Striped Light opened just over a year ago at 107 Bearden Place which, of course, is nowhere near Bearden. They’re just a couple of blocks north of Broadway just off Central. It’s an unassuming building where they mark their success, among other things, by the fact that more people come there to see them now than those looking for Lonnie’s Auto-Trim, the previous tenant. In that year they’ve done print work for UTK’s version of Ted Talks, Pecha Kucha and you’ll soon see their work advertising AC Entertainment events.
It’s actually a combination print shop and record label. Throw in a dash of art exhibition space and a little bit community gathering spot and you start to get the feel for what is a very cool, laid back, throw back sort of business and space. Artist BJ Alumbaugh currently has a pretty amazing exhibition there that you’d have to see to begin to understand. Alan Bajandas was there the night I visited printed inserts for Shriek Operator’s new vinyl LP.
Founders Bryan Baker, Sarah Shebaro and Jason Boardman bring very different resumes to the business and the eclectic model seems to work. Bryan and Sarah focus more on the printing and Jason focuses more on the record label. More people may know him as the owner/operator of Pilot Light.
Bryan has made his living as a letterpress operator for the last twelve years. While attending and after graduating from UT, he worked for Yee-Haw where he contributed designs while teaching at UT. He moved to New York City (yes, there was a woman involved – she’s now his wife) where he continued teaching and began collecting many of the presses and print sets you’ll see at Striped Light. He moved his business to Detroit, then returned to Knoxville to open Striped Light when the opportunity presented itself.
Originally from the Midwest, Sarah has twice chosen to live in Knoxville. She moved here to pursue her MFA in printmaking which she received in 2008. Like Bryan, she left Knoxville for New York – Brooklyn in her case – where she taught in the Printmaking department at the Pratt Institute, resuscitating the program while she was there. She moved back to Knoxville to join Bryan and Jason in forming Striped Light.
Jason’s background in physics might surprise some people who know him through music. For the last twenty years he’s also served as the “software engineer and systems architect” for McKay’s used books. That’s impressive for the people who have studied the somewhat mystifying and trend-defying success of the place. He also started Pilot light an amazing sixteen years ago and started Hot Horse Records in the Old City, as well.
The studio is a small warehouse space filled with an amazing number of collections of letterpress sets. They continue to avidly pursue sets Bryan explained that the various fonts in the collection determine what a printer can do and it is one of the variables which distinguish one printer from another. Many of the typesets are a hundred years old or more and the system isn’t unlike what Johannes Gutenberg invented nearly 600 years ago. Replaced for many practical purposes a hundred years ago, it is now experiencing a revival of sorts among artisans.
When I was invited to attend one of the classes (Personal Calling Cards – Letterpress Basics, $65), I had more than a little trepidation given that I’ve never successfully made much of anything in my life. The idea of applying my abysmal fine-motor skills to handling tiny pieces of lead didn’t seem a pursuit likely to produce much more than frustration. But for you, dear readers, how could I decline? 🙂
So, I took a shot and was pleased to find my friend Brett had signed up for the same class, though that was small comfort because he’s actually good at building things. I needn’t have worried. Our class had six members and, while they all made more complex calling cards than the one I produced, they were very supportive. The same is true in spades for Bryan, who did most of the oral instruction and for both Bryan and Sarah as they helped us navigate the hard parts of the process. And for a simple process, it’s got its complications.
We were each given basic tools – an instrument to build our letters for our business cards, a chart showing the arrangement of numbers, letters and symbols in each of the collections – it’s mercifully uniform. Brief instructions and sample cards shared, we were cut loose – with great support. I found myself having a great time and I think others did, as well. The class is designed to run about 3 1/2 hours, but actually runs until people are finished.
After the tiny characters we each wanted were assembled – and lined up backwards – they were placed into a “chase,” in order to hold them in place – which is pretty important when you’ve just spent a couple of hours getting them lined up. A Margarita Test is applied before production – which means one person checks the other’s work and if a mistake is found, the editor gets a drink from the designer. I had two errors which would have rendered my cards useless. I had the “@” symbol upside down and instead of “.com” at the end of my address, I had “.ccm.” It’s easy to do. There were worse mistakes made that night, I assure you. But we all laughed.
Using the presses provides a very satisfying gross-motor ending to a fine-motor kind of pursuit. The pleasure of seeing a finished product emerge after several hours effort felt very good. I can’t imagine anyone not having fun whatever the level of success.
There’s also a serious path available for those who are interested. A four-hour follow-up to the basic class is required for “certification,” which means afterward people who have completed the training are allowed to use the facilities whenever they like for $12 per hour to make business cards, posters or whatever they choose. It’s tempting and less expensive than buying nice business cards – and they are unique and personal. Local musician Jennifer Nicely got the certification so she came come in to make promotional posters at $12 an hour.
I’m going to sell business cards! Not really, but I’m pretty attached to them, so you’ll have to be special to get one. I had a great time and, if it sounds like something you might like, you’ll find new classes listed regularly here. This Friday, there’s a repeat of the one I took and it will be available again later this month.
Of course, they can do a job for you themselves and it’s an entirely different level of artistic expression and form. Bryan also carves shapes for posters and other print jobs and that’s another thing that makes a particular printer stand out from others. It’s an interesting place and I’d encourage you to drop by and look around. You might just get the letterpress bug. One more thing – they have over 900 “likes” on FB and that’s just too close to 1000 not to go for it, so click here and give them a like and let’s get them to the next level.