her crazy, she admits, that so few people know what letterpress is. “By now, I’m used to it. But I do have to be armed with an elevator pitch wherever I go. I usually have my letterpress business cards with me, so I can give you one and show you what I do.”

Hazel & Violet caters to a pretty diverse crowd, Hill says. “We get a lot of youngish designers and artists, and a lot of old men who used to do this when they were young. Both groups are pretty entertaining. I get business from one and history from the other. Of course, on First and Third Friday nights, everybody comes.”

The designers and artists usually turn up with a project in mind, Hill says. “They’re working on wedding invites, business cards, posters, what have you. In the case of the old men, they are looking for the familiar and a chance to share stories with someone who cares and who gets it.”

And what about all those folks who show up on Friday nights? “Oh, they all just want to print a free poster,” Hill says with a laugh.

Five Secrets to Doing Great Letterpress

By Nancy Hill

1. Take your time. Hand-draw your project first.

2.  Measure everything. Twice!

3. Learn how to read backward and upside down. You must, when you’re setting type.

4. Before you print, have someone else check your spelling.

5. Learn the job case. Don’t know what that is? Come down to Hazel & Violet, and I’ll tell you.
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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela