One of the most underrated aspects of Charm City is the art scene here.
Yes, we all know about concerts at Power Plant Live! and musicals at the Hippodrome, but it can be easy to forget that there is a thriving material arts scene here as well, beyond the Baltimore Museum of Art Sculpture Garden.
Baltimore Print Studios (BPS) is located just up the street from Red Emma’s, in the heart of Station North. Founded in 2010, BPS hails itself as a public-access letterpress and screen printing studio.
I didn’t actually know what that all entailed until I visited last Thursday and was pleasantly surprised to find it meant that I got to touch a lot of really cool things and make some neat art for myself.
BPS is very easy to miss at street level; I walked past it about three times. Once you go beyond its gray exterior, though, you are greeted by a world of bright color, sharp fonts and the smell of ink, depending on what’s going on.
As an aside: Silver ink, I’ve learned, smells different than other colors. If you walk in and someone’s about to go crazy on the metallics, you’ll know.
Being public access in part means that the space is available for rent, but the Baltimore Print Studios is also a business, and you can see their sign work all over the place (featuring a lot of puns, which I was definitely into).
More than the obvious, though, there are tons of neat odds and ends. My favorite was a giant woodcut number two; it was wild to hold it and know that, though it was totally unique, it had likely left identical marks on hundreds of signs and posters over the years.
I also spent about 10 glorious minutes watching ink being mixed. It was just like those calming Instagram videos but with scent.
Of course, beyond the obvious aesthetic wonders, the real appeal in going to the Print Studios is getting a chance to use all of that wonderful equipment to make something of your own.
You can sign up for six-hour workshop classes where you have the opportunity to learn to make everything from notebooks to screen prints and more. The initial classes themselves are a little pricey (over $100 per person), but after that it only costs $15 an hour to rent studio time.
If you’re more of a look, don’t touch kind of person, tours of the Baltimore Print Studios are totally free — just let them know ahead of time.
Kyle Van Horn, one-half of the owners (the other half being his wife Kim Bentley), showed me and some of my Writing Sems classmates around BPS and helped us create the covers for our poetry chapbooks. He was incredibly helpful and funny and managed to stay very calm even when I messed up a print in three distinct, creative ways.
Going in, I knew the physical printing was going to be fun (I felt like a pioneer woman in the best way possible), but I was honestly just as excited to learn about the history and mechanics. Non-digital printing is alive and well and utterly fascinating to watch and take part in.
While it may not be the first activity you think about doing on a weekend, I encourage you to look into Baltimore Print Studios for some uncommon artistic opportunities.