Fishtown: BYO Strives to Make Print Happen

Katie VanVliet demonstrating one of the steps in creating a print

In a makeshift loft in a restored warehouse is an art collective on a mission: help keep printmakers printing with a venue and equipment to do so. BYO Print is located above a motorcycle restoration shop on Sepviva Street called Liberty Vintage and shares the space with a private studio called At The Cavalcades.

Katie VanVliet and Lauren Fischer, two Moore College of Art and Design alumnae became business partners in the endeavor after sharing a larger studio space in Port Richmond. The incentive for this first space was because VanVliet purchased a small press,  now affectionately known as “Connie,” after graduating.

“In art school you have these facilities around you and as soon as you graduate, despite your passion, you just don’t have those machines accessible anymore,” VanVliet said. “And I didn’t think it would be fair if I bought a press and kept it all to myself.”

After nine months of working with other classmates in Port Richmond, VanVliet and Fischer began to realize their passion for printing went farther than just creating their own prints. Combining their passions, their desire to share the art of printmaking and VanVliet’s press the idea for a collective was born.

One of the three presses at BYO Print

“It turned into this idea to have basically a business where we would formally set it up where we own the equipment and access to the space,” Fischer said. “And we provide the area and the equipment for other printmakers to have access to those things. That’s sort of the basis behind BYO Print.”

Since the origination of the idea, BYO has grown. In the last six months Fischer, VanVliet and two other members of BYO have added a larger press to complement “Connie.” They also have several sets of flat files for proper storage of their work and multiple work spaces for members to use.

“We decided it would really work for the printing community to have [BYO] be a little bit more formal and actually run it and start marketing it as something where people can come and rent the space whether it be by the hour or membership,” said Fischer.

The different stages of a print. By Katie VanVliet.

Currently, BYO has four, full-access members who are given keys to the space and flat file storage. This level of membership is $50 per month and depends on how familiar you are with the equipment. The next level of membership is hourly and requires a full-access member to be in the studio with you. Besides these membership opportunities BYO also offers printmaking lessons and workshops, having worked with everyone from couples on dates to large groups of students. Prices vary depending on the experience of the full-access member leading the lesson.

Hung on the walls of the studio are prints they wanted to display for their first big event as an art collective—the ever popular First Friday. Part of BYO’s mission is to be as involved in the community as possible and First Friday events and tours were just the beginning. They also participate in citywide art events like the Philadelphia Open Studio Tour and Bring Your Own Table, Yo!, an annual book fair in Little Berlin.

Prints hung up for First Friday

“One thing we didn’t necessarily do on purpose is that this building has a really strong First Friday attendance,” VanVliet said. “There’s a gallery here, there’s another studio, there are galleries down the street so people were coming through our space and suddenly we realized, ‘OK well we need to have a plan for how to deal with all the people.’ We need to tell them how to use [the equipment], what printmaking is and why it’s awesome!”

Lisa Imperiale, a full-access member to BYO Print and a Fishtown resident, looks forward to First Fridays at Liberty Vintage every month.

“It’s usually a good party and there’s usually food and drink and merriment,” she said with a smile.

Fischer and VanVliet recognize the importance of the Fishtown community and the presence of other artists to the expansion of their business.

BYO member Lisa Imperiale holds up one of Fischer's screens

“I live three blocks from here,” said VanVliet. “There’s also a great arts community here that’s flourishing pretty much since we moved in. And that’s a nice coincidence.”

After only six months, BYO is well ahead of its five-year plan. But the collective already has plans to expand its focus. As of right now, BYO creates prints using presses but soon hopes to market to the silkscreen community as well. Fischer, who is an avid silkscreener herself, has access to an exposure unit thanks to BYO’s relationship with At The Cavalcades’ studio next door and is an advocate for the idea.

“Definitely one of our next steps is to be more silkscreen friendly,” Fischer said. “Ideally I’d like to make that be our next [step]. We have the etching and the relief kind of print making things and now we can actually focus on the silkscreen part because that seems to be the highest volume of inquiries.”

VanVliet and Fischer’s innovative idea has certainly brought print to Fishtown. The collective will continue to make print happen wherever there is an interest and soon enough it will be time to move on to the next creative experiment.

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