Adam Hickman Ewing

Letterpress printmaker

How did you get started in printmaking?

I made prints here and there growing up, as most folks do, but the real interest came upon moving to Knoxville for art school. The printmaking department here is one of the best in the country, and though I was going to school for graphic design I was a bit more drawn to the print shop. The work I do now is a combination of the two. I get to make prints, but I don’t have to make them for, or about, myself, and they serve a specific purpose, which is usually to spread the word for other artists or goings-on around town.

How complicated is the printmaking process?

It can be as easy as sticking a greasy finger on a window or as difficult as removing windows and lifting a 10-foot long press into the second floor of the shop with a crane. A lot of the equipment we use is 100 to 200 years old, so it can become complicated to come by the tools to work with. We carve woodblocks by hand and have had to learn how to read upside down and backwards while setting type letter by letter. The process we use is very specialized, though it was once the everyday way to do things. These days, everyone thinks they are a graphic designer because they have a computer, and that results in a large amount of eyesores.

I’ve heard the Yee-Haw building is haunted. Any ghost encounters?

We like to think of them more as spirit printers that watch over us, residing in the aged equipment and floating in the ink fumes. There also seems to be the ghost of a young woman on the ground floor. Late nights, we’ve often heard her high-pitched laugh and light footsteps trotting out the door into the dark night of Gay Street.

What print that you’ve designed and made is your favorite?

I was always taught not to have favorites, but I am drawn to a coffin-shaped poster I did for the Actors Co-op a few years back. I think my favorite posters are the ones I’ve not yet made.

Do you think print shops like Yee-Haw are becoming a thing of the past, or will they continue to thrive in the future?

Letterpress print shops were definitely a thing of the past at the point of Yee-Haw’s inception 10 years ago. Nowadays, they seem to be sprouting up all across the country, and I believe the work we’ve gotten out there has influenced that. We bought a Vandercook SP15 proofing press for $500 about eight years ago, and now they’re going for upwards of $5,000 on eBay. It’s definitely on the rise right now, but it’s hard to say how long it will last. Letterpress printing has become a real trend over the past couple years, but like any other trend it could die out. When the power goes out all over the world at the end of days, we’ll be the go-to people for any kind of printed project—not that we’re looking forward to that.

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