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Innovation News

Artworks Big Pitch Finalist: Brian Stuparyk, Steam Whistle Letterpress

Throughout the summer, Soapbox will profile each of the eight finalists in the Artworks Big Pitch competition, presented by U.S. Bank, which offers artists, makers, designers and creative entrepreneurs a chance to claim up to $20,000 in cash prizes, as well as pro-bono professional services. The competition concludes August 27 at the American Sign Museum with the eight finalists each giving five-minute presentations to a panel of judges. You can read Soapbox’s article on the Big Pitch here.

It may seem hard to believe, but some people still like to make things with their hands. Brian Stuparyk, founder of Steam Whistle Letterpress, is one of those people.
Stuparyk studied photography initially, but by the time he graduated college, photography was already making the digital shift, something that didn’t interest him as much.
“I really liked being in the darkroom. I liked working with the equipment and creating things, and I liked the science of it all,” Stuparyk says.
He discovered printmaking while doing production for a newspaper. For Stuparyk, it combined the mechanical processes that he liked about analog photography with art and creativity.
“The other obvious part about printmaking is that someone is still going to hire your services,” Stuparyk says. “Very few people will hire a photographer using film when they can get digital. But with letterpress, you can’t achieve this kind of quality any other way.”
Stuparyk’s production is split between a Main Street storefront in Over-the-Rhine and a space in the Essex Studios. Both are filled with machines anywhere from 40 to 100 years old. Despite the fact that newer machines may be cheaper and quicker at turning out product, Steam Whistle prefers older machines because, according to Stuparyk, they produce a higher quality product.
“If you do something really, really well, people will gravitate to that,” Stuparyk says. “With Steam Whistle, the quality was the first thing I really had to conquer. We’ve done that, and I’d put our printing up against any other shop in the country.”
Since incorporating as a business in November 2011, Steam Whistle products can now be found in more than 20 U.S. states, as well as in Canada. The requests for custom work have begun piling in, and the company has begun working with a sales rep in New York, substantially increasing the brand's visibility. At this point, Stuparyk’s biggest issue is how to deal with the growth.
“Currently, I’m working 80 to 85 hours a week, and I’m finding that there aren’t enough hours in the day to keep up with the work that’s coming in. I’d like to consolidate all my equipment into one shop and hire another employee, but I need to get the financing right to make it work.”
For this reason, Stuparyk entered into the Artworks Big Pitch competition.
“If I do win the competition, I know I’ll be able to put the money to work right away,” Stuparyk says. “What’s been great is getting that reassurance from the mentors that Artworks has connected me with."
Stuparyk would like to sell Steam Whistle products in all 50 states, begin working with more Cincinnati businesses and be recognized as a leading brand in the letterpress industry. He already partners with stores like OTR’s Rock Paper Scissors and Noble Denim, a fellow Big Pitch finalist.
“I want to keep growing the business and keep doing it here in Over-the-Rhine,” Stuparyk says. “The more I grow, I know it will benefit my partners and the community as well, so I’m hoping to keep growing and keep funneling that growth back into the city and community."

Check out these other Artworks Big Pitch finalists:
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