A Hot Mesh

by Lauren Festa

Heard the saying ‘a hot mess’ before, right? Well here’s a small printing collaborative whose name, A Hot Mesh, is an obvious play on words. And man, do they play with words…

We approached Nate Mucha, owner of the print collaborative, after spotting a poster entitled “Black on Fucking Black” where every repeated use of the F-word is done tastefully so. Here’s a snip: “The problem contains the fucking solution. Think about all the fucking possibilities”, and so on. The print is a ltd. edition, and goes for about $25. Description: “Now your favorite advice comes in whisper form. This poster is sex on paper and as quiet as a fucking golf clap.” Nate says, “Brian and Jason of Good Fucking Design Advice are two such designers with whom we thoroughly enjoy working. The “black on fucking black” posters that we printed for them turned out to be gorgeous!”  It’s just one of many projects A Hot Mesh has come to realize, through collaboration with locals.

About a year ago, with his friend Ian who he met in his design program over at Kent State U, Nate started to seriously consider setting up a print shop. Then they started building. What started as a personal photo-exposure unit, has become a fully equipped shop with some super vintage equipment.

“I own A Hot Mesh, and Ian is my right arm in keeping it going. We’re designers who love process and making, and, in turn, try to share that love by opening up process to the community”.

And share they do. Especially when it comes to the youth in their area. More specifically, the Kent State University students in the Visual Communication Design program. Nate and Ian see them as the future art directors, designers and creative leaders. A Hot Mesh gives them the ability to experiment with screen printing, and get a hands on feel, in a place where they’re pushing boundaries.

Nate admits “it’s something I wish I had while I was an undergrad”.

And as a graduate/shop owner?

“A million dollars.”

Describe a typical day at A Hot Mesh…

A typical day at A Hot Mesh usually starts at night. Us and our collaborators either work/teach during the day or are students with classes. There’s always something that needs to be done even if we’re not printing that day. It could be washing out old screens (which sometimes necessitates a rain suit), coating new ones, cleaning the shop after a busy night of using the paper cutter, checking inventory, etc. Printing days are the best, though. Usually we’ve prepped the screen the day before, but sometimes we go through the whole process at once: prepare the film, burn the screen, squeegee and dry it, tape it up, print, wash, dry, tape, print, and so on until it’s done. We’ve had a lot of long nights, but they’ve all been memorable.

What’s been your favourite collaboration so far?

That’s a tough one. I think we are always more attached to the ones where our client gets really involved in the process. Sometimes they’ll come in for all the prep and printing. Some of our favorites have been wedding invitations, believe it or not. They’re “all out” in terms of design and technique. Jason Bacher (of GFDA fame) came in and printed some particularly beautiful ones with us. We did some really fun ones for Andy Taray of Ohioboy as well.

And the worst?

We’ve had some particularly stressful jobs, but we make it work. We struggle when the collaborator doesn’t know when they should use screen printing and when it’s not a good printing choice for their design. You can force it, and we’ve been able to get some fantastic looking results, but it’s an uphill battle for everyone. You’re not going to get something that looks like it came off a laser printer from a hand-pulled screen print, and I don’t see why you would want to, you know?

Have you thought about expanding, outside of Ohio? Making it available to university kids outside Kent?

From an education perspective, it makes the most sense to share with students who can come into the shop and learn hands-on. We’re totally open to working with anyone from anywhere, but it becomes difficult to collaborate in the shop when distance becomes involved. If you want us to do some great screen printing for you, we’d love to do that and ship the finished product to wherever you are. We’d also love to have everyone collaborate in the shop, but we realize that’s not always feasible.

Is there some similar company that does what you guys do?

I’m not really sure. I certainly don’t think so in the area, but I know there are printers scattered all over the place. It seems like people develop a tie to a certain shop and keep going there. There’s not a shop here, so we want that to be us.

Who are some of your favourite designers?

We’ve talked about this one for a while. There are obvious greats out there, but the ones we really look up to are the designers that we know well or have a special tie to. Ohioboy, Little Jacket and Paul Sahre come to mind as three that have really helped shape us and inspire us to try and keep growing.

What are your 3 golden design rules?

Concept, contrast and hierarchy. These are especially important when it comes to screen printing. If you’re screen printing it, your concept needs to capitalize on the process, contrast is one of the most useful design elements when it comes to printing as the process lets you do some really unique things, and any design without good organization generally falls flat.

With everything becoming digital and online, where does paper and printing fit in? Are you worried about becoming obselete?

I think that we’re more relevant as digital media becomes more and more emmersive. We’ve noticed that a lot of people resonate more with something that is handmade and physically precious as they experience less of it on a daily basis. It may be becoming more of an art form, but that’s okay with us. I don’t think we’ll ever become obsolete. There are things that we can do with our process that you just can’t get with digital delivery system or printing process.

We’ve noticed a lot of people start with silk screening and then move into other areas of design; fashion/graphics/printing/ etc. Why silk screening?

It’s a little opposite for us as we’re designers to begin with. For me in particular, I primarily design for web, and printing helps ground me by letting me make something physical with my hands. Screen printing is a process that is used all over the place due to its low cost and many possibilities.

If you had an unlimited budget, what would be your dream project?

If we had an unlimited budget, it would be expansion. Give us a million dollars, and we would have a foundation dug up by next week for a collaborative workspace that incorporates a shared creative environment with access to various production processes. These would obviously include screen printing, but add letterpresses, binding, CNC, etc. We would love to be a place where creative people could leave their usual workspaces to experiment and build serendipitous creative relationships.

What’s next for you?

Our website, that will focus on super projects, to showcase what all our collabs have been working on withus. Merch and access to resources.  Most immediately, we’re planning to expand into letterpress printing. Everything we do is 100% by hand, and we are planning to expand into some letter press printing within the next year. We’ve got a few presses lined up for restoration. Once we have them up and running, we’ll start offering that. As for long term, we’re still waiting for that million dollars.

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