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Alumni Develop Big Press Little Press, a Letterpress Printing Shop

Posted Jul. 31, 2013

Classic Pairings, letterpress work by VCD Alumni Andy Schwanbeck and Miranda Hall  Map Quote, work by VCD alumni Andy Schwanbeck and Miranda Hall  Pittsburghese, work by VCD alumni Andy Schwanbeck and Miranda Hall

By Nicole Gennarelli

From their time here at Kent State University, School of Visual Communication and Design (VCD) alumni Andrew Schwanbeck and Miranda Hall developed a passion for letterpress printing. Growing from that passion is Big Press Little Press, Schwanbeck and Hall’s own letterpress printing shop in Cranberry, Pa.

Schwanbeck, ’13, has a bachelor’s degree in industrial design from the University of the Arts and a master’s degree in visual communication design from Kent State. Hall, ’08, has a bachelor’s degree in graphic design from La Roche College and master’s degree in visual communication design from Kent State. The two met at Schwanbeck’s first job where he was hired as production support for Hall at an exhibit design firm in Washington D.C. They worked together for three years and became good friends throughout the process.

“We both love letterpress printing, largely due to our exposure to it at Kent,” Schwanbeck said. “It's always been a dream of Miranda's to own some printing equipment, so when I recently became interested in it as well, we decided that together we could make it happen. Plus, I knew my time at Kent was limited and soon I'd be saying goodbye to the print room, and I was much too excited to simply stop printing.”

Big Press Little Press opened in January 2013 after Schwanbeck and Hall acquired most of their equipment and was able to start making prints.

“Our primary interest in the beginning was obtaining just enough equipment to have a small area so that we could both continue printing,” Hall said. “But when we lucked out in getting such a good supply of resources, we shifted our sights on more long term goals like selling our work and eventually teaching workshops.”

Once the two started printing, it was impossible for them to stop. Schwanbeck and Hall started to think about bigger projects they could complete and entertained the idea of selling some of the prints.

The idea was never to start a business, but more to just have fun printing,” Schwanbeck and Hall said. “However I think our creative spirit took over as we quickly began to imagine more ambitious projects than just a print or two for us around the house. Plus as we started printing, we had a lot of left over prints and so I think we just naturally started trying to sell them.”

Both Schwanbeck and Hall have full-time jobs in addition to Big Press Little Press, so it can be hectic process at times.

“This is something we're both passionate about it so never feels like work,” Hall said. “We're still in the early phases of figuring this out. Right now we're having fun making art prints and selling them at some local shops and shows. In the future, we're hoping to develop more client work and expand our facilities.”

Schwanbeck and Hall had their work featured in a store in Lawrencewille, Pa. called Wildcard. They created a print for the AIGA 365 Pittsburgh show last year and Wildcard asked them to participate in a small show featuring the work of local artists and makers.

“It was really exciting for both of us to realize that other people were as excited about what we are doing as we are,” Schwanbeck said.

Schwanbeck and Hall are also selling their prints to boutique shops around Pittsburgh and at various art shows in Pittsburgh and nearby cities. Also, Big Press Little Press just launched an Etsy store to sell their work, as well. In addition to selling their pieces, Schwanbeck and Hall have recently started creating work for different clients such as promotional pieces and business cards.

“Client work is always nice because it broadens your way of thinking about what you do and how you go about problem solving,” Schwanbeck and Hall said. “It also offers some sustaining income which is never bad. On the other side, creating our own work gives us the ultimate freedom to have fun and enjoy what we do. I think our goal moving forward will always be to find a delicate balance of the two.”

Both Schwanbeck and Hall agree that Kent State’s VCD program was the most significant and important stepping stone that helped them get where they are today.

“It introduced us both to letterpress printing and gave us a solid foundation to start a print shop of our own,” they said. “The instructors who have taught us at Kent State have such excitement and passion for printing that it was easily contagious. It was really an exciting way to learn and we both owe a lot of this to them and the rest of the faculty behind the VCD program.”

They think the most important part of starting your own business is making sure there is a component in it that’s for you.

I think because we have our fun in making prints that we like, this will always be a happy and successful outlet for us,” they said. “Even if client work becomes overbearing, or if it starts to feel more like work than play, having your own little slice of what you do that makes you happy, is just about the only way to enjoy something for the long haul.”