For the second installment of “Artists Work,” a regular feature profiling artists with creative day jobs, Lu Zhang interviews Kyle Van Horn and Kim Bentley of Baltimore Print Studios.
Kyle and Kim have adopted their love for printmaking over many years of occasional classes, personal projects, and commercial work. Together they manage studio hours, teach letterpress and screenprinting workshops, and tackle commercial work at their location in Studio’s North Arts & Entertainment District.
LZ: Hi Kyle and Kim! Tell me about Baltimore Print Studios.
BPS: Baltimore Print Studios is a public-access letterpress and screenprinting studio in the heart of Station North Arts & Entertainment District in Baltimore, MD. We offer workshops, studio rental on our presses & equipment for experienced printers, and printing and design services. Our Intro workshops are offered monthly and teach enough that participants can return and work independently in our studio on their own projects.
LZ: Why did you guys start Baltimore Print Studios?
We saw an opportunity in Baltimore for a studio like this. We both had backgrounds in art and printmaking, and thought that a place like this might be well received, especially with so many art students graduating and losing press access and studio space. We did our research by visiting other shops, both regionally and nationally, and started drawing up plans for a studio of our own.
LZ: Kyle, you have a background in printmaking, and Kim, your background is in graphic design. I’m curious about how you both collaborate. (ex: Do you stick to your own skill set or is your approach more of a blend) Also, who has which degrees in illustration and painting?
BPS: Kim has an BFA in Illustration from University of Delaware, and Kyle has a BFA in Painting from MICA. Both of us dabbled in printmaking, book arts, and other media while in school. Kim later received her MFA in Graphic Design from MICA. In terms of collaboration, Kim tends to do more of the digital design work for the studio (either for clients or in-house projects). Both of us weigh in on designs, however, and art direction goes both ways, regardless of whether the design is being done on a computer screen or a press bed.
LZ: How do you see these disciplines (graphic design, printmaking, illustration, painting) informing each other?
BPS: All of these disciplines inform each other. It’s all about composing a picture that is pleasing and conveys a message.
LZ: How has your education helped or not helped you get to where you are now?
BPS: We don’t see a downside to education – we’re constantly learning in this business, whether it’s a how to use a new press, teaching a new class, making a new product or print, or collaborating with new people and businesses. Our backgrounds in art taught us how to express ourselves creatively in a like-minded and supportive environment. The shop is teaching us how to turn that interest into a lifestyle and functioning business.
LZ: Kim, you teach a class at MICA on graphic design for printmakers. How have you tailored that course towards printmakers? I’m interested in your opinion on the push to teach marketable skills and business skills to artists.
BPS: Ha, we wish we had also taken a class or two in marketable business skills! But actually, it’s the other way around – the last two years, I’ve taught a Poster Design & Screenprinting class in the design department at MICA, and this spring I’m teaching Screenprinting Studio for graduate students. So yes, we think it’s important for artists to be taught business skills to promote their own practice, but we also think it’s important to teach a small part of printing and design history through physical methods of hand-set type and hand-pulled squeegees.
LZ: Your mission seems to be very diverse: you’re educators, you’re artists, you’re technicians, you’re collectors, you sell your own prints… it feels like a very open and organic approach. Can you tell me more about how this came about?
BPS: The artist, educator, technician, and collector hats were always part of the business plan for BPS. We love all of those parts of our job, and the studio’s survival has depended at least a little on all of those parts working together since day one. We’re also a small business, so everything we do requires an open and organic approach. We’ve spent the last few years working to engage the community we’re in, providing a service we hope people want to use and enjoy. Striking the right programming and right kind of studio environment that interests the community at large challenges and motivates us to keep new ideas flowing.
LZ: What’s been the biggest challenge in running your own business?
BPS: The business side of business is the hard part – remembering to pay taxes on time, balancing a budget, learning when to spend the big bucks and when to be frugal. Trying to plan for the long term while dealing with the day-to-day in a job where minutia really defines what we are.
LZ: What’s the most rewarding part?
BPS: Seeing our work go out into the world is the best part. Teaching others how to print, and sharing with them the history, processes, tips and tricks of printing is pretty great too.
LZ: What’s surprised you the most?
BPS: Perhaps the best surprise is that 3 years in, our workshops are still filling, and we’re still open! We opened our doors with cautious optimism, and knowing that if everything crashed and burned, we’d still land on our feet. To our delight, we’ve grown each year, in size, customers, and offerings.
LZ: What are some exciting projects that have been printed here?
BPS: We worked with our friends at Radica Textiles to create an installation in the entryway of Union Mill, an old cotton duck mill which has been renovated into condos and offices. That might sound a little unusual for a print shop, but in fact we got to push the limits of our design abilities, technical abilities, construction, and research to make something completely unique to their needs.
LZ: Do you have a favorite press/process/font?
BPS: We love combining both screenprinting and letterpress printing processes in our own work, and we love hand-setting type from our collection. There is no favorite font, each job or project will dictate new needs and call for a different style. We are quite proud of our collection of wood type, but we’re always on the hunt for new fonts (in wood and metal!) If any of your readers know of any sets stashed away somewhere, please send them our way! We do what we can to save type from the flea market pickers.
LZ: “Baltimore” is in your name and I’m wondering how you view developments / changes in the making scene here. Do you see yourselves here for the long term?
BPS: We hope to be part of the Station North community for a long time. We love this neighborhood and we want to contribute to its growth. We’re excited to see other businesses open up here who think the same way. Since we’ve opened, the Station North Tool Library has opened, Red Emma’s Coffeehouse and Bookstore, Canteen (there can’t be too many coffee shops, in our opinion), the new HQ for the Arts and Entertainment District, and a variety of new restaurants. 10 E. North Ave will soon be home to a wide range of new studios and business, all art-based. To top it all off, some outside benefactors have come in to revitalized buildings, helping along new spaces that will be opening over the next two years. We’re excited to see what happens in the coming years.
LZ: I saw on your website that you invite visiting artists for workshops. Is the visiting artist workshop a regular thing? Who else has visited or will visit?
BPS: Yes! We’ve only just begun offering workshops with outside instructors. This is partly because we’ve been teaching the same 2 classes for 3 full years, and finally needed some variety, but it’s also because our friends and colleagues have talents and abilities that we want to learn from. Rather than stumble through a process ourselves, it’s much more fun to bring in the expert. Brad Vetter was our first, but this spring is filled with new classes for us. January brought Jenny Nelson from Home Sweet by Hand to teach block printing on fabric. February will have Nolen Strals teaching hand lettering, and Paul Moxon, an expert on the Vandercook Letterpress, teaching a maintenance workshop. March will be a leather binding course with Almanac Industries, and April we’ll finally offer a much-asked for T-shirt printing class with Red Prairie Press. We’re also looking towards summer and planning a pattern-making and textile printing class with Radica Textiles.
LZ: Any other news or upcoming events that you’d like to share?
BPS: We offer workshops every month – always an Intro to Letterpress and Intro to Screenprinting, and occasionally something special. Anyone interested in taking a class should check our online store or sign up for our email list. Our goal is to teach everyone enough that they can come back to our shop to produce work of their own. Many people seem to be happy to just take the class, and that’s cool too. We’ve met people from every corner of the city and state, in every trade, with any range of artistic interests. Everyone learns a little something from us, and more often than not, we learn something from them. And, last but certainly not least, this May, the print shop is getting married! We opened the business as a couple, and we’re excited to keep doing what we’re doing as a married team.
All studio photos courtesy of Baltimore Print Studios. Portraits of Kyle and Kim courtesy of Elizabeth Eadie.
* Author Lu Zhang is a Baltimore-based artist and a Managing Editor at Bmoreart.