Let’s face it doing what you love is not always easy. Most of the time it’s a challenging mistress and you end up sacrificing a heck of a lot more than you ever thought you would. Any spare time or money you may have had goes out the window, and you will probably be left wondering if you’ve become some kind of socially inept Gollum, cutting yourself off from the world so that you can devote all your time to your precious (the answer is yes, yes you have – but let’s say you’re a loveable Gollum). I’m also often surprised at just how much time you don’t get to spend with friends or family (though thankfully I have the best in the world and they forgive me!). That being said, knowing that I’m not alone in forsaking a social life in exchange for pursing my passion is reassuring. This is why I’ve decided to run a ‘passion series’ on my site, where I interview people whose amazing journeys I have followed as they do what they love and make it their life.
First cab off the rank (or should that be tee off the rack) has to be Aisle6ix. Run by master of ink, Shannon, Aisle6ix is a screen printing studio based in Sydney, Australia. As long as I’ve known Shannon he has been in love with hand-printing, starting with short-run T-shirts and then eventually opening his own studio. Since then there’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tees, but it has paid off in a big way and Aisle6ix is growing. Starting out as essentially a one-man show, Aisle6ix now has a team of screen printing boffins under its roof who will make sure your designs are inked just the way you like them. With the motto ‘Always hand print’ Shannon and his devoted team hand-print on T-shirts, fabric & paper, with every product they turn out crafted with a love of what can be created with ink, art and screen. To find out more of the story behind Aisle6ix I caught up with Shannon over the Interwaves of email …
How long have you been screen printing?
I’ve been screen printing for about 16 years. I lived in Canberra and had an interest in screen printing but couldn’t find a place to do it, that was until I moved to Sydney, where I found a part-time course I could take.
What drew you to screen printing and what do you love most about it as a craft?
I love the idea that I could come up with any design and then print it, being only limited by my imagination. I love it most when I’m in the van or walking down the street, a T-shirt print catches my eye and it turns out that it’s a T-shirt that we printed in the studio.
What's the Aisle6ix story? Tell us everything!
Initially, Aisle6ix started as a T-shirt label. I’m a huge fan of the clothing label Mambo and they were constantly coming up with new ideas and designs. I’d buy the T-shirts on racks that were a one off, so my plan for Aisle6ix was to make limited T-shirt runs. The first T-shirts I printed had slogans on them like ‘sarcasm = honesty’ - that sort of thing. Around the time I was doing my printing class was the period where everyone started to become graphic designers, but no one wanted to print. So I started doing super short print runs while I was at Tafe. In 2005 I went to London and worked at Photofit, which is a print shop near Old Street Tube, and that’s the place where I learnt the most. Fast forward to 2017 and Aisle6ix in St Peters has been running in Sydney for 6 years. I started it in Redfern while doing NEIS and being supported by my wife, Shakira.
Was it hard to get Aisle6ix up and running? What were some big hurdles and how did you overcome them?
Yes, it was hard, but I didn’t care. For a long time all I've wanted to do was screen print and it consumed me but I knew if I worked hard enough it would pay off. I was also working on a live art event called Secret Wars, which I got involved with while I was in London. By doing that I was meeting a great group of people who I could print for. Over time I got bigger orders and the business grew.
What’s the best and worst thing about working for your passion?
The best thing about working for your passion is that once you get a taste for it, it adds limitless fuel to get to the next stage, or work on the next project. It gives you no excuse not to do it. The worst thing, is that once you’re in it, it can be hard to come out of it, other priorities get pushed aside and it’s hard to relax.
Why do you think hand-printed is still so popular?
It’s popular because of how easy it is to access, you can literally go to any art store, buy supplies, hit up YouTube and hack your way to print something. Hand printing also gives you control over all aspects of what you’re doing, for example if you’re printing a red and it’s not bright enough you can stop, make it brighter and adjust as you go, which ultimately means you have constant control.
What inks/ materials do you use? Why do they work for you?
When we’re printing T-shirts we use plastisol ink and for posters we use solvent based inks. Both types of inks allow bright, bold colours. They work because they’ve been in the market place for a long time, so any sort of problem that might arise, someone generally has the answer for, which means you can continue to move forward.
What are some of the differences (pros/cons) between hand-printing and digital printing?
Pros - Control, volume and finish, you can generally change any part of what you’re doing as you work.
Cons - It takes longer, which means that sometimes you can’t work as fast as you’d like.
Pros - Good for short runs, or if you don’t want to have to set up screens, also good for print on demand
Cons - In my opinion, the quality of digital printing doesn’t come close to hand printing… enough said.
What are some of your favourite designs/ products you have printed?
We have just finished working with Andrew Fairclough from Kindred Studio. He hand printed large timber panels for his most recent exhibition which he then brought into the studio and we printed the black over the top. The panels were 30 x 40 inch, which from a printing perspective is pretty big. We’ve also printed a couple of book covers and a guitar pedal, which were fun to do. The Steve Cross x VNA Magazine T-shirt was a stand out.
Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to get into screen printing?
Do it, celebrate the mistakes and make sure that you’re always printing your own work in between client work.
Famous last words?
Passion wins every time.