Roundtable discussion with screen-printers

Within the Phish community, we are fortunate enough to have small businesses that are created by fans, for fans, to satisfy the need in the Phish community.  Whether they be food vendors, clothing makers or designers of jewelry and clothing and other wares, Phish lot is the home to not only a unique genre of art (PhanArt) but also to a number of small businesses that start out on the lot and sometimes move into a larger existence as demand is generated.

We are fortunate to have four fans that run their own screen-printing businesses which were born from the demand of Phish lot and fans in general, or other avenues that have eventually brought them back full-circle.

Included in this roundtable discussion are:

Tripp Shealey, longtime Phish fan and owner of Taboot Clothing, Denver CO – Check him out at trippsprints.com and tabootart.com;

Kyle Donaghy, North Carolina resident and the inspiration behind ‘Kyle’s Song’ by moe., has owned and run John Street Graphics since the late 90s. visit his business site at johnstreet.net;

John Warner, owner of J dub All Stars printing, he has been making designs for nearly two decades and has been seeing Phish since the early 90s;

Jesse Brust, owner of 518 Prints began creating shirts as a recreational activity from the basement of his house, and within a year his business was in full swing.

Pete Mason: How did you first get started printing shirts?

Jesse Brust: I went over to a good friend’s house. A fella by the name of Chris Stain  (www.chrisstain.com) to get tattooed.  We were in his basement and just as he was getting ready to lay down the first line I noticed he had a small bench model press, dryer and flash.  It didn’t look like he was doing much with it so I asked him if he wanted to sell the equipment. That was it. I called a family member up to borrow the money and purchased the equipment the following week.

Tripp Shealey: I used to buy my shirts that I designed from another printer.  I got tired of paying higher prices than necessary, so I decided to start printing in house. A couple of friends and I who were like minded decided to save up some money on Summer Tour 98 and buy some printing equipment. The rest is history!

John Warner: A long time ago, I actually started printing my own shirts as a teenager so I had something unique to wear. I used to make stuff for local bands in San Diego and eventually I found I could make a living out of it and formed J dub All Stars

Kyle Donaghy: I took a course in process screen-printing at a community college during summer break in college. I started selling shirts at Grateful Dead concerts to pay for my show expenses (By saying that I’m dating myself). Later I bought a press when I was in school at Appalachian State University.

PM: What are some of your most memorable designs?

JB: Five-color discharge lion and dragon design with application foil outline and a six-color simulated process on a black zip hood.

KD: The YEM/STP, The Piper/Pabst, the Icculus/Adidas, the Sloth/Sopranos, and the Treyhound/Greyhound. Those are my favorites.

YEM/STP A John Street original
Icculus/Adidas A John Street original
Piper/PBR A John Street original

JW: There are some that stand out mainly for clients; I really like the shirt I did for year of the dragon lately.

ph1-n1, fall 2009

ph1-n1, fall 2009

TS: My Bonnaroo lot shirt from the third Bonnaroo on my birthday!  Good luck finding one of those.  Oh, and Clifford Ball 96! There are too many to choose! I really like the boat print I just did from Miami.  Totally new style for me!  Opens some doors.

miami boat print
Tripp's Miami Boat Print

PM: When did you decide to make the jump from ‘a fan selling and making shirts’ to ‘a business making and selling shirts’?

KD: I was waiting tables and selling advertising for a local newspaper during the day. When my paycheck bounced at the newspaper, I knew it was time to start something new. I got a loan from the bank, bought another press, and kept at it.

JW: In my case it was the opposite, I had my business and I would make shirts to go on tour, kind of like a paid vacation.

TS: When I realized I really liked the artistic aspect of what I was doing: touring, and selling and designing shirts. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing than creating art. Sometimes I wish I could just be an artist and not have to run this whole screen-printing business.  It pays the bills though, and that’s where I’m at for now!  Trying to find that balance between business and that pleasure that is art!

JB: I worked a full time job plumbing from 8-4:30.  At 5PM I would come home and hit my basement and print until Midnight-1am everyday.  My client base was building to the point that I really didn’t need to do plumbing anymore but I continued to do plumbing for consistent money.  I was unsure about going out on my own until one morning my plumbing boss called me up before I was even suppose to be in work and said  ” Where are you” I said “I’m on my way and I’ll be there on time just like every morning”  He came back with  “I wanted to leave early this morning so get to fucking work” I snapped! I told him to fuck off and to do the work himself.  At that point it became all business!

PM: At what point did your fan-business grow into a larger entity?

JW: Well, J dub All Stars was always the main business and the fan art stuff was auxiliary

JB: This happened gradual, client by client.

TS: It’s been growing this whole time, from a little seed we planted back in 98! It will probably never stop becoming larger and larger if the past proves true again.

KD: When Jerry died, I started staying at home long enough to take local orders.

PM: What are some of the challenges you face with your transition to business from just starting out printing?”

KD: Not knowing all the in’s and out’s of the business, what types of inks to use, screen mesh counts, how to quote out jobs, etc…

JB: Employment!!  Making sure you have the right team.  My employee’s are amazing! Great workers!  This is what makes a good business, having people that care about your business as much as you do.

JW: Taxes and paying government agencies so you can operate legally

TS: Well, knowing the in’s and outs of printing for one.  There’s a lot of technique involved.  Then it just gets crazier from there. Profits, losses, taxes, expenses, customer service, shipping, production, procedures, insurance, registration, etc, etc… There’s a lot to running a successful business, it ain’t no picnic.

PM: Have you found any drawbacks in running a screen printing business?

JB: None. I have fun everyday. New designs, new people.  This isn’t a huge money maker.  If you get into screen printing thinking your gonna make a ton of money right off the bat, don’t even start.  Profits in screen printing come in the long haul.

KD: No, it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve met a lot of nice people around the country via my business and music. Sometimes the solvent odors can really get to you though, and the heat from the dryer.

TS: Sure, like any business working for yourself, you’re responsible for you getting paid. You make as much or as little as you allow yourself to.  You’re business day doesn’t always end when you leave the shop.

JW: Taxes on income and goods and anything else the government can take from you.

PM: For fans who have the idea to start their own screen printing business, or design their own shits, what advice can you share with them?

JW:  Don’t do it, it’s an unforgiving job. Lol, just kidding. Do good work at a fair price and treat your customers like family.

JB: Same as in my case, work two jobs and put everything you earn back into your business.  Don’t spend any money you make.  This also means you can’t go on Tour! Clients want a reliable service and most importantly they want to speak with the owner of the company.  If a client calls your company for a job that needs to be completed in a short time frame that last thing they want to hear is your out on tour!

KD: Go to work 5 days a week, keep decent hours, and deliver when you say you will.

TS: As far as starting your own screen printing business, be ready to put in some serious time, I’ve been doing this for 12 years, and I’m still no expert.  There are people who spend their whole careers being screen printers, and have incredible skill.  Jeff Wood has been screen-printing since I was in diapers almost, and you can tell.  That’s not something you can just learn real quick!  If you love it though, it’s a great art. I will be screen printing for the rest of my life!

We thank Kyle, John, Jesse and Tripp for their time for this roundtable discussion.  We fully endorse these fan-businesses for all your shirt making needs. If you have any questions, post them in the comments section below.

PhanArt Pete

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