Grant Gamalski got into screen printing years ago, mostly because he was in a band. He was an artist, too, but he also needed a way to spread the word about his band (posters) and provide some merchandise at their shows (t-shirts). Screen printing fit the bill.
Gamalski, the co-owner of Progress Custom Screen Printing, nods over towards one of his most integral staffers, the impressively-bearded Sean Clancy, as he rinses off some screens in a trough-like sink in front of a brick wall emblazoned with a dazzling graffiti-styled symbol (“PROGRESS”) stretching across the entire side of the rectangular shop, acknowledging that both of them “got really into this because of being in a band.”
“Every tour with my bands,” Clancy recalls, “I’d have to have a poster made. I was just so into that culture, as a fan of gig posters, I had stacks of posters under my bed and I’d curate them all from my bands’ shows.”
“We’re generating a very tangible form of art, here,” Gamalski says. As he speaks, he’s spinning a 6-screen carousel, each with platens for a line of shirts to slip over, while screens blended with film-positives of individual bands’, companies’ or organizations’ logos/images are lowered onto them. Special discharge water-based ink is then squeegeed onto each, one color/layer at a time. He arches his back and rakes the ink-slathered squeegee down across the screen and over the shirt with both hands. It’s proving to be a quite a work-out.
“But music,” he continues, “can be a very intangible art-form. You have no way to capture that experience of music other than bringing home the poster or the t-shirt. Memories might fade, but the shirt sticks around. So this is a cool way to be part of the music industry even when you’re not playing music. It’s a cool form of art.”
Gamalski, who studied fine arts and screen printing at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, has worked at Progress for seven years, from back in its early days when the business
was based out of a house on Vester and was owned and operated by Steven McCrumb. “I met Steve through CCS, he started off printing my band’s tshirts.” Gamalski explains.
About five years ago, current co-owner Brian Larson, who has more than 10 years experience in screen printing and graphic design, joined Progress to do more of the “front end work” with customer’s orders along with some custom designing. “I kinda knew (Gamalski) a bit when I came here,” Larson recalls, “our bands had played together in high school.”
While Clancy (who primarily works on poster designs here at Progress) still records/performs and tours with Ferndale’s premier post-metal outfit Child Bite, Larson and Gamalski have transitioned from their band days and become business owners, eventually securing an agreement with McCrumb to take over the company on January 1, 2013.
“It was stressful and intense at first,” Larson recalls of those first few months. The pair had to open up an entirely new account for the business, using Gamalski’s own credit card for the first month. “But things got rolling,” Larson recalls with a smile that sends off any of those firstmonth-worries.
“After the first three months we realized that we were already way above the sales of the previous year, and that last year had been our best year (up until then)…” Gamalski said. “So, every single year, sales have gone up. I think a lot of it is Ferndale, because we have a strong artistic base in this area. Everybody seems really down for supporting local stuff.”
“We really do feel that sense of community,” Larson said. “We work with so many local businesses. We’ve done work for Western Market, Chazzano Coffee, Valentine Distillery, B-Nectar, the Ferndale Library.”
Larson and Gamalski both consider this to be a rewarding business – they can contribute to their community through promotional printing for a business, supplying copies of poster designs for a local graphic artist or squeegee-ing an awesome t-shirt for a local band’s upcoming show, while also quenching their artistic sides. Clancy goes so far as to say that this is his first job he’s found “emotionally rewarding.”
“It’s like: ‘What cool, awesome artist’s work, who’s probably also my friend, who’s poster am I going to make happen today?’” says Clancy. “Posters have really picked up lately. There was no scene for poster art here six years ago. And I feel like it’s only building here. So it’s nice to be working, printing tons of posters. We do them all by hand, too.”
Larson studied at the Illinois Institute of Art in Chicago, eventually moving back to Pontiac where he helped operate a screen printing and graphic design collective out of his loft, while also hosting monthly concerts. “I’ve always been into making things,” Larson admits, acknowledging a certainty, above all else, that he wanted to be working in a print shop. “And, just doing things, that goes back to the loft, trying to make a DIY venue, ya know? I’ve always had a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit. I like making things happen.”
For Gamalski, at first, it was just a means to an end for his band. “But after that band hit a brick wall, I decided to just see how far we could take (Progress). I’m excited just to take this company to the next step. What’s built up our reputation is quality over quantity. We get orders from Illinois and New York, even California.”
Without their posters, their tote-bags, their hoodies and tshirts… Ferndale’s special events, their businesses, their bands (and we have many bands) would be noticeably less adorned, less
dynamic, less unique. “I mean, would you rather pay five grand for a masterpiece or 15 bucks for a sweet poster?” Gamalski asks aloud. But then, with reverence: “All these artists and institutions that I’ve looked up to for years are now coming into my shop.” More than ever, he says, he’s felt connected to the Detroit and Ferndale arts communities — all because of screen printing.
Progress Custom Screen Printing
SHOP HOURS:Monday–Friday 10am–6pm
248-982-4247 • firstname.lastname@example.org
364 Hilton Road • Ferndale, Michigan 48220
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