Maker’s Profile: Printgonzalez
In today’s Maker’s Profile I’m sharing Daniel Gonzalez’s story on how he started his letterpress studio, Printgonzalez. I met Daniel a couple years back but it wasn’t until recently during an open house he had while making and selling Bernie Sanders posters that I got to see his little studio with my own eyes and really hear all about his creative journey. Learn all about how Daniel navigated his career as an artist and took his side hustle to fulltime hustle.
Name: Daniel Gonzalez
Studio Name: Printgonzalez
Tell us a little about yourself.
Born in Boyle Heights to immigrant parents from Zacatecas. I grew up both in Los Angeles and in Mexico and have been traveling annually at least between both since I turned 18. In elementary school, I was always the guy who could draw. From 12 through 18 I studied art with George Yepes which was more of an education of the relationship of art to political and civic power than art. I got a full scholarship to attend the California College of Arts and Crafts (CCAC) in Oakland that unfortunately didn’t cover housing so I dropped out. It was there, however, that I began my journey into print making and letterpress printing. I recently completed my undergraduate degree in Design Media Arts at UCLA.
How did you get into letterpress printing?
When I attended CCAC, there was a letterpress and printmaking studio that was practically abandoned and that became my first trying ground to experiment. During a typography class there, professor Philip Krayna took us to the San Francisco Center for the Book (SFCB) and I saw how letterpresses operated and the beautiful work they produced. After I dropped out of CCAC, I continued creating work and exploring these processes through community workshops at the Mission Cultural Center and by volunteering at SFCB. I was hooked! San Francisco has a vibrant community of printers and they nurtured my interest.
Prior to going to college, I loved reading and studying about a wide range of subjects. This was prior to Google or the internet so acquiring knowledge involved going to a library and searching through book stacks and even ordering books from other libraries. I was a pain in the ass to those librarians! I was always interested about my surroundings and the idea of the “official” aesthetic like the way that old English lettering on walls was sprayed on to express the authority of a gang. I was fascinated by these ideas and that was the first time that I started thinking about typography and design as a form of expression of ideas through a visual language that wasn’t figurative or had a literal narrative. So I haphazardly would start looking at commercial graphics, and what tools they were using to sell a product. So graffiti and murals from the Chicano movement were my very first teachers and set me on this path.
When did you decide to start Print Gonzalez and go for it full force? Do you have any tips for someone who wants to take their side hustle to a full time hustle?
I started Printgonzalez maybe five years ago when people asked me if my press/design studio had a name. In the Bay Area, I was Zombie Press because I was working late nights in the Oakland CCAC campus printmaking studio. Once I bought my own press, then things got serious. When you purchase a piece of machinery that weighs over a quarter ton, your practically married to it. You can’t just pick up and leave and it shows others how committed to your craft. Since then I’ve added another press, a table top Chandler and Price Pilot that I stripped, painted, and rebuilt. It’s a beauty! My friend Chris “The Betty Hunter” did some pin striping on it and it looks like a piece of a low rider. I was always full time, all night. I maintained a job at Olvera Street as a museum guide two or three days a week and the rest of my time was spent in the studio. I guess my only tip for anybody that wants to make their passion a full time job would be to not believe your own myth. Creative people tend to get a lot of attention as makers because our work is very visible. I always accept praise but in the back of my mind I’m always thinking of how I can improve. Once you believe you’re “good” then you stop exploring, growing, and putting yourself to the test. You should always have a little fear of failure. If you do, you know your doing something you haven’t tried and even if your ideas don’t turn out, you will learn from the experience.
Your studio is such a cool mix of old eclectic meets chicano aesthetic and I love that blue door! How did you go about finding your studio space?
The studio I have was kind of handed down to me by my good friend Stephanie Mercado. She was moving out and she kept telling me about this space and how the landlord was a nice guy. At the time I was sharing a space that we were renting from a terrible landlord who didn’t provide water to the unit, reliable electricity, and didn’t maintain it but wanted to charge market rates for the square footage. It was right before I was graduating UCLA and I took the plunge and went solo and it’s worked out. I moved my presses, books, and furniture and it’s become kind of like my fortress of solitude or a space capsule. That blue door was put in by another person who used to rent the space who is friends’ with Yolanda Gonzalez, a good friend of mine. The machines and tools I have are charming all on their own. So I guess my space is kind of a charming clutter of machines and artifacts.
Do you have any advice for creatives that are looking for a studio space? Would you recommend sharing a studio space to save money on rent?
Los Angeles is a tough real estate market. My best advice would be to dive into the community and meet people and share with them your needs. Sincere friendships and meeting like-minded people are always key. The idea of the solitary entrepreneur, me against the world, is total BS. Working collectively and being involved in a community gives you what you put into it. Sharing creative space is great but it’s important to be clear on business and be on the same page about what your trying to achieve. If your trying to run a serious creative space but your friend wants to you use it as a club house for their buddies, you’ll be at odds and it won’t be worth the fight. You can’t change people so clarity of intention is always important.
Who are some of your notable clients and how did they find you? Do you have an tips on how to work with and find ideal clients?
I guess the most notable client I’ve had is the one I created the most visible work for. Metro LA commissioned work from me about 5 years ago for the Expo Line. My friend Ana Guajardo pestered me into submitting my work for consideration but being the morose person I am on occasion, I didn’t feel I was ready but because of her I did it anyway. I was very surprised to get the commission and that’s led to other work. I had the opportunity to work on a design team with Rebeca Méndez, Adam Eeuwens and Sami Hayek to design branding and identity materials for a wonderful coffee house called Compañia de Café. The work I created was everywhere, the coasters, patches, the walls and even the pastries. Even the play list seemed like it was tailored to conversations we had! My friend Omar López told Rebeca about me and she looked at my work and decided I was a good fit for the project. Working with clients is always tricky. You always have to be open to the possibility of having to fire a client. There’s always certain amount of work that you have to put into educating a client but if they don’t see the value of your work and aren’t willing to pay you adequately, then it’s not a business relationship worth getting into. These people will drag you down and distract you from good clients and accounts.
What has been one of your biggest projects to date?
Working for Metro Art was a big project in terms of scale. I created a series of panels that were then made into ceramic tile murals that are placed throughout the station. The piece is called Engraved in Memory and it deals with the history of the intersection of La Cienega and Jefferson in Culver City. It’s an elevated station and it’s a great space to talk about the development of the city of Los Angeles. You have a stunning view of the basin on a clear day. It took five years to complete, most of it was construction, fabrication, and paper work. The actual artwork took about 9 months to complete. I had to travel to Montreal to do oversight at Mosaika where the work was being fabricated. I spent 5 days there, 4 of which I was working with regular 9-5 hours at the ceramics workshop talking to fabricators about my process and how to translate it into ceramic tile that was being carved. It was a wonderful experience but very draining. Public art is a beast all on its own.
Can you share some mistakes or failures you have encountered that taught you a business lesson?
Working with friends can seem like a great idea but I don’t recommend it. Business partnerships are fraught with technicalities and paper work that often time get pushed aside because of trust in the friendship but that’s a big mistake. Being formal, sincere, and transparent in your business practice will save you a big headache. I was a partner in a design practice many years ago and we did work for some pretty good clients. The other partner wasn’t a very good designer but a great schmoozer and liked being the face of the company and I liked to work and develop concepts and was good at generating thoughtful work. After saving money over a year, we had a 5 figure bank account. Soon after he began being persistent about getting a creative space. I had my studio at the time that was being funded by my art, which I always kept aside from the design work. I felt we didn’t need the overhead of a space and we were fine since we visit our clients on site anyway. The first red flag should’ve been when for my birthday “the company” bought me a Louise Vuitton check wallet. Over time, he became aloof and then one day someone gave me the heads up that he had a nicely furnished studio space that he didn’t want me to find out about. Soon after I got a call from the guy that handles our finances to ask if I had approved of these big withdrawals from the account. So I put two and two together and called a meeting. He refused to answer any of my questions and gave me a $1000 check for 3 years of work. I talked to a friend of mine who was a lawyer about pursuing legal action. Unfortunately, technically he invested the money into what he felt were needs for the business. Unless I could prove that he spent it recklessly, I didn’t have much of a case. So I cashed the check and made a clean break and started my own practice and I’ve never looked back.
How do you stay inspired and motivated even when you’re not feeling creative?
I still love reading and collaborating with friends. I have very few friends but I value their input. They are not all artists but they are all brilliant in their careers and we mutually help and respect each other. I make time to see them and exchange ideas and talk. It’s important to make time to be social and explore. I like taking walks and I carry a small notepad. I find that over time my note pad has more writing than drawings. When I was younger, I was concerned with capturing the form and now I’m more concerned with documenting the idea so I can shape it later. I see the form and shape in my head.
Where do you see Print Gonzalez in the next 3-5 years?
I’m hoping to continue to be printing and designing! Currently I’m planning on publishing fine print books illustrated by my printmaker pals. I just learned yesterday that a whole page in a history book called “Dreaming on the Edge, California Printmakers and Small Presses 1877-2009” by Alastair Johnston which will be released this summer. I’ve thought about possibly teaching so I may pursue a degree. I just hope that I can continue to be a vibrant voice for my community and a good friend.
Maker’s Profile is a new series where I’ll be interviewing artists and makers around Los Angeles. Let me know what you think of this new series in the comments below. If you’re interested in finding out more about Printgonzalez, follow along with Daniel as he continues to grow his letterpress studio: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter