Inspired Chicago | Four Hats Press

What could possibly be better for a rainy Sunday afternoon than sweatpants and movies with your boyfriend? Hot apple cider, warm conversation, and photographing the amazingly talented Cory, owner of Four Hats Press! I found Cory through our local Rising Tide Society group's page and couldn't believe I hadn't met her yet - her custom calligraphy and letterpress prints are totally gorgeous and without a doubt my style.

I'll be honest, friends, I had no idea what letterpress was or the amount of work that an artist has to put into the letterpress machine to get it to work for them. Cory was so kind and explained in detail what all goes into a design from start to finish - from the initial inquiry, to inspiration boards, to hand drawing a custom design, to printing and pressing the final product. The amount of care and passion that goes into each custom project for clients truly sets Cory and her business apart - plus her sweet and thorough attitude!

Hope y'all enjoy this feature as much as I enjoyed photographing this creative entrepreneur, and thanks to Cory for letting me in your home and getting to know you and your business! :)

Chicago letterpress and calligraphy studio interviewed for women's feature series  Inspired Chicago
Chicago letterpress studio Four Hats Press interviewed for Inspired Chicago feature series

Q. What do you call yourself? Small business owner, author, designer, etc.

I'm primarily a letterpress printer and calligrapher, though I do some design as well. My business name itself actually reflects that I find myself doing a variety of things, and my somewhat-nontraditional career path has lead me to letterpress, but I've worn a few different hats along the way.

Chicago portrait photographer Katharine Hannah interviews local women for photography blog series  Inspired Chicago

Q. How did you get into letterpress and calligraphy?

After graduating with a degree in magazine journalism, I began working in publishing. While writing for a small women's magazine in Birmingham, Alabama, I had the opportunity to interview a couple who owned and operated a small letterpress out of their home. I was intrigued by the machinery and the process. Incidentally, the magazine I was working for fell prey to the recession before that article was published, but I used my new daytime freedom to pack up and head to a craft school in North Carolina, where I took a deep dive into learning the traditional art of letterpress printing over the course of two months.

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Cory Smith of Four Hats Press interviewed by Chicago photographer Katharine Hannah for blog series  Inspired Chicago

Q. Was this where you always intended to be in your career, or were there alternative career paths you considered?

In some ways, my path here has been circuitous, but in other ways, it's progressed in what has felt like a logical path. After returning from my time at the craft school, I began working full-time as a baker as I saved up for my first letterpress and printed in community studios as often as I could. I did that for a couple of blissful years, before returning to full-time editorial work at a magazine. At that point, I had bought my first press, and was printing as much as possible on the side, building up my business. When I left that magazine job, I returned to work in the kitchen, and spent several more years working with my hands in both dough and in ink.

I was able to concentrate solely on my business for a season before my husband and I were married and we moved to Belfast, Northern Ireland for a year for his schooling. When we returned to the states, we moved here to Chicago.

Q. Why did you choose base your business in Chicago?

We moved here for my husband's doctorate program. I'll be the first to admit, all the moving and adjusting took a bit of a toll on my creative energy, but I was able to relocate my letterpresses here about a year and a half ago, and I've been steadily working to rebuild business both locally and nationally.

Cory Smith interviewed for  Inspired Chicago  series that features local creative entrepreneurial women
Navy blue custom wedding invitation by letterpress printer Four Hats Press in Chicago

Q. Do you feel like you're connected to a creative community, and if so, how has it affected you and your work?

Creative community played a huge role in the genesis of my business back in Birmingham. I absolutely would not have gotten off the ground if not for the support and help of other printers, business owners, and creatives. I'm often thankful that I began my creative journey where I did, in a city where I was known by people, and truly encouraged to chase my sometimes crazy-seeming dreams. In addition to having several informal mentorships and business confidantes, I was a part of a "secret society" of business owners. We'd meet monthly to discuss pertinent small business ownership items, and to learn from each other.

Since moving here, it's been one of my top priorities to find and cultivate similar relationships. I love meeting and talking shop with other creatives. There's such a camaraderie in this community, and in such a big city, very little feeling of competition.

Forest green wedding invitation created by Four Hats Press in Chicago
Creative entrepreneur Cory Smith interviewed for local blog series that features small businesses in Chicago

Katharine Hannah

Katharine’s work has graced the walls of institutions such as The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, The Harold Washington Library of Chicago, and local galleries such as Dreambox Gallery, Siragus Gallery and Blick Art Materials. She has also been featured on websites such as the Huffington Post, Phlearn, Fstoppers, Tigress Magazine for Girls, Bitchtopia, and Golden Boy Press.

In addition to photography, Katharine has been a mentor and educator in the arts since 2013. She has worked with students in various organizations and projects over the last two years, including Hive Chicago’s PROjectUS initiative and Digital Youth Network’s Digital Diva’s and Chicago City of Learning programs.