Interview: Two Tone Press

I met Michelle and Angie of Two Tone Press a couple years ago at the Cherokee Print League holiday sale in St. Louis. The two recently relocated to a permanent live/work space in Midtown Kansas City. In honor of this big step for the letterpress studio, I interviewed them to learn more about how Two Tone has evolved over the years.

Sage Dawson: Who runs Two Tone Press?

Michelle Dreher: Two Tone Press was founded by myself. I ran the shop solo until my sister, Angie, moved to Kansas City in the fall of 2011. I’m the artist and designer behind the studio, creating colorful posters, invitations, and other paper goods. I attempt to produce refined prints using antique machinery, with a special interest in using bold graphics and delicate layered patterns.

My sister has a background in business and social networking. With her disturbing love of spreadsheets and lists, she brings much needed order to the studio. Since joining full-time, Angie has managed to make our online store much more successful, helped to redesign our website, and improved our web presence. She also dabbles in design, which is very helpful when we tag-team on projects. We hope to solidify Two Tone Press as a stand out Kansas City print studio.

SD: How long has Two Tone Press existed?

MD: With a slow and steady pace of constantly reinventing and redefining the studio, it has existed for nine years, beginning in 2005.

(Video directed and edited by Blue Coffee Pictures, Camera Operation: Michael Ransdell and Matt Frye)

SD: Can you sum up how the studio was started?

MD: Two Tone Press was began in a loft among the industrial brick warehouses and train-yards of the West Bottoms district of Kansas City, Missouri. The first year was labor intensive. The studio’s first press was a small non-motorized machine that required tediously turning a tiny wheel in order to ink the rollers. Thankfully over the next few years, opportunity showed up on multiple occasions, and we obtained three hand-cranked Vandercook presses, each with a coveted motor for inking. A not-so insignificant feat when only 1,650 Vandercook presses are known to have survived out of more than 30,000 manufactured. These three machines plus an 1898 Chandler and Price platen press (watch your fingers with that one), and a 1910 cast iron guillotine cutter are what comprise the shop today.

SD: How and when did you become interested in printmaking?

MD: I spent two semesters taking printmaking courses at the Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI), then interned at a local print shop, which added to my interest in the discipline. After graduating from KCAI, I continued to work at the same print shop until I gained enough experience to start my own studio.

SD: Where is Two Tone Press located in Kansas City, and are you involved in the KC art community?

MD: After some searching for a permanent location, I found a two-story brick building in Midtown Kansas City. It was a good size, a nice location, and had an incredible amount of potential. The price was great, and with a little negotiating we got an amazing deal. After agreeing on less than three-quarters of the asking price, the sellers lowered the price another five percent in exchange for several letterpress art prints. After gutting the structure to its bones, Two Tone Press officially relocated at the beginning of 2011.

The studio is only about five minutes from the Crossroads Arts District which houses numerous galleries and shops. Although it is on the edge, it is still very near all the action.

We take on interns from area universities and colleges, and we also frequently give tours and demos at our studio. We hope to give the Kansas City community a better sense of printmaking as an art form.

SD: How has having a permanent location changed your day-to-day operations?

MD: This move helped to re-focus our future goals, albeit still a slow process with all the renovations. To cut back on overhead costs, I converted the second floor to an apartment. In my previous space, my living and studio spaces were combined, which made for a lot of distractions. Now that the apartment above is nearly complete, I can keep the studio separated from my home. The studio is still a work-in-progress, but having it in its own space is allows me to be more efficient.

SD: What advice would you give someone who is interested in opening his or her own studio/print shop?

MD: Letterpress printing is a labor of love. My advice to someone getting into this business (or pursuing any type of entrepreneurial endeavor) is to understand that it doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t even happen in a matter of weeks or months.  Building something from scratch takes a ton of time and patience. Success is a slow and unsteady process with spurts of activity, motivation, and progress. The whole process is full of minor successes, failures, and a lot of learning. Start small and don’t be afraid to invest in what you are doing. It’s all about how you use your resources. Instead of having a car payment, I took out a loan for a press and my first set of type cabinets. And the rest, as they say, is history…

SD: Any upcoming projects or events that you’re excited about?

MD: Two of our favorite events are the Spectrum Fantastic Art conference and the Maker Faire. Spectrum is dedicated to sci-fi/fantasy art, a genre that we are absolute fans of. We participated in 2013 and look forward to creating new sci-fi/fantasy inspired prints for this year’s event in early May. The Maker Faire consists of anything and everything hand-made, from tiny robots to steampunk fashion. We had a total blast last year.

 SD: Any big goals for 2014?

 MD: Absolutely! 2014 is going to be a big year for us. Soon, we will begin renovating our storefront in hopes of having a grand opening this fall. The store will include print work from our favorite places around the U.S., in addition to a sampling of locally crafted products. The new space will also allow us to be more approachable to the general public. We are very excited to see all of our hard work from the past nine years continue to come to fruition.

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