On Building a Printing Press for Linocut Prints: Mia Savage of Mia Savage Studio

this spring, our theme is: synergy.

It’s time to invest in relationships, projects and people that will help us grow. It’s time to create a little synergy.

synergy (n.): the benefit that results when two or more agents work together to achieve something either one couldn't have achieved on its own.

It's the concept of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. In life, at work and in our communities, synergy is that space where the magic happens—where things fall into place, values align and our ideas find a home.

So, what does professional and personal synergy look like? How do we reject cultures of comparison and approach collaboration? How do we protect our own energy as we navigate opportunities, success and failures? This Spring, our programs will serve as a moment to hear from and amplify women and nonbinary leaders in our community who create synergy through their work.

As we prepare for craftHER Market Spring ‘19, we’re interviewing some of this market’s featured makers to learn more about their businesses and the ways in which they create synergy through their work. Read on for a peek into their process.

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about today’s featured maker:

My lino-cut cards are made by hand in my little home studio in Austin, TX. 
I carve the designs into linoleum blocks and then I print them on a D.I.Y. printing press that I built with some 2x4’s, a bottle-jack, and a few other doo-dads and thingies from the hardware store. While my background is in Industrial Design, I've long been inspired by the graphic simplicity of block printing, and after years of experimenting with old-school hand printing, I decided to build my little press so I could reproduce my designs more efficiently and be able to share them. After a lot of online research and a couple trips to my local hardware store, I built my press in an afternoon in the backyard, and my little workshop/studio was ready for production. I try to come up with a few new designs every week, and I'm inspired by vintage graphic design, mid-century modern art and pop culture.  Click here to learn more.

Tell us the background of your business: How did you get started? How big is your business (employees, storefront, etc)? And where do you sell your work? In-person, online, only at markets?

As a former Industrial Designer and Art teacher, I have a passion for all types of making. This may seem great, but for someone like me, pinterest can be a dangerous place!  Between, Pinterest, Youtube and Instagram, I discovered that there can be such thing as too much inspiration. In fact, the overwhelming desire to learn everything can lead to a kind of creative paralysis…  Finding myself in exactly this situation, I decided to spend a year completely focused on one medium, Linocut Printmaking. Linocut is a medium that I have always admired for its combination of graphic punch and folky nostalgia.  Designing a new print is a great creative challenge, and the carving process is deeply satisfying in a tactile way. And of course, I had to build myself a printing press from scratch, because, the internet.

As soon as I started cranking out prints, I knew I needed to share them, and Mia Savage Studio was born.   My business is deliberately small, just me rolling ink and pumping the lever of my little printing press. I suppose I could digitally reproduce them, but for me, that would defeat the purpose. I sell my original prints in a line of greeting cards and other products on Etsy and at a few local Austin shops.  The Craft Her market was my first market experience, and this will be my third time participating. It’s the perfect event for me, the right size, the right audience, the right vibe.

How do you approach collaboration within your work? When and where do you collaborate on making products?

As a solo operation, I mostly develop and produce designs for my own line, but I am always looking for opportunities to collaborate through commissions.  So far, my linocuts have been featured on cards, t-shirts, wedding invites, custom stamps, etc.


How do you balance the creative side and the business side of your work?

As someone who is primarily focussed on being a maker, I find that the biggest challenge to balancing creativity and business is overcoming the dreaded “Return On Investment Calculation”.  For me, this manifests as the nagging question in my head “how much am I paying myself per hour to to this?”. For most craft-based businesses, calculating that answer is a surefire way to stop before you even begin.  Luckily, at this time in my life I find myself in the privileged position to set this question aside. When it pops up, I remind myself that this is just my side-hustle. A side hustle that gives me creative fulfillment through process, gives me joy in sharing my work with others, and makes me a part of the creative community.  For me these are worthwhile returns, and I try to express my gratitude for the privilege of living as an artist by always being generous with my creative energy. That said, my business has actually surpassed my expectations, and my earnings provide me with quite a healthy budget to fund all my creative pursuits.

What resources have helped you grow your business? What resources do you need more of? As a WOB what would you like to see more of?

My card line is sustained by small retail businesses that buy their stock from local artists.  Parts & Labour on South Congress has been my best partner so far, and their model is consignment only, so it is a true partnership.  It would be great if more small businesses were open to taking stock on consignment, as it allows a lot of flexibility for both parties.

How do you handle perceived failures within your work?

I don’t struggle with this overmuch.  If I carve a block and it isn’t as well received as I expected, I try not to take it too personally.  For me the process is 90% of the reward.

Who is your target audience for your product and how do you connect with them?

I have a pretty broad target audience, basically anyone who values things that are handmade and has an appreciation for my particular funky aesthetic.  I could probably do a lot more to make those connections, but as a side hustler, it’s always tricky to make the time to do marketing when I could be making art instead.


Tell us about the production process required to make a single product.

Here’s how one of my cards is create:  First I start developing a design through a combination of hand sketching and digital collage.  When I have the design finalized, I print it onto a piece of parchment paper, and use that print to transfer the image to a block of linoleum.  Then I carefully carve away all of the negative space (everything that will remain white). Once I have the block carved, I cut and score some paper to make cards.  Then I roll out some ink and ink up the block. I lay each card carefully onto the block and slide it into the press, and then crank the handle up and down (it’s made from a car jack, so much like changing a tire) to squeeze the paper onto the inked block.  Then I turn a dial to release it, slide it out, peel it off, carefully fold and stand it on a tray to dry. If I’m in a hurry to get stock to a vendor, I print a batch and put them on a sheet pan to try in a warm oven overnight, like cookies. When they are completely dry, I fold them with an envelop and slip them into a protective sleeve.

What is a good leader to you?

There are many different qualities that can combine to make a good leader.  For me, a good leader is energetic, inspiring, forthright, compassionate and a good teacher.

What do you wish you knew before starting your own business?

I wish I had given myself permission to do something really really small, instead of talking myself out of so many ideas that didn’t seem scaleable or financially viable.  Process over product!

Would you like to meet Mia in-person? Come out to craftHER Market on April 14, 2019 at Fair Market and stop by her booth. Click here to learn more.