Steam Whistle Letterpress & Design

1342 Main St
Cincinnati, OH 45202

Brian Stuparyk of Steam Whistle Letterpress & Design

Though he opened the doors to Steam Whistle Letterpress in February 2012, Brian Stuparyk had a long-term love of the mechanics of printing. He chose Over-the-Rhine for his business to be part of the growing "maker culture" in town, and tap into a creative market that's both thriving and still growing.

How did you start your business?
I had been a photographer back when photographs still came out of dark rooms. I really liked the chemistry and physics of photography—the nuts and bolts of producing an image.

I had been working at a small newspaper that used a lot of old layout methods—not letterpress, but pretty outdated machinery. I started getting interested in printing from there, and I taught myself about silkscreening and letterpress printing and went from there. I opened the doors of Steam Whistle in February 2012.

What do you sell at Steam Whistle?
I have a small storefront with a selection of retail items such as greeting cards and postcards. Beyond the counter is the print shop, where visitors can see all the equipment, such as an 1891 Chandler press machine from Cleveland.

I also do some wholesale, so you can find my cards at Park + Vine, the Contemporary Arts Center and other shops around town, but my work is largely custom. I do a lot of wedding invitations and corporate work like business cards.

Where are you initially from, and how did you end up in Over-the-Rhine?
I’m originally from Canada—Northern Alberta, actually—but we moved here because my father worked for Procter & Gamble. Part of the reason I stayed here is because I bought all of this equipment and it was too heavy to move! 

There’s also a lot going on down here in Over-the-Rhine, and I wanted to be a part of that. If I had gone to any other city, I’d just be another letterpress printer. To come into this area where there’s so much happening and set up shop and be the letterpress printer, was the really attractive thing to me, and I wanted to be a part of Over-the-Rhine as it’s getting off the ground and not just be part of the crowd.

What resources did you take advantage of locally, and how did they help?
They don’t teach you a lot of business stuff in art school, so my father’s been a good resource for bookkeeping and cash flow questions. If he doesn’t know an answer, I’ve asked guys he’s worked with and other people in his network.

One thing that’s helped me a lot is having so many young startups on Main Street, and being able to go over to Losantiville, for example, and say, “How do you deal with this?” We’re small, creative startups and we deal with a lot of the same kinds of issues. Danny [Korman] at Park + Vine has really been good for all of us, too, in terms of offering advice.

What inspires you?
A lot of it is the history of letterpress. When I start designing, I pull open a drawer full of 100-year-old pieces of wood, and I’m physically moving around blocks when I’m setting the type of a letterpress. That process informs a lot of the best design I do.

Letterpress has a split personality—there’s the early American, rough-and-tumble, wood-grainy style. And then there’s another style, a sort of Martha Stewart wedding invitation look, which is very clean and crisp.

What’s next for you and your company?
I do a lot of short-run custom work. I’d like to do more longer runs and expand my capacity for those, not only to print more stationery, such as my own wholesale designs, but also work with local companies, whether local clothiers that need tags or companies that need boxes or distilleries that need labels.

Where else can we find you around town?
At my other job—I teach printmaking at Northern Kentucky University part-time.

Interview by Robin Donovan