Jude Lau & Tom Whitehead | Co-founders at The Printhaus | Cardiff

Jude Lau & Tom Whitehead | Co-founders at The Printhaus | Cardiff

It was in December 2017 when we first heard about the thriving community of artists and makers at The Printhaus from designer-maker and former resident Priya Kallio. Eager to visit this creative hub ever since, we recently had the chance to meet with Jude and Tom, two of the founding members of The Printhaus and a highly skilled creative couple sharing a deep passion for print.

As we entered the site just off Llandaff Road in Canton, our eyes met this giant blue bird sliding down the building’s stairway, painted by mural artist Sam Worthington in 2014, as well as the abstract patterns painted more recently by the local artist and illustrator Lucy Dickson. Once we stepped over the threshold of the heavy, lime-green door, we immediately felt the strong sense of community oozing from every corner of this close-knit creative space, and we found Jude and Tom keeping busy around the large print workshop.

Taking a break from their work, Jude and Tom opened up over a cup of coffee about how The Printhaus was born, the driving ethos behind their collective efforts and the importance of nurturing the local creative community. Later on, Tom told us about the screen printing process and his eye-catchy T-shirt designs, and Jude showed us her deceptively tactile paper sculptures and her remarkable piece called Printed Matter, consisting of a resin record, a book of instructions and an album sleeve – a project that won the Agassi Book Arts Prize in 2016.

Saying goodbye to Jude and Tom, we left The Printhaus thinking that the city has become more than just a hectic conglomerate of concrete, asphalt, steel and walls inhabited by harassed pedestrians, anguished shoppers and impulsive motorists, and that what goes on in this independent creative outlet is vital for the development of the city’s social and cultural fabric and shows that the art scene in Cardiff is no longer under the radar but flourishes out in the open, keeping alive the city’s cultural identity.

For people who don’t know you, who are Jude and Tom? Tell us a bit about your backgrounds.

Jude: I’m from Chester. I studied 2 art foundations... dropped out of the first one, got a job working in a coffee shop for a while. Wasn’t long before I got myself back into education, stuck to it this time and completed my second art foundation and then came to Cardiff. Around early 2000, I think. I studied BA Fine Art in Howard Gardens, UWIC. I still miss that place. Shame it’s been replaced by fats now. Anyway, next question...

Tom: I’m originally from West Wales and studied animation for a bit in Surrey, dropped out, moved to Cardiff, worked in a bowling alley until realised it wasn’t right and started on a Graphics Communication course in Llandaff campus, UWIC which is now Cardiff Met. Here I really got into using Flash to be able to make animations faster. Before that it was super slow and everything was done by hand.

What are your most vivid childhood memories?

Jude: My dad worked as a chef through all my childhood and I’d really only get to see him on a Sunday. We’d go walking in the mountains round North Wales, in Moel Famau. I just remember trying to race him from the car park to the castle at the top. One day...

Tom: Making dens and running round Llanpumpsaint in rural West Wales.

How did you two meet?

Tom: We met at Visible Art screen printers over a squeegee! We were both seeing other people at the time though and eventually both ended up single. I declared my love on the night of my 30th – to drunk to remember doing it!

What subject appears most often in your conversations?

Food, Printhaus, food.

How did you get into printmaking as a profession? What were your journeys like?

Tom: I fell into it. Friends were looking for a t-shirt printer for a client. They found Rob Trigg at Visible Art, I went along to have a nose around. I was already making stencils for t-shirt graphics using acetates in my own time. A few weeks later a job came up and I made my interest known. I got it! 13 years later we now have 10 employees and I’m the manager, things changed.

Jude: Still going… but I guess I got into it really from being frustrated of working in another coffee shop and doing nothing with my degree. Long story short my boss at the time asked me to make some prints for the shop, so I went to Visible Art in the hope I’d be allowed to use their printing facilities… It was just pure luck that I turned up round the time they needed someone. Little did I know the two guys I’d meet there, Tom and Rob, would turn out to be some of the most influential people in my life. Now, I’m the manager of Printhaus. Tom and I actually do pretty similar work, just with different groups of people and in different places, but still focused around print.

Tell us a bit about your collaborative relationship. How do you influence each other creatively and what are your strengths as a team of creatives?

We’re polar opposites so far as our creative tastes are concerned. But it’s not really about that. We met in the workplace and grew together in the workplace. And because of that we’ve really developed a deeper understanding and respect for each other. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses inside out and how to work with it. So as a creative team we’re pretty resilient. Whether that’s in terms of Printhaus or our personal projects, we instinctively support each other.

Eight years ago you joined forces with Rob Trigg and Nigel Bowles and opened The Printhaus, a creative community celebrating and cultivating the art scene in Cardiff. Can you tell us more about the inception of this bold initiative? How did it all start? What attracted you to this space initially and what was the driving ethos behind your collective efforts?

Jude: It was Rob’s idea really. He was our boss and he had his eye on the site for a long time. He’s the kind of guy that has a billion and one ideas, and some of them stick. In hindsight, it was a really similar situation to how I’d first started working with Rob – right place, right time. I’d been with the studio for around 5-6 years at this point and I couldn’t grow anymore within the job role. I also wanted to come away from the commercial side of print and get more creative with it. So when the subject came up again, it was just good timing. But it wasn’t without some persuasion from Tom before I fully committed… In the beginning there wasn’t an ethos, it was more about just getting it done. We were on a time-limit, still working our regular jobs and we’d each invested a small sum to get it off the ground. After that though, I’d say the driving force came from friends, family and locals who joined in to help us. It was really amazing. Nige came in round this time. He started renting out a studio space to continue his own practice, but it wasn’t long before he started spending more and more time working with us to develop Printhaus.

Tom: Yeah, it was Rob’s idea and I was pushing Jude to join in on the venture as I thought it would be great for her to meet like-minded folks and allow time to develop her professional practice after uni. At the beginning I wanted to hang back and concentrate on my little t-shirt business, Ed & Flo, but it soon became clear that I was spending all my spare time helping out. Honestly, I would say we just wanted a space for printing equipment that people could hire to use, everything else seemed to develop and evolve quite naturally over time. It probably took 5-6 years to really start to have an ethos and an understanding of what we were trying to achieve.

Why is it important for the Printhaus to maintain its independent status?

Tom: I personally feel that organisations like ourselves need to prove that we can be independent. With screen printing we are in an ideal situation to take on small, interesting commercial jobs when needed and be able to keep our independence. The support of larger public organisations may alter over time. As creatives we have lots to offer and with some creative thinking we can source revenue streams from many sectors.

Jude: The integrity of being an independent print studio in the first place and really what makes it all worthwhile is the sense of looking out for each other as a creative community. And being independent plays a huge part in that. I think it’s the same with anything, the bigger and brighter you become it’s a real game changer and inevitably becomes less intimate, that’s one of the really special things about what we have. It’s just about realising and making the most with what we’ve got.

What are some of the challenges of running a collaborative art space?

Tom: I would say just that, the collaborative bit! Everyone is different and has different needs and priorities. Finding a balance can be difficult and sometimes cannot be done, accepting this for me has been difficult at times.

Jude: Yeah, exactly what Tom said. Specifically in the workshop with new members coming in, it’s always interesting just to see how everybody gets on. Everybody gets the induction and the formalities of joining a shared work space, but what’s really interesting is seeing the small changes in people’s behaviour. Positive changes that only really happen because we are a community-based workshop. Things like just being confident enough to say hi to another member, ask for advice or talk about what they’re doing. This sort of thing isn’t something we can write into the induction, but it’s definitely something that’s always there in the back of our minds.

As long-time Cardiff residents, what do you think is driving the transformation of the arts and culture scene in the city?

Since starting Printhaus we just naturally got to know other people who were into similar things, local artists and creatives who were interested in what we were doing. And really the thing that struck us back then, as it continues to now, is just how open and supportive Cardiff is. That’s what still drives the scene in Cardiff... we think.

In your opinion, what more could be done in order to promote Cardiff’s art scene and to encourage people to engage with art on a wider scale?

Jude: That’s a really difficult question to answer… maybe it’s more worthwhile to just think about how different people connect with art in the first place.

Out of all the art projects, events and exhibitions that you’ve created, what have been the most successful or rewarding for you and why?

Jude: Meeting and working with new graduates is really rewarding for me. When I graduated I would’ve had to have travelled outside of Cardiff to find something similar to Printhaus, so now it’s nice to know we’ve sorted that one out. It’s good. Especially so that our student members are local and regional.

Tom: I really enjoy “Snapped up Market” which is a makers’ market that we created as a platform for our members and residents to engage with the general public. We put it on twice a year. It’s been going a few years now and we get really positive feedback from visitors and stall holders. This year was the first time that half the stall holders were Printhaus members and nearly all our studio holders opened their doors. This makes me very happy and proud.

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What is the most frequent question that people who attend your classes and workshops ask you?

It’s not so much a question, so much as a statement… how long have you guys been here?! We’re off the main high street, and when you do find us it’s bigger inside than you might think.

The Printhaus also houses a diverse range of artists and designers. What is it that creatives find appealing and exciting about this space?

Jude: Um… we’ve got a licensed bar and pizza oven next to the print workshop… no but seriously, you’d have to ask them that question to really find out. One thing for certain is that we are the only community-based screenprint workshop in Cardiff. There are several other screenprint workshops, but these are mainly commercial set-ups or based in universities. You’d only really be able to access them as a student or through the open art school. So in that way Printhaus fills a niche, which was missing before. It’s good and we all get to enjoy it (and the pizza).

Why do you do what you do and what makes it all worthwhile to you?

Tom: I like to make things work and getting stuck in. Every now and then, you catch an off hand comment from the members of how much they love the space. It’s hard to describe the feeling that gives, it just makes you feel like you’re doing something worthwhile. Also seeing members develop their skills and become confident printers is always a buzz!

Jude: I’m still learning something new every day which is really important to me, but what makes it really worthwhile is just as Tom says...

What do you do or where do you go to unwind and get inspired?

Tom: We’re not very good at this, we tend to work until we burn out and rest up. I do like wood-working projects, they give me time to think and hatch new projects to work on.

Jude: If you’re really enjoying doing what you’re doing then why stop? I do always feel better for taking time out though, just to go and catch up with friends.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

Jude: Just take 10 minutes.

Tom: Put gloves on, dermatitis is the printer’s curse.

What are you working on at the moment?

Jude: It’s more about selecting work at the moment than making new pieces. There’s a couple of shows I fancy submitting work to, so mostly paperwork and formatting. Oh yeah, and Tom’s brother is teaching me how to use Premiere Pro, for putting together screenprinted animations.

Tom: Some new t-shirt designs, Banzai flying squirrel patrol, Art-deco jellyfish and the summer Snapped-Up. Oh yeah, and my website.

When you think about the future of The Printhaus, what are you most excited about and why?

We’re heading on a road trip soon to go play with a Risograph machine, along with the rest of the Printhaus team. It would be amazing if we could bring Risograph printing to Cardiff, as well as what we already do...

And now a Max Frisch question: What do you need in order to be happy?

Tom: Time to play and runny poached eggs.

Jude: Same as Tom, except with coffee (and Tom).

Can you recommend us:

A book:

Tom: a graphic novel called Ex-machina by Brian K. Vaughan/Tony Harris.

Jude: an artist book called Van Gig Zine by John Bently.

A song:

Tom: Free bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd, it’s my printing song.

Jude: Moire (Piano & Organ) by Jan Jelinek.

A film:

Tom: Gentlemen Broncos, Jared Hess.

Jude: Haha! I have terrible taste in films.

Thank you, both for the wonderful insight into your creative and personal realms and for the lively conversation!

Official website: The Printhaus / Instagram / Facebook

We are Irina and Silviu and we do everything together.

Our story begun in Transylvania while studying Philosophy at the University and we have been inseparable ever since. From translating philosophy books to changing diapers, creating collages together and documenting our reality through photography our togetherness became a lifestyle.

For the past 8 years we have called Wales home, the land of hiraeth and Celtic legends, of rugged coastlines and dramatic Brecon Beacons. 

If you feel a connection with our aesthetics and vision we would love to hear from you.