Incomplete: A Portland Trail Blazers Letterpress Project

Editor’s Note: As part of our new bartsketball project, Sarah Moon today has been kind enough to articulate upon a set of Portland Trail Blazers letterpress cards that she produced about a year ago.

Type - Raleigh, Times, Gothic Bold

Type set for the back of the Brandon Roy letterpress card

About a year ago, Blazers Nation was experiencing the apex of a renaissance that was a long time in the making. For me, it was a throwback to the days of my childhood in the Portland area, when the Blazers transfixed the whole region with every play, and possibilities seemed limitless. Last spring, during the Blazers season, I was also learning letterpress printing and so it seemed at natural fit to capture that revitalization in a substantial project.

Channing--Silver Version

“The Mayor”

My Channing Frye letterpress card-this was one of the two that was actually fully completed with front and back printing. Channing is one of my all-time favorite Blazers, and I spent the entire season last year dreading his inevitable departure. (This piece is based off of a photo my talented friend Brian Kroll took when I met Channing in winter 2009 — during his worst series of DNP-CDs.)

Because I was a rookie letterpress printer, I had no idea how much time it actually took to create a small letterpress print. No idea at all. My goal was to create a set of team trading cards that would appeal to, well, me. (You can read the entirety of my project goals here.) It was ambitious, to say the least, but at the time, I really didn’t understand my limitations — not dissimilar from that season’s Blazers team.

As my project combined both printing and prose, I wrote quirky, deadpan narratives for each player.

The first two cards, Nicolas Batum and Channing Frye took me weeks and weeks to complete. Why? Well, setting tiny, tiny type by hand is extremely labor-intensive. You see, not that long ago, we didn’t have computers, or Xerox machines. In order to create multiple editions of print material, typesetters had to hand-set each and every letter, punctuation mark and space. It’s a time-consuming, tedious task, though also deeply satisfying, because the process is not dissimilar from that of the original Gutenberg printing press.



With Greg Oden‘s portrait, I really wanted to capture the happy kid who we first met in 2007, before the injuries and expectations.

Frustrated with the fact that I was making what felt like zero progress, because the typesetting for a single card would take an entire Saturday, I refocussed my printing efforts on the front of the cards, the faces of the team. This process was simpler, using a “high tech” (in the printmaking world) process involving metal plates coated in old fashioned photo chemicals to expose digital artwork printed on transparency film and it felt like I was making progress finally. I was cranking out prints on the Pacific Northwest College of Art’s 80 year-old press, affectionately named, “Ruth.”



The Martell Webster portrait was the hardest, not only because I struggled with the artwork, but also because-since he missed all but five minutes of the season-I didn’t want him to look, well, sad. Marty had an extremely positive attitude in public during that entire season, but every still photo I looked at of him, he had this wistful look.

I loved the process of creating the artwork to represent the players-Portland had an immensely likeable collection of guys in 2008-09, it was a treat to translate them into artwork.


“Big Shot.”

Oh, Travis, I thought you’d be a Blazer forever.


“Per a Tres!”

When I think of Rudy Fernandez, I think of his fiery reaction when he makes a big shot. That’s why so many of us here love him — he wears his heart on his sleeve.



The LaMarcus Aldridge card is the only one that is explicitly depicting in-game action. LaMarcus is an interesting character, but no one really knows much about him, aside from what he does on the court.


“Super Whopper.”

Nicolas Batum‘s “rookie card” was the first one I printed. The surprisingly talented kid from France who was thrust into the role of NBA starter had such a wonderfully awe-struck look all season long, that I had to make sure his letterpress portrait reflected that quality. Nico is a bit wiser-looking these days, following a summer playing for the French national team and a good junk of the 2009-10 NBA season on the injured list, it’s nice to look back this imagine and remember him as an awkward French kid.


“The Reason.” Brandon Roy.

My letterpress project actually moved along at a good clip, about one a week for quite awhile, until I finally finished the artwork for my Brandon Roy card, and had a stack of prints ready for pithy writing. I couldn’t do it.

Everything I tried to write about Brandon Roy sounded ridiculous. I wanted to appropriately record something about Brandon that jelled with the rest of the cards (I’d drafted text for the rest, just hadn’t typeset or printed back text yet), but also explained his importance to the team and how integral he had been for reinvigorating “Blazermania” in Portland. Everything sounded banal and trite. I am a professional writer, I can usually fake it ’til I make it when it comes to stringing words together. But not this time.

This horrible case of writers’ block came immediately after the Trail Blazers ill-fated playoff series against the Houston Rockets. Honestly, I don’t think I was alone in being completely and utterly shocked that the team lost that series, and lost it badly. I also don’t think I was alone in being inconsolable following the end of that series. Inconsolable. Not just because they lost, but because I knew that the no expectations, innocent, “we can do anything” era that I’d enjoyed so much not just that season, but the previous season as well (Remember that 13-game winning streak?), was effectively over-and with it, so was my project, which I came to affectionately think of as, Incomplete.

Sarah Moon is a Portland-based writer and Trail Blazers fan who spends way too much time contemplating the style hits and misses of NBA players. She also holds out hope that one day Channing Frye will triumphantly return to Portland — and run for Mayor. Follow Sarah’s thoughts on basketball, life in Portland and other random musings and rants on Twitter.