Field Trip Friday: Workhorse Printmakers / Spindletop Design
The space that houses the Spindletop Design / Workhorse Printmakers duo is almost magical. The wooden deck, aluminum facade, and shade beneath the trees makes the Workhorse space feel instantly accessible and fun- like the summer camp of design companies. After being greeted by a beautiful tropical bird in a cage, the designers introduce themselves and it's decided: this isn't a typical high pressure, commercial design environment. This inclusive attitude has attracted many of their clients, and the relationship they build is as unique as the product they produce. At Workhorse, the designers use a forgotten model of technology, the letterpress, to create work with a decidedly modern aesthetic for their artisan market. Through their work, this team of designers helps create a visual identity for Houstonians, just when the city emerges (not coincidentally) as a nationally respected design community.
Owners John Earles and Jennifer Blanco set up shop in 2009, though both have years of experience in fine art and graphic design. John has always been fascinated by machinery; in fact, he studied mechanical engineering for four years at The University of Houston before switching his major to fine arts. The letterpress combines the two fields, finding a middle ground between gears, grease and artistry. Of course, making archaic machines work beyond their intended capacity is a challenge. For John, “Letterpress is this kind of fascinating modern archeology where you're trying to learn about equipment that is not readily used anymore.”
Though Spindletop is focused more on design for clients- like visual branding or websites, both sides of the studio work hand-in-hand. Workhorse is involved in the entire design process from beginning to end, and their array of clientele including Fat Cat Creamery and Brazos Bookstore, are drawn to the product this collaboration produces. According to John, production is crucial. "These days, everything that's made by human beings tends to not have a story, so I like making things, by hand, that are perfectly imperfect."
They also reach out beyond the design community to engage in what they call print advocacy. During July, they hosted a Museum Experience day at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, bringing letterpress machines for the public to create a free print. This week, they will be present at the Houston Zoo for Feast with the Beasts, allowing guests to create handmade posters during the event. This engagement extends beyond their company; as Vice President of AIGA, Jennifer Blanco has helped to bring big names in design to Houston, such as the Senior Art Director of Target, Allan Peters, who will be a speaker at the 2013 Inside Job in-house design conference.
To John, Houston has a unique opportunity for immersion in the arts. "People in Houston work by being inclusive. If you're doing something, the ultimate goal is to get more people to participate. Whereas in cities like LA or New York, the opposite is true. Things become cool simply by keeping people out."
Workhorse Printmakers and Spindletop Design provide an artistic niche for all the companies and individuals they serve, though John doesn't see this as a service, but as a collaboration.