Letterpress and screen printing have been going through a renaissance, a movement that is clearly evident in Durham, North Carolina. In a world where digital work is easily accessed and distributed, it’s nice to see custom printing making a comeback with local artists and designers. Our November Homegrown highlighted four of those local artists:
The panel shared their background with letterpress, the difficulties of being an entrepreneur in a niche market, the collaborative community among artists in Durham, and why people and businesses should invest in projects with local craftsmen.
Bill Fick, who also teaches in the art department at Duke University, started his career with screen printing in school, learning and practicing lithography and working with leaf prints. Bill spoke to the great collaborative network in Durham and how refreshing it was to be in an environment that is far more helpful than it is competitive. Besides Supergraphic, Bill also co-founded Super G Print Lab, a DIY studio which offers workshops and allows certified artists to rent the space for their printing needs. Bill co-founded the studio to “share my experience with other people, provide a place for people to come and create.”
Sarah Almond, whose background is in writing, discovered her love of letterpress at a letterpress workshop in New York. Working for publishing at the time, the workshop inspired her to take more classes and eventually she got an apprenticeship with a studio assisting with commercial printing for projects with the NYC Ballet and Fashion Week. After a few years working in New York, she found a letterpress from a retiree in Pennsylvania, relocated to Durham, and started Shed Letterpress.
With over 40 years of experience, Brian Allen, has an impressive resume when it comes to typography and letterpress, including type making for IBM. Brian originally wanted to be an academic and study cartography, however, he became hooked on type making and letterpress while working with a map maker in Boston. His career in both analog and digital type making spans from California, Boulder, and finally Durham. With “one foot in the 21st century and one in the 15th,” Brian uses a combination of traditional and new techniques on his 1850’s letterpress in his workshop, and offers a variety of workshops throughout the year.
Lenny Terenzi, owner of Hey Monkey! Design, is relatively new to the screen printing world. His background lies in web design and illustration, but he delved into letterpress a few years ago after receiving a grant from AIGA Raleigh’s Pursuit Fund to learn screen printing in Winston-Salem. Lenny has become well known in Durham for his awesome print and illustration work on branding collateral, posters, and shirts.
All of our panelists are entrepreneurs and own their own studio which means dealing with the many challenges they face as business owners. Bill talked about how seeing artists collaborating more and combining fine art and design in the Durham community has helped him remain persistent in a slightly esoteric business. Sarah echoed his sentiments, adding that learning how to do new techniques and constantly improving her skills helps her stay motivated.
One major theme throughout the panel discussion was the debate over utilizing local letterpress artists or commercial printers for projects. Every project is unique in design, audience, messaging, and delivery so one way won’t always be the right way. All our panelists agreed that their specialty is so specific and they serve a niche market. Brian pointed out how valuable hand printed work is to customers, “in the era of mass marketing we offer a true alternative… a tactile quality that allows for a more intimate connection with their client.” Sarah agreed, adding, “There are mass produced items and items produced by human hands with imperfections- we intrinsically value those more. We inherently understand the value behind a well-pressed business card- something went into this.”