The deeper I delve into the world of traditional sign-making, carving, gilding and hand-lettering, the clearer it becomes that print-making and sign-making are first cousins. Both industries are populated with passionate creatives who love typography, colour, hand-tools and old machinery.
Back when we interviewed Peter Vogel, the subject turned to a print-house in his city called Keegan Meegan & Co. The business is run by Keegan Wenkman and Katy Meegan, and continues to produce amazingly detailed handcrafted prints from a former paper factory. In today’s post Keegan tells us a little more:
You’re an illustrator, printer & designer. Which came first?
Officially I went to school for web design during the flash craze of the early 2000’s. I hated it straight away and started talking with all the graphics and illustrator teachers. One in particular pulled me aside and took me to the library to show me a bit of history. He showed me the old master painters. So having said that, I was a oil painter for ages before I turned my rough drawings for paintings into a means to make a living. It wasn’t until I wanted to reproduce the drawings that I learned printmaking, which I took on with a fervor.
What prompted the move from Minneapolis to Portland?
I was born in Fresno, Ca originally, so the west coast has always been in my blood. My parents moved to Madison, Wisconsin early in my life – a move I wasn’t too happy with. After finishing college in Minneapolis, I took the first opportunity to move west. Portland wasn’t the first choice but in the end to be a working artist, affordability of a home and studio was major factor. I have no regrets. The city has been incredibly supportive and encouraging.
On your blog you wrote ‘our printing is a throw-back to time when quality and beauty were a necessity in everyday life.’ Do you think this appreciation for authenticity is growing among people of our age bracket, or will it always be a small & committed group on the fringe, so to speak?
I’m not really sure what to say about quality these days. Some of us really care about the history of industry and manufacturing that is slowly disappearing from our modern landscape. Our current culture has a way of erasing all that is not current, people call letterpress or sign-painting a dead craft, but I have to disagree. It has always been around. It just wasn’t that special until the internet casts its gaze upon it. All of a sudden people get all bright-eyed and lusty for it, which – honestly – is good, allowing craftspersons to re-educate folks. Personally, for myself, I need to work with my hands. I’m just not happy working on a computer and love the mechanical problem solving one must do in a analog workplace. As for others, I believe people just want to connect to something more permanent and meaningful, such as a craft. It will make you quite a grumpy stubborn person – beware!
The building I work from is an old paper manufacturer. The train tracks are still outside, that allowed each freight car to pull right up to our roll up doors. I believe it was built in the nineteen-twenties. The timber structure was salvaged from retired clippers. Going back to the last question, workers built the five-storey building made of wood and hand-laid brick in two weeks. Imagine that happening today!
What’s the ‘Steamroller Smackdown’?
Traditionally, in recent history, when printing with a steamroller, those gatherings are called a ‘Wayzgoose’. A Wayzgoose formerly was gathering in each city, where the largest print house would throw a party and cook a nice fast goose for everybody. These days it a bunch of folks usually printing large sometimes five-by-four-foot hand-carved linoleum cuts.
How did you come to love type & graphics?
I learned the now dead art of paste-up early on. Paste-up was how all design happened for ages – literally hand-composing type and graphics as cut-outs and pasting them in place. It’s a tedious yet loving endeavor, since you learn to make most decisions about type and layout before you even touch the design. Over the years I’ve learned most things out of necessity for getting work. I don’t see that ending anytime soon.
Here’s a few more images from Keegan & Kate’s very artisanal workshop:
Thanks Kate and Keegan!