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Typecast: Print Renaissance Takes Hold in Station North

Kyle Van Horn, owner and operator of Baltimore Print Studios - Arianne Teeple
Kyle Van Horn, owner and operator of Baltimore Print Studios - Arianne Teeple
Consider it a milestone in Baltimore for anyone who ever wanted a one-of-kind band poster. Or for any graphic designer who misses the days when the ink on your fingers wasn't from a leaky laserjet toner cartridge.

On Oct. 17, 2010, 29-year-old Kyle Van Horn held an open house for Baltimore Print Studios (BPS), a public-access print shop at 18 W. North Avenue in the Station North district. The facility hosted demonstrations of screen and letter-press printing, and there was much rejoicing. Literally.

"Somebody at the open house said, 'Oh my God, this is the greatest thing to ever happen in Baltimore!' Maybe it was the beer talking," Van Horn said sheepishly. Still, the sense of pride he feels in this love's labor won is clear, as he added, "Baltimore is so incredibly supportive of people's crazy ideas. There's that nickname -- Smalltimore -- everyone knows everyone else and shows up at everyone's events," he said.

For Mary Mashburn, the 40-something proprietor of Typecast Press in Hampden, BPS represents "one more piece in the Baltimore press renaissance. Baltimore has always been a big printing town -- in fact, that was our primary industry until Johns Hopkins took over as the leader," she explained.

Van Horn described his "1,100-1,200 square foot" shop as a "museum that functions." BPS features one exposure unit for silk screening and six letter presses, including three self-inking "Vandercooks," recognized as the most widely used proof presses, manufactured by Robert Vandercook in Chicago beginning in 1909.

"Each Vandercook weighs nothing less than a 1,000 pounds," Van Horn said. "The printing equipment, none of it's newer than 1965, so you're pushing 50 years here."

The presses are available to use for $15-per-hour or a monthly rate of $150 for up to 20 hours. Day-long workshops in the use of the presses can be scheduled for $125.

To fund BPS, Van Horn has been selling limited edition posters.

"I've made 500 of them, printing them off nonstop for a day and a half, and each one is a little different in some way. Even if one has some mistake, people appreciate them. They realize that what they have is one of a kind," Van Horn said.

A 2003 graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Arts, Van Horn found inspiration to start BPS in his role as a MICA shop technician. "It's been my job to kick former students out of the MICA print shop. You feel guilty that they can't be there, but sorry, you've graduated, bye! I thought, why don't they have somewhere else to go to practice their art?"

And according to Van Horn, there's more MICA graduates to disappoint than ever.

"We're graduating more and more print majors. When I was in school, we had four or six�now we have a class of 30 print making majors. I got the idea of starting a public access shop when I visited other cities like Portland, New York, Pittsburgh, D.C., which all have shops, but there's nothing here. So I decided to tackle it," Van Horn said.

Luckily for him, he had plenty of assistants.

Graphic designer Kim Bentley, 35, Van Horn's girlfriend, noted that what Kyle couldn't acquire, he's built himself.

"Kyle built the washout sink and tables for screen printing and the worktable in the middle of the room," she said.

The effort to make the BPS a reality also took considerable research.

"He went to Rhode Island to visit a couple shops there, and along the East Coast. This past summer we went to Wisconsin and Tennessee and to a little shop in Indiana close to where his parents live. It's interesting to see how other shops work; most aren't public access. By offering use of the facility on an hourly basis, it makes it more accessible," Bentley said.

"When I was finally in search mode to find a space, I looked in three different neighborhoods -- Remington, Southeast Baltimore near Patterson Park, and Station North. I happened upon some very awesome landlords who run the same building as Cyclops Books  and  The Windup Space. It seemed like a perfect fit and the building's more than adequate for my needs -- the presses aren't going to go through the floor. And to have a storefront view is really fabulous," Van Horn said.

Still, one can't help but wonder in today's computer-driven, industrial-light-and-magical age, why all the fuss about an anachronism, a glorified buggywhip factory?

"The pendulum is swinging back," Van Horn said. "People like producing things by hand. Printmaking is as much an art as it is a craft. There's color choices, paper choices�the type image is crushed into the paper�you can feel the pillowy impression. There's screen painting with acrylic ink that applied directly to the surface�you can see the changes in color in different lights. That's what's in my mind when I think of handprinting over digital reproduction. You can see the artist's hand," Van Horn said.

"There's been a huge resurgence in the world of craft in the past couple years�in the world of handmade anything. Rather than selling one painting for $1,000, students see that they can print 20 paintings that don't take much time and sell them for $50 apiece," he added.

Mashburn echoed Van Horn's remarks. "People love the idea that you can turn a crank on an old machine and then you're holding a printed piece in your hand. There's a physical joy -- it's something you created. You can't get that from Twitter or email or digital things. We are continuing a tradition that dates back to Gutenberg," she said.

Van Horn admits that items printed in this fashion are "much more expensive" than those digitally produced, "but if you want wedding invitations that are memorable, or you're making something you want to cherish, that's not 'junk mail,'" then Baltimore Print Studios offers a viable alternative.

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Photos by Arianne Teeple

- Kyle Van Horn, owner and operator of Baltimore Print Studios
- Kyle Van Horn, sets type on a press at Baltimore Print Studios
- Ink being prepared for a print
- Kyle Van Horn, owner and operator of Baltimore Print Studios
- Oil tins on display
- Prints on display

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