Upstart screen printers brand local art scene
Nothing about the outside of the house at the corner of Panhandle and Ector streets looks like a business — nor does it look like a cool bachelor pad that puts some of the hippest T-shirts on the Denton streets.
But the inside of the house?
It looks like both.
The house is Pan Ector Industries.
Taylor McClure, Drew Elam, Yovanny Canales, Nicholas Webber and Michael Little share the house, with a studio that has wood-paneled walls and ceiling. The house is a simple layout: rectangular rooms and beige walls and floor. The personality in the house is courtesy the five residents — the sort of found, funky furnishings and tchotchkes that make the house a collection of retro gems.
The busiest part of the house is the studio. Tools — for print design and for maintaining the mobile screen-printing press in the garage — line a wall. A rack of screen-printed T-shirts is stowed under a fleet of bicycles hanging on another wall.
In the studio are the computers the men use to create their experiment with the designs that have come to represent Denton’s “do-it-yourself” art and music scene.
This crew of guys will be manning the screen press during 35 Denton starting Thursday. The artists will print the official T-shirt of the event, and patrons of the walkable, four-day festival can watch as their shirt is made to order.
It’s a small and slightly dark space, but it’s the headquarters and studio of Pan Ector Industries, a business that is best known for its cool T-shirts and posters that promote local shows. Pan Ector is a reference to the business’ location — right in the middle of central Denton, where college students flock to low-rent housing and the proximity to both the University of North Texas and Texas Woman’s University. On any given day, this part of Denton is dotted with groups of college students walking or biking the streets, the guys in tight jeans, hoodies and facial hair, and the women in long dresses. Tattoos and piercings are de rigueur.
“Ah, this place is really perfect for us,” said Webber, the group’s lone alumnus of UNT’s rigorous communications design program. “Michael and Drew and I moved into this house four years ago. They were in school for printmaking. That’s why we were so fond of this space. The studio has always been a studio.”
The business started as a group of friends brought together through the UNT art school. Little said that, looking back, Pan Ector evolved almost organically. The roots of the business are in the Denton music scene.
“A little while before we were Pan Ector, we were doing live screen printings as PANTS [Printmaking Association of North Texas Students],” he said. “It really grew out of that.”
Webber said the group bought a screen press and started experimenting.
“We started doing small runs of T-shirts for friends and bands that we really like,” Webber said. “We had to learn the commercial side of this. None of us has had a business class. But doing the T-shirts and posters for friends and for bands really got us started. Then, we started doing the Dead Week Print Show at the Meme Gallery.”
Meme Gallery is a space adjacent to Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios, a popular local bar known for attracting buzz-worthy national touring alternative music acts. The bar’s management turned an unused space into a gallery because the management’s licensing doesn’t cover the space, Webber said. No bottles, glasses or cups are allowed in the gallery. The Meme gallery is a DIY outgrowth of the music scene, and some opening receptions draw more people that do exhibits at the Center for the Visual Arts about two blocks away.
After the group became Pan Ector, they started seeing their T-shirts around town. A Pan Ector T-shirt often has a retro look to it, and a cheeky attitude. McClure is the group’s illustrator, and it’s likely that his distinct hand is responsible for Pan Ector’s ability to take a logo and give it something extra. McClure’s style is an observant thing: He absorbs the pop culture around him, and then interprets it with an adroit wit. A lot of the designs are the result of the group working together.
“Our process for the business is no different than what we did when we first moved in here,” Webber said. “Any one of us will be working on a design, and we’ll show it to everyone and get a critique. On the business side of it, we pretty much won’t finish a design or go with something until we’re all happy with it.”
Often, the group’s designs are on the provocative side — think of a mix of Edgar Allen Poe and Dr. Seuss. Whimsical often meets something a little dark or brooding. A print of a mounted head — which looks like a cat, not a deer — wears a set of antlers strapped on, and wears two circled “X’s” for eyes. Other designs are nostalgic and pretty.
Elam said T-shirts are the business’s brisk sellers.
“I think it’s about accessibility,” he said. “T-shirts are different than fine arts and prints because, with a T-shirt, it’s cheaper and they can take it and wear it. I think a T-shirt hits the general public the way a tattoo does. It’s personal.”
Webber said T-shirts are a kind of art people can relate to, and not just because of price.
“Everyone has a screen-printed T-shirt in their closet,” he said. “But they have no idea about the process.”
Elements of design
If you want to stump the artists of Pan Ector Industries, ask them what determines “good design” — beyond the basics of composition, proportion and color, that is.
Good design is an alchemical thing. It’s a hybrid of an aesthetic and solid principles.
“That’s just kind of hard to explain,” Webber said.
“It has to appeal to the five of us. Simplicity is one part of it. With the screen printing, we’ve learned how to cut costs and still do good work.”
“Exactly,” Little said. “We still have good-quality colors. We get a lot of depth and dimension out of the color when we we’re printing live. But we can’t use more than one color when we print live.”
Elam said the artists have learned to consider the body when they design T-shirts. Making a print is different than making a design that will be fitted over the contours of the body.
“Sometimes, you really don’t want to put a design right in the middle when you’re making a T-shirt. Sometimes, a design looks a lot different and ends up looking better if you find a way to position it off-center. We’ve learned a lot about that since we started,” he said.
Little said the company doesn’t always have to create a design.
“Some clients already have a logo and they just want us to make a bunch of shirts,” he said. “The client determines how much design we do. But if it’s something we’re creating, we do a lot of printing out proofs. We do a lot of putting it on paper and then holding it up to ourselves or one another to really get an idea of whether it’ll work. Good design is a balance of all of these things.”
Webber said some of their designs get better with age. The group agreed that they’ve been pleasantly surprised with some of the T-shirts they pressed three years ago. The artists said the company is too green, however, to have a definitive aesthetic. Webber said companies like Coca-Cola have established a distinct company brand over decades.
“I don’t think we’ve have too many discussions or dwelt too long on our identity,” Little said. “We pretty much work to do things that are good.”
The company has earned a lot of business for doing live screen-printing at events, using a spider-like mobile press. The artists have traveled to a lot of events at key cultural locations, including the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, selling completed T-shirts and making them to order. They can even swipe a debit card using a smartphone.
“We get a lot of new customers from our live screen-printing. And, yeah, we do attract kind of a crowd at events because people are curious about the process,” Little said.
The process begins with an illustration that is often both hand drawn into a computer and computer generated. The artists print out a transparency of the image, which is transferred to a blank screen and covered with a photo-reactive emulsion.
Then, using a light box and a vacuum seal, the image is transferred to a glass plate. The plates are loaded into the press with paper or a T-shirt, and ink is washed over it, creating an image on the selected medium.
In larger operations, T-shirts are printed by automation. Little said buyers might like the idea that their shirt or art is handmade.
Webber said live printing is a good advertisement for Pan Ector, and it’s a teaching tool.
“I think all of us are pretty comfortable in public,” he said.
“Yeah, and I like to show kids how we do it,” Little said. “I like the idea that after seeing us at an event, someone might be inspired to go home and try to draw something or make something on their own.”
Next (limited) edition
Webber said the company, which is for now operating as a general partnership with him as the de facto CEO, will continue to operate from the house on the corner of Panhandle and Ector for now. But each of the artists has his own dream for the business.
Webber would like to see the company move into a bricks-and-mortar shop.
“I’d like for us to continue to enjoyably make a living,” Little said.
“Health insurance for everyone,” Elam said. “And I can tell you that all of us think Denton is a big part of what we’re doing. We all want to keep the business here.”
McClure said he hopes to keep seeing their designs around town.
“I feel happy seeing our works from two or three years ago still being used,” he said. “That means that what we do still means something to people. If our shirts become that favorite shirt that one guy has, that’s really cool to me.”
Canales said there’s a satisfaction to be invited to create the official T-shirt for 35 Denton.
“Looking back, it is kind of cool that we’ve been doing this as long as 35 [Denton] has been downtown. It’s like we’re a part of that, you know?”
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
What: a four-day music festival
When: Thursday through Sunday
Where: downtown Denton
Details: $65 for four-day wristband, $35 for day passes on Friday and Saturday, and $50 for a Sunday day pass. For information and wristbands, visit www.35Denton.com.
Where’s my fest T-shirt? Look for the Pan Ector vendor booth, or visit www.panector.com.
Hometown: San Angelo
Education: Crowley High School; BFA in printmaking from UNT
My favorite tools in making art right now: are things I use for drawing in my sketchbook — .09 drafting pencil, erasers, Micron pens and Sumi ink with brush.
When I’m designing and creating, I have to have: a pot of coffee, food and music. Recently, I’ve been listening to Jay Reatard, the Intelligence, Black Lips, Mean Jeans, Dead Ghosts and Reigning Sound while working on jobs and gearing up for 35 Denton.
Hometown: Fort Worth, born and raised
Education: Paschal High School; BFA in communication design from UNT in 2010
My favorite print advertising campaign right now is: anything out of the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner. Their ability to keep consistent branding across bottles, billboards, magazine ads and even video is noteworthy.
The Pan Ector Industries design that would make a great parade float would be: our Pop-Up Print Shop on wheels, entertaining onlookers with hand-printed tees hot off the press.
Hometown: born in Fort Worth, raised in Carrollton
Education: Hebron High School; BFA in printmaking from UNT in 2004
Right now, I’m reading: Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. I’ve been studying it for soul nourishment.
To me, the most underrated artist right now is: Nevada Hill. I feel his graphic vocabulary, ingenuity and restless work ethic are worthy of celebration.
Hometown: born in Richmond, raised in Schulenburg
Education: Schulenburg High School; BFA in printmaking with a focus in fibers from UNT in in 2009
The famous work of art I’d like to remake in the Pan Ector style is: something by the artist Swoon. She uses printmaking processes to create wheatpastes and installations around cities, focusing on individuals in the community for her inspiration and critical response.
The playlist I’m grooving to right now includes: This isn’t a playlist, just some albums I have on my phone: Fridge’s The Sun, Amon Tobin’s Isam, Lightning Bolt’s Earthly Delights, Sonic Youth’s Evol, Townes Van Zandt’s Rear View Mirror, Blackfeet Braves’ Demos/First Cuts, Broken Water’s Peripheral Star, PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake, Neu!’s Neu! 75. One thing I like about all of these, is that I’d enjoy showing them to someone who hadn’t heard them.
Education: North Mesquite High School; BFA in printmaking from UNT in 2010
There’s this work of art that gives me the creeps: Most of the work produced by Mark Raymer gives me the creeps — especially his woodcuts.
If I could turn any song into a print, it would be: A certain Guided by Voices’ record, Bee Thousand, comes to mind instead of one specific song. I would like to turn that entire record into a print. The song titles alone would probably make for a great series.