I whizzed down High Street on my borrowed little white Toyota “Toyosha” bike for the third time that week on my way to Melbourne’s city center, glancing to see if there was any movement inside. The lights were off, no one was there, and I let out a little sigh of impatient anticipation. Damn.
Fast forward one week, and almost two months after I initially emailed The Hungry Workshop, we were all finally in the same place at the same time. They had returned from a trip to Europe, and Hannah and I were staying just up the road from their studio in Melbourne.
We met Simon and Jenna on a sunny and crisp winter’s day. Its never advisable to go into a situation with high expectations, but damnit, I couldn’t help myself. After seeing their beautiful prints and designs on their blog and reading their inspiring story about quitting their jobs to finally pursue letterpress full time, moving a huge printing press from one side of Australia to another, I just imagined them being people I’d really get along with. Luckily, my high expectations were met and exceeded.
Simon and Jenna were extremely warm, incredibly talented and knowledgeable in my favorite form of printmaking, and full of great ideas to help us on our own paths.
“Our enthusiasm for the craft of letterpress combined with our expertise and love of design, typography and illustration ensures that every project, big and small, is imbued with heart and soul.”
Their studio is big and bright, with a sign and shopfront window welcoming passersby to take a peek inside the studio while they slave away on The Beast, their classic Heidelberg Windmill printing press. Pale grey high school gym lockers keep the inky bits stowed safely, and framed prints from their Trophy Lives exhibit line the walls. The interior of their bathroom is covered in handmade illustrations. A colossal bookshelf stacked high with design volumes (and “trashy novels at the top”) peppered with bits and bobs they’ve collected is a stunning highlight and my favorite part of their studio (though of course the video arcade game is a close second).
Their incredible work and talent aside, Simon and Jenna are just genuine folks and we can’t speak highly enough of them.
Read on to hear words straight from the Hungry Workshop’s mouth.
It’s a really cool work space!
Yeah, sorry for the smell, we’ve been painting! The back is storage, but the bathroom in here is fun. We got an illustrator to come and do it. These two illustrators called Tom Claxton (Aka Tom Tax Return) and Gabriel Woodmansey (Aka Gabriello Woodmandez) of SPEW CORP., they painted our bathroom. It’s very interesting. They are very clever guys. Gabe is an Art Director who works at JWT and Tom is a copywriter looking for love.
What are the presses that you have in the studio?
We’ve got the two presses at the moment.
Do you do both design and print?
We do design for our direct clients, then we do printing of our own designs, experimental projects and things like that. We also do printing for other design studios. We run our own projects and like to mess around a bit. The prints in the studio at the moment were all part of an exhibition that we organised. They are all of the stuff-ups and test prints that we do. The real ones are on the wall. We’re looking at doing more stuff like that.
Do you sell the finished prints or are they just for fun?
We sell them. It’s just an excuse to have an exhibition and a party. They are 5 illustrators that we’ve met in Melbourne. We did the invitations.
What do clients come to you wanting?
Design and print. We do identity stuff, people often want letterpress wedding invitations, so we do a lot of that. We’ve got a website that’s being built at the moment that we’ve designed. We do all sorts!
You make cards as well, right?
Yeah, we sell them online and they’re stocked in a couple of shops here, and in Japan and Canada.
Are you working everyday?
Pretty much, yeah!
How long have you guys been here?
We quit our jobs last June and we’ve been in this space since Christmas (2011).
Was that big leap to quit and start doing this full-time?
Well, we were already doing this alongside working for a while. We wanted to move to Melbourne and found this space through an estate agent after 4 or 5 months. We had to renovate it as it was an upholstery shop before. It was covered in carpet and curtains. The whole thing was carpeted from the front door all the way to the back. There were make-shift walls made out of bits of wood, upholstery straps and a whole lot of staples.
Where do you find and buy machines like these?
They sort of find us. We were printing up at the place where we learnt and this guy came along, knew a guy that was selling one [a Heidelberg Windmill] and asked if we wanted it. It was from a commercial printer who didn’t need it any more. The other press came from a guy who found us online and was getting rid of his stuff. We are getting another one too which came to us the same way. We don’t shop for them, they find us. You see them on eBay for crazy amounts!
I guess these people want to get rid of them but make sure they go to a good home?
Yeah, well the theory is that if it comes here, we’ll keep it oiled and in good working condition. We’re not going to scrap it, it’s not for display purposes, it’s actually going to get used. The guy that sold us one of the presses was a big believer in that printing was a fraternity and how it’s a really important part of society and that it needs to be maintained. He believed that printing was crucial to human development and it can’t be lost, it must be passed on and continued. He also used to hold the world record for Gallagher, the arcade video game. Printing people are weird!
How do people find you usually, is it through the internet or from the street?
It’s probably word-of-mouth and the internet. We make sure the website is up to date and use things like Instagram.
Your shop front is one huge window, is it off-putting when people peek in?
We specifically chose a place with a shop front. There’s a message on the door about having to book an appointment to see us so it doesn’t bother us much. If it were a cafe or we set up a retail store in the front, we would have to be here all the time, we didn’t want that. We open whenever we feel like it. We did have a doorbell but someone stole it.
That’s a weird thing to steal!
Yeah, they took all of the doorbells along High Street.
How is it living in the same place that you work?
It’s good, especially when it’s raining. We don’t have to go anywhere in the mornings and when you know you’re not going to be out in the front here, you can totally wear your slippers to work.