Ragged Print Shop: Celebrating the Creative Process

Words: Seth Braverman
Photos: Carly Mitchell

Next time you’re enjoying a drink on the outside deck of Ivywild Schoolhouse-turned-brewery/coffee shop/bakery/bar, look across the street for the little blue house asleep behind the vines. If you peer above the barricades of raised-bed gardens and beyond the inviting, wrap-around porch, you might just find Holly Garlow, owner and operator of Ragged Print Shop, hard at work.

The James Madison University alumna spent the last eight years teaching printmaking at Manitou Springs High School and, currently, Community Prep School and dreaming of one day opening up her own print studio and community art space. That dream was realized this past spring. After a successful Kickstarter campaign and an all-day grand opening celebration filled with hours of live performances by some of the best musical acts around, Holly had the funds and community support needed to finally make the jump.

I sat down with Holly to talk about the niche world of printmaking and the heart that propels people into that world. Holly is a staple of the local scene, be it art or music, and she was gracious enough to allow me a step into her print shop and, so, into her story.

What is the Ragged Print Shop?

Ragged print is quite the mishmash of things. First and foremost it's a print shop and print studio. It's a place where I create screen-printed products, teach community printmaking classes, and offer hand-printing services. Those services can be anything from limited edition screen printed posters, t-shirts, tote bags, journals, wedding invitations, patches, etc. It's really a space where I combine screen-printing services, make my own printed art and products, and share those processes with the community and others interested in learning about printmaking. 

What is the correct terminology for what you do? Of course it’s “print,” but what language is used to set it apart from, say, Kinko’s?

"People want to know that if they're spending their hard-earned money, they're spending it in support of someone doing what they love."

You know, that's really hard. I definitely have people coming in asking to do jobs that would be better suited for Kinko’s. What sets my work apart is that I print and provide design-based printing services for those who want a quality, handmade product with an artistic touch. Ragged servers those who value the "art of printmaking.” I think in general there has just been a huge resurgence of the DIY spirit; in the craft and culture of things like the creation of Etsy and other online marketplaces. People are starting to appreciate handmade and handcrafted products more. People want to know that if they're spending their hard-earned money, they're spending it in support of someone doing what they love. At least that's how I feel about life most of the time. I mostly care about spreading the love and appreciation of printmaking as an art form, in creating and appreciating human-made items. And I think those who are drawn to this kind of niche trade appreciate that.

I’ve heard Andy Warhol’s name thrown around when folks talk about screen-printing. How did he play into the resurgence of printmaking?

Screen-printing became popular as an art form in a time of consumerism when artists mimicked the mass-production of everything around them in their art. Other artists had used screen-printing in their art before Warhol, but it was really his use of screen-printing in his fine art that made it visible and accessible as a fine art medium. Warhol of course used the technique to go with his entire view of his work: will people actually regard this as fine art and want to buy it and hang it on their wall if it's just a mere representation of an everyday object, using a mass-production process? He won, to say the least. But I'm of course grateful for that!

How does printmaking fit into the fine art world here and now?

Printmaking hasn’t really been well-represented in the art world here in the last few years. We have such a great art scene but printmaking hasn't really seemed to shine in that scene. I want to create a platform for that, for people to appreciate it as fine art and learn all about it.

How did your interest in the print world start?

"I’ve always enjoyed creating. I like to create. But my interest in print started by coincidence."

I’ve always enjoyed creating. I like to create. But my interest in print started by coincidence in college. I've always been a photographer, since high school. Photography is the reason I became an art major, as well as the fact that I could only minor in “music industry” at my school and therefore had to choose a different field of study. So I’d really just planned on using my art major status to do as much photography as I could get away with. Of course, you need to enroll in other classes too, and I enrolled in a Lithography class. I didn't care much for that process but saw the screen-printers doing their thing in the studio all the time. I took screen-printing the next semester and the rest is history. 

What is it about print, as a medium and a process,that you love?

With print, it’s about the tactile. You use your hands. You get messy. You work muscles. You sweat. You mix ink and build layers and layers of it on top of each other. When you're finished, you can feel it. The color doesn't soak into the fibers of the paper, it sits on top; that’s how you know it’s fine printmaking. And it's a labor of love. I really enjoy process. I think I've always preferred process to product, and printmaking is most certainly a process. The process is therapeutic and it's also invigorating. When you put that much physicality into something, the fruit of your labor is that much more delicious. I always appreciate looking at something and thinking about how it came to be. Who touched it, who put the ink down on the paper, how did it get there. It's a connection of the human spirit, I suppose—from one to another, indirectly. 

What has your education been like, both formal and informal; both the on-going process of life-learning and your experience as a teacher?

"In all honesty, I believe I learned so much more in 8 years of teaching than I did in college."

I studied art at James Madison University in Virginia where I earned my bachelor’s degree. I lived in New York City briefly where I worked in the music industry after college. I missed my art a lot so I moved to Colorado and got my master's in teaching at Colorado College and started teaching high school art, which I've been doing for the last 8 years. In all honesty, I believe I learned so much more in 8 years of teaching than I did in college. By far. Which is proof that learning and growing comes so much from doing, from experience, play, experimentation, failure, and success. I was really teaching myself at the same time that I was teaching those kids. 

What did you think this would be like before you got into it, and what has it actually been like?

I knew it would be hard. My mom was a business owner here in town for years and I know it takes a lot. But when I realized that I was putting that same level of energy into something that was only partly fulfilling, I asked myself, “why don’t I just put it into something I've always dreamed of doing?” So I just went for it. I know myself and I'm very black and white. It's all or nothing. I knew if I didn't take a leap and make this a business and a physical shop, I would never do it.

To be honest, I'm still at the very very beginning of it. I've been working in printmaking for years because I was fortunate enough to get a teaching job at a high school that let me start a printmaking program from scratch. Anytime I made art prints before, it was something that almost always was a sample I was making to teach my students a process or technique. Initially I was reluctant to start working for myself while teaching because, to be honest, it's just hard to do too much for yourself when you're a teacher. Contrary to popular belief, you really don't have much beyond the emotional energy and time demanded of you as a teacher. There isn't much left at the end of the day so it’s really hard to have your own creative energy. But! Hard as it may be to do both, I'm doing it!

Ragged has already played host to a number of great house concerts. What’s your vision for Ragged’s new space beyond use as a print shop? Why is community integration or interaction important?

"I've always felt at home with fellow creatives. I want to be able to provide that home for others now."

I've always felt at home with fellow creatives. I want to be able to provide that home for others now. I found it during my time at college in the small Virginia town of Harrisonburg, working for my college radio station, booking shows and music conferences along with my "day job" of being an art major. The community there felt like a family to me. And it’s just something that has always been me and what I do. The two together, music and art, always. I don't play music but have always been deeply involved in a music community, and an art community. They're almost always are intertwined and most certainly are in my life. I don't think I could have one without the other.

As far as a vision, I have a lot of ideas. But I'm trying to take them one at a time for now. (laughs) In general though, I'd love to see it build more as a space for people to come be. And come hang. And share a love of creative processes. Even if that means hanging out, working on different projects and sipping on coffee or maté, all while being surrounded by the presence of good art and good music.

Ragged Print Shop

1609 S. Cascade Avenue

Colorado Springs, CO 80905


instagram: @raggedprint