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Q&A with Kim Austin of Austin Press

All the way from sunny San Francisco, Austin Press (charming Victorian-inspired ephemera and apothecary) has winged its beautiful way to us. We meet Kim Austin, Austin Press's founder, and chat about life, work and get some top tips for your next holiday to California.

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Kim Ausin, founder of Austin Press, in her studio
Kim Austin, founder of Austin Press, in her studio

How did you start Austin Press?

My back ground is in fine art. I was approaching my 40th birthday. I wanted to embark on a new path.
I decided that I wanted to learn letterpress and start a small business.
I wanted to create work that would be more accessible financially and would allow me to share more beauty with the world.
I bought an old style press and got to work.
I am self taught and love the process of printing with ink, cotton papers, raised plates, and gorgeous old machines.

You’re an art school graduate.

Where did you go to school and can you talk a bit about your work as a fine artist?

I completed my undergraduate work at Cal State Hayward.
At Hayward I focused on renaissance art and photography.
I studied one year abroad in Italy.
Italy was the pinnacle of my education.
I learned so much there, and it changed me forever.
Both as a young woman finding her independence, and as an artist discovering her voice.

Austin Press display at The Hambledon

Austin Press is based in San Francisco. We love the romantic sounding Noonan Building in the Dogwatch neighborhood.

What drew you to the area and can you describe it?

Long before I had a studio in the Noonan building,
I used to walk through the abandoned shipyard and fantasize about having a studio here.
It was a fun walk from our home in Potrero Hill, and it was a fascinating look into the SF maritime past-
unpolished with lots of wandering cats.
Years later I found out about the Noonan Building and eventually was accepted by the Port to rent a space.
I have been here for over 20 years.
I love it.
It is my second home.

You seem to have a particular interest in Victorian ephemera.

Do you know why? Any artists who have inspired you?

I think my love of Victorian design goes back to growing up in the 70’s near San Francisco.
Many of the musicians in the 70’s wore velvet and ruffles and used wood block fonts, and lived in Victorian houses.
Hippy culture was so influenced by the Victorians- at least visually.
I loved the richness and romance of Victorian society, and it was such a contrast to what I thought was boring suburbia.
On weekends we would pack up in the VW bus and head out to Berkeley or San Francisco.
Concerts in the park, craft fairs, foreign movies, pot lucks, plays, flee markets.
it was a great way to grow up.

You obviously love your letterpress. How did you happen upon it?

And why is letterpress so good?

My art was vintage photographic recipes.
I would paint my handmade emulsions onto papers, and silks, and muslin cotton.
It seemed to me that letterpress was simpatico with my art practices.
I am a very hands-on artist and inking a press and making plates felt like my kind of thing.
I always loved the way letterpress interacted with thick, soft, cotton paper.
It took a while to figure out, but I found a press, restored it myself, and learned how to use it.

Is there such a thing as a typical day at Austin Press and what does it look like?

My days are filled with so many things.
I often have wax in my melter, ink on my press, and orders on my packing tables.
My days are filled with all kinds of tasks and techniques.
All self taught.
There is never a dull day.

What tunes are you playing in the office?

I love a mix of gregorian chants, chopin, mazzie star, neil young, dan hicks, lou reed, the carter family…..

You started with letterpress stationery.

How did you decide which new products to develop?

I started out slowly, as I was learning how to print and start a business from scratch.
I believe I had 9 cards to begin.
Alphabets were a theme in my art work, so I naturally got into monograms.
Each year of business I have added new designs and new techniques.
It is a natural evolution, nothing forced.

Where are your candles made?

I make all of my candles here in my SF studio.

What next for Austin Press?

Any exciting plans on the horizon?

Well things are kind of crazy in the world right now. So it is hard to say anything for sure.
But, I am very into the idea of simplifying right now.
Life is so precious. I want to move into keeping everything essential, nothing superfluous.
Embracing what we need to be happy and healthy and sheltered, but not over indulging.
I believe that all of my work is made with love and conviction.
I want to keep perfecting my line so that it becomes a perfect jewel box of items that bring peace and happiness.

You are California born and bred. Can you give us your top tips about your home state.

When we can travel again, where should we go?

California is definitely a beautiful state to visit.
Top of my list are Calistoga, Sonoma, Big Sur, Palm Springs, camping in Trintiy.
And so much in SF- movies at the Castro Theatre, burritos in the Mission, walks in the GG park and Land’s End, sound bath concerts at Grace Cathedral,
ice cream at bi-rite….

Any guilty pleasures for Team Austin Press?

I love to swim. I love to buy fabric. I love to get massages and acupuncture.

We love the names of some of your products (Cat’s Pillow, Circus Girl’s Trailer etc).

Where do the names come from?

I come up with all of my names and designs.
The Sanctum Series is about peace and space.
Each has a character- person or animal or insect, and a special location that is comforting and inspiring.
It was fun to think of all the different characters and what kinds of sanctuaries they live in.

Is there anything in particular you would like our lovely Hambledon customers to know about Austin Press?

I am woman owned, self taught, passionate and devoted, and I believe in leading by good example.
A smile brings on another smile.
Kindness inspires other to act the same.
Each footprint matters.

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