You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


  • ePAPER

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks


Welcome to

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on

Fine art printing a passion at Straw Hat

It’s not unusual in our hyper-paced world of instant gratification for people to lose their cool when a computer printer takes more than a couple minutes to get a job done. But the founders of Atlanta’s Straw Hat Press take a radically different approach to print-making.

Possibly the only shops of its kind in the Southeast, Straw Hat creates fine art prints using old-fashioned, time-intensive methods in which patience and a steady hand are a requirement: Getting an image just right can easily take several weeks. The business, located in a studio at the Goat Farm Arts Center on Atlanta’s Westside, was established by three recent graduates of SCAD-Atlanta’s MFA Print-making program: Laura Cleary, Shaun McCallum, and Ashley Schick.

“You’ve got to be a little masochistic to work these old manual processes,” said McCallum of the exacting and often physically demanding work. He joked that a typical day, spent wiping down plates, heating ink to get the viscosity just right, cranking down the cylinder on the press and manually running an image through four times per print — can make a gym membership unnecessary.

The heart and soul of their shop is a Charles Brand Cylinder Etching Press, a large steel table with a hand-powered, crank-operated cylinder. It looks something like a cross between a massive pasta machine and a medieval torture rack. The press dates from the 1970s, but it replicates print-making processes that are much older.

“It’s kind of a workhorse etching press,” said Cleary. “There are finer ones that put down a little more pressure, but this is a very good strong one. It’s kind of like the Honda of etching presses.” Weighing in at a ton, the press exerts several tons of pressure to push ink from plates onto paper as it’s passed beneath the cylinder.

Straw Hat is equipped to do several kinds of print-making, but it specializes in etching-based prints and a 19th-century technique called photogravure, in which a photographic image is etched onto a copper plate coated with a light-sensitive material. The process was once the preferred method of reproducing photographic images in the mid-19th century. Straw Hat is one of a handful of shops in existence that still employs the technique.

The shop mostly works with local artists to make limited edition prints of their work, but it also takes on contract projects such as artists’ books, one-of-a-kind wedding invitations and CD covers. The printers offer workshops to the general public on metal drawing, etching and Coptic stitch book binding, and occasional demonstrations at special events, including the upcoming AJC Decatur Book Festival.

The three printers first immersed themselves in the intricacies of the processes at SCAD, while working with visiting artists Kiki Smith and Valerie Hammond. The internationally renowned artists were precise and exacting about their prints, and the three students often put in 12-hour days to produce satisfactory results. “That was really the inception point,” said McCallum, “when we realized how much we enjoy working with artists that have that drive.”

They opened their own shop in October 2012, stocking it with used equipment and things they made themselves. “The only sink we could find big enough to make giant plates and develop them was an old cadaver sink,” McCallum said, though he was quick to point out they inherited it from another print shop, so technically it never was used to wash cadavers.

The shop replicates a model set by other print shops in New York, San Francisco and L.A., but Straw Hat is one-of-a-kind in Atlanta and likely singular in the Southeast. “It’s something that exists elsewhere, but not something that’s existed in this particular art market,” McCallum said. Previously, Atlanta artists interested in creating such work with a master printer had to go to New York.

The name “Straw Hat” was derived from the name of an etching chemical used in the shop. The acrylic and linseed oil mix is the same chemical once used to coat straw hats to make them water resistant, hence the name. The name fit because the printers they wanted something that invoked their Southern roots: Cleary is from Chattanooga, McCallum comes from South Carolina, and Schick grew up in Florida.

So why put in 12-hour days muscling an old-fashioned press when a computer can print an image in just a few seconds?

“If you feel the texture of the surface of a copper plate, all those little pockmarks and ridges and occasional imperfections come through on every single print,” said McCallum. “It makes it something else entirely.”

“A plate can change from day to day and printer to printer,” said Cleary. “If you think back on an artist like Rembrandt, that’s part of why his editions were so interesting. Not only was he playing with the plate, playing with the copper over and over again, he was actually playing with how it was inked … There’s a physicality and a touch to it. The computer is basically still trying to replicate that physical process.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Living

Your cat really does like you, in fact more than food, study says
Your cat really does like you, in fact more than food, study says

Cats have gotten a bad rap, at least according to a new study that found your feline really does like you, even if it doesn’t always know how to show you, and it actually likes interacting with you more than it prefers food. The study from Oregon State University researchers in the journal “Behavioral Processes” also determined that...
TLC’s ‘Trading Spaces’ is headed back to television
TLC’s ‘Trading Spaces’ is headed back to television

TLC is bringing back its popular show “Trading Spaces” 10 years after it went off the air. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the network announced it will bring the show back in an upfront presentation to advertisers on Tuesday. “I am excited to announce that TLC's most successful and most iconic series ... ‘Trading Spaces&rsquo...
Ann Wilson solo tour will swing through Atlanta this summer

BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene Heart belter Ann Wilson has added an Atlanta show to the second leg of her solo tour. The powerhouse voice behind such gems as “Crazy on You” and “Alone” will play the Buckhead Theatre at 7:30 p.m. June 6. Tickets, priced at $55 and $75, will go on sale at 10 a.m. March 31 via the venue box...
The ‘Magic Negro’ and comedian Mark Kendall’s quest to kill him
The ‘Magic Negro’ and comedian Mark Kendall’s quest to kill him

The idea of the “Magic Negro” or the “Magical Negro” has been among the most enduring and offensive tropes in cinema for decades. You know, the black character who comes in to provide sage advice or life-affirming support to a white protagonist in danger or need. Think Whoopi Goldberg’s character in “Ghost,&rdquo...
Georgia World War One Centennial Commission commemorates the Great War
Georgia World War One Centennial Commission commemorates the Great War

The U.S. World War One Centennial Commission was established in 2013 by Congress, and Georgia’s branch was established in 2015 by the Georgia General Assembly. On the website for Georgia’s commission, you’ll find a link that says “Monuments, Memorials and Historic Sites,” which lists memorials surveyed by the...
More Stories