These two are smart and funny, hard-working and warm, and great teachers, too. Since we couldn’t roll out sleeping bags and stay forever in their recently opened studio and gallery space, we settled for an interview about their work.
Get to know this screen printing team and how they navigate working and living together without driving each other batty.
How did you two meet and start working together?
Ryan: We met at the end of 2012 at a Renegade Craft Fair here in Chicago. It was my first time as a vendor and Elizabeth had just started working for Jay Ryan (another Chicago poster artist).
Elizabeth: We started working together in small aspects, Ryan would help me do some color separation work and he would ask me to print a small edition of something. The Venn diagram of our two businesses overlapped more and more over time and eventually we thought, “This would be a lot easier if we just worked in the same space.”
What’s your favorite part about being a married printmaking duo, and how do your talents complement each other?
Ryan: Being with Elizabeth has definitely made me a better printer. We make a great team because we both understand the whole process but we each have our strong suit.
Elizabeth: We really have very defined roles when we work together, and that makes it so there’s less potential toe stepping. Ryan spends the bulk of his time doing creative work and I’m more of a laborer, so while he’s drawing a raccoon with a bag of Funyuns, I’m printing 100 posters for a rock venue. But I gotta say, Ryan is a skilled printmaker as well.
The Big Cartel Community team got to help print these delightful designs created by Ryan.
What made you decide to open a studio and gallery?
Ryan: Well, a decade ago I lived and worked with some friends in a small storefront gallery called People Projects. Ever since then I’ve missed the role of curating and being able to have shows of my own work whenever I felt like it. I’ve never been a fan of the traditional gallery system so I like the freedom of having a space.
Elizabeth: For the last eight years I’ve been kind of this behind the scenes character, working by myself on press for 99/100 print jobs. While I love that part of my job, I really wanted to be able to create something that had space for more artists than just the ones whose work I print.
Your ran a Kickstarter campaign to get Paper Hat up and running. What do you think led to the quick and successful funding?
Elizabeth: We truly relied on our combined 15+ years of working in Chicago to get the Kickstarter off the ground. For years we had talked about getting this project going and countless people offered us help.
Ryan: You have to be vulnerable to put yourself out there and ask for help but it was humbling to get such a nice response.
Community is obviously a huge aspect of what you’re building with Paper Hat. What does community mean to you? How do you promote your workshops and shows?
Ryan: I guess to me it’s finding ‘your people’ in the place that you live. I lived here in Chicago for something like four years before I met a group of people that were interested in music and art the way I was. Meeting people that share your interests can really help you to fall in love with a city.
Social media is obviously the go-to for letting people know what’s coming up. Instagram has been an incredible tool for connecting to various artists as well as for selling work online.
It seems like a good amount of what you create revolves around artists outside yourselves, whether it’s printing their design or creating a show poster. What’s your favorite part about working with or for other artists?
Ryan: I love working with bands on concert posters or merch designs because it allows me this strange little area to try and represent another artist with my own work. It’s a fun challenge and gives me a nice starting point.
When did you start selling products online? What led you to using Big Cartel?
Ryan: After years of having no real online shop I opened my Big Cartel store in 2012. It made the whole process very easy and I can’t imagine using any other service at this point.
Elizabeth: I am truly analog brained so making a website is a nightmare in my mind. Big Cartel is truly so convenient and easy and removes all stress for me. I use it to sell print work that is part of a series I called The Bumper Crop. I ask artists to do a limited edition print with me, they make the image, I print the work and I split the profits with them.
What’s your dream scenario for Paper Hat’s future?
Ryan: At this point I feel like our dream scenario is just to keep having shows and teaching workshops and make enough money to pay rent every month.
Elizabeth: Paper Hat’s like a little baby plant, we just want to keep it alive!
Follow Paper Hat on Facebook and Instagram. Elizabeth is on Instagram and is an accomplished commercial screen printer operating as Salty Broad Press. Ryan is on Instagram and designs band posters and illustrates pooping dogs (among other things) under his own name, Ryan Duggan.