Above the Fold

A digital 'zine by Original Fuzz about creativity and making stuff.

★  May 26, 2024  ★

FOUND with Printmaker Carl Carbonell

Featured photo for FOUND with Printmaker Carl Carbonell

This month's FOUND artist is Carl Carbonell. He's a printmaker living in Salt Lake City, Utah. We met Carl when he worked as a designer and letterpress printer at Hatch Show Print in Nashville. His art is folky and bold, and always has a message to ponder. We love it. You'll love it, too. 

Read our interview with Carl on how he got started, working with his idols, advice for beginners, and his creative process. You can find Carl's art in his online shop, Meat & 3 Printing Co. And, keep up with daily musings at  @meatand3printingco. 

Photos by Oliver Jin.

By Liz Earle

Printmaker Carl Carbonell holding his art "No Love For Fascist Pigs"

How did you get into letterpress? Did you go to school for design?

I got a BFA with an emphasis in Graphic Design from Mississippi State University. While I was there, I was introduced to a fellow named Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr. in a little town called Gordo about fifteen miles west of Tuscaloosa, just over the Alabama state line. Amos, who now lives and works in Detroit, had been printing for quite some time, and had amassed a wildly impressive collection of presses, movable type, and other equipment. I had never, ever met anyone like him (still haven't for that matter). I don't really know that much about Star Wars, but he is a total “Obi Wan Kenobi” type character for me, based on my elementary understanding of that character—if Obi Wan wore overalls and drank Red Stripe. He was incredibly kind and ferociously generous to me, and taught me a really great foundation of letterpress printing.

You worked at Hatch for a number of years. Was it cool to see it transform from the small Broadway shop to a bustling CMHOF mainstay? Did you enjoy your time there?

To say that working at Hatch was a dream job would be an understatement. That place contains such an intense magic that I still think fondly of to this day. I hope it's not irreverent for me to say, but the word "Holy" is the only way I feel able to communicate the feeling of walking into that place for the first time.

In the grand scheme of things, the transformation from Broadway to 5th Ave. was something that felt a lot more controversial at the time than I think it really was. We all worried how the new shop would feel. I'm a pretty sentimental person, and it's in my nature to romanticize the past, but all these years later, the shop is still magical and it's my feeling that it always will be. As far as learning goes, up to that point I had a pretty decent understanding of letterpress printing from Amos, but Hatch was where I learned a lot of finesse and precision, as well as some more experimental techniques.

Carl Carbonell's print called, "Bob"

What would you consider the legacy of the Hatch tradition? What’s its influence on letterpress?

I think Hatch functions as a great evangelist of letterpress (I don't know where all this religious talk is comin' from). There's lots of folks around the country, even the world, who are carrying that proverbial "torch," but Hatch is a great, fun, accessible way for a lot of people to peak inside of that universe. The fact that it's so old, that it's in a fun city that people like to visit, and that so much of the work is eye-catching and music-related helps too, I think. So aesthetically, I think it set a certain standard for letterpress posters, especially when it comes to country or folk-related music and culture. But here in 2018, I think the designers and printers that work there are helping set the pace for how experimental the process of letterpress can become. They're doing all kinds of cool, new-fangled tricks that make me scratch my noggin and it's very exciting to keep an eye on.

What are some of your favorite show posters that you designed for Hatch?

ZZ Top at the Ryman. It was a rip on the Top brand rolling papers, and I got this super sweet email from Billy Gibbons. And, then like a year later, Dusty Hill's wife mailed me this commemorative ZZ Top coin that I still have sitting next to my computer today. Also, I got to go to that show and those guys are amazing. Killer dance moves, furry guitars, matching FFA jackets—if that doesn't sound like fun, then I just don't know what to tell you. Y'all need to get a damn strap around Mr. Gibbons’ shoulder.

Carl Carbonell "Hollering Pines" Poster

Have you ever restored or repaired an old press? Do you need to know how to do that as a printmaker?

I've never restored one, necessarily. I bought one a few years back that was super filthy, so I took it apart and cleaned the hell out of it, but I didn't really "restore" it. It woulda worked fine, it was just dirty. But I've repaired certain parts of them plenty of times. They don't really break that often if you maintain them well because most of them were manufactured during an era where craftsmanship mattered exponentially more than it seems to today. And as far as needing to know how to do it, it's definitely helpful if you can, but it's also good to know when to ask somebody who knows more than you. Some of those little teeny screws on those things are custom made, so if you break a little piece like that, you might wind up sittin' around waiting on a new one for quite some time.

When did you start Meat & 3 Printing Co.? Have you always dreamed of working for yourself?

I started it in 2012. I didn't even start off doing custom work, I just needed a name for the prints I was making. I didn't want to use my own name because then it might seem like I was trying to be an "artist," or something, so I just called it "The Meat & 3 Printing Co." because I thought it was funny and it sounded way more industrial than it really needed to. I tried to change it once to "Raw Meat," because I get tired of explaining to non-Southerners what a "Meat & 3" is. But, then everybody was like, "Raw Meat is a really gross name, Carl." So, eventually I changed it back and never mentioned it again.

As far as dreaming of self-employment goes, to this day M&3PC work doesn't fund my entire income, and doing work for clients is nobody's favorite thing to do, so the answer to the second question is basically, "No." So, I work a design job that pays the bills, but it helps me maintain the Meat & 3 stuff as a vehicle for as much fun as possible, which is the way I like it to be.

Who’s been one of your most memorable clients? Any cool stories you’d like to share?

I'm not even embarrassed to be a fanboy here. John Prine is my favorite person to do work for, because—well, I don't think I need to explain why I love John Prine. The Oh Boy Records crew is super friendly and easygoing. His music is so wonderful (and probably saved my life), and he reminds me of my grandfather, who I absolutely adore. One time, he was in the Hatch gift store, but he was wearing a big, poofy jacket and an Elmer Fudd-type of hat so I didn't notice it was him until he was on his way out the door. I speed-walked outta the shop to go catch him, but didn't really prepare anything profound to say, so I just walked up next to him and was like, "John!" He stopped walking and turned to me and goes, "Yeah?" And, I kinda stood there like a dumbass, and then said, "Uhhh...I'm Carl. I guess I just want to say, 'Thanks?'" And he smiled and said "You're welcome." It was so great.

That was like five years ago. More recently, I printed a poster for Marty Stuart when he came to Salt Lake. After the show, the promoter was like, "Hey Carl. Marty's back there signing stuff if you wanna go talk to him." So, I took off backstage without even thinking to grab one of my posters, and when I got back there, I realized, while in line, that I didn't have anything for him to sign. So, instead of very simply walking back to the front of the venue to get a poster, I decided I would do the responsible thing and have him sign my leg, then go next door and get it tattooed on me (it was my 39th tattoo, so it's not like I need to think that hard about it anymore). He wrote it pretty big, and it's really legible, so I went to the tattoo shop three doors down and got it handled. Also, I feel like I should mention that he didn't even hesitate to write it on there. During the most recent Americana Awards show, I was standing outside the Ryman in the smokers' corral when he was leaving, and he walked right by me and said "Howdy," so I showed it to him. He just said, "Ha! You did it!" Anyways, the common theme of those stories is that I have questionable social skills when interacting with classic country singers. Sometimes, I feel like I'm kinda the Forrest Gump of the gig poster world.

Carl Carbonell's poster for John Prine

The colors you use in your prints are classic and bold. How do you think about the colors you want to use when starting new projects?

Well, honestly, I just like all those kinda folky, autumnal colors with nice, beefy, dark lines. I don't really like blue, or green, or purple, or anything. Somebody once said as a joke that I just pick really basic colors and then add brown ink to them. The real joke's on them, though, because that is exactly what I do.

What are some essential skills for mastering letterpress? What advice would you give to a new designer that wants to learn it?

I'd say the most essential skills would be deciding that you want to be really poor for most of (probably all) your life, that you don't mind beginning to lose your hearing at a youngish age, that you don't mind maybe smashing your fingers a handful (no pun intended) of times, and that you are willing to answer the onslaught of stupid questions people will ask you when you do art festivals.

My advice to designers who want to learn letterpress would be to find an old person to learn it from because most people my age don't do it right (and those same people would also say there's not a "right way" to do it, so then you're really up Shit Creek). You have to bother a lot of people and work really hard to get into that industry and it's rarely glorious. It's back-breaking work if you're doing it well and it's the most dysfunctionally, beautifully, frustratingly satisfying thing I ever spend time doing. My doctor told me to lay off the woodcuts though because my wrists are "deteriorating at an unhealthy rate for a 29 year old," so I sold my big press and now I mostly just screenprint gig posters, which I wound up liking a little better. Did that sound grumpy? I feel like that was a grumpy thing to say. I don't know—letterpress makes you kinda grumpy, I think.

Carl Carbonell's poster called "Kurt"

Carl Carbonell's print called "Miss Her"

What’s your favorite font?

Comic Sans, beyond the shadow of a doubt. It's never inappropriate, and it is so legible—I'm just kidding. My favorite is called Hellenic Wide. It's real purty. But as the name suggests, it's inconveniently wide so it's a little tricky to use sometimes.

What’s the best part about living in Utah? Do you miss the South?

The best part about Utah is the people. They're so sweet. There's some really great Mexican food out here, too. The weather is phenomenal other than the snow storms here-and-there. Also, similar to Tennessee, the whole state spans such a wide range of different terrains. So, in Northern Utah, where I live, you have all kinds of huge, beautiful mountains and canyons and forests and stuff. Then you head down into southern Utah and everything is red, and angular, and sandy, and it looks like Mars. Salt Lake is basically the Vatican City of Mormonism, so there's all kinds of weird Mormon shit all over town. I get a pretty big kick out of culty stuff like that. It's fun to see things like "scripture marking pencils" and whatnot in bookstores and weird symbols carved into buildings, and all that. There's also all the little missionary fellas that wander around town with short sleeve button up shirts. I have tattoos on my hands though, so they mostly leave my heathen-ass alone. And yes, I do miss the South.

I think I felt like I needed to move because I had never lived anywhere other than the southeast. So really, until I left, I think I'd still have felt that curiosity. But it turns out there's shitty politics, overly-aggressive religion, racists, homophobes, and other assorted unpleasantness out here, too. That's that, I guess. I definitely miss the music and the food most, though. There's good collard greens out here, but there aren't any great collard greens. Also, I've quit smoking now, but I sure miss being able to smoke inside. The smell of Marlboro No. 27 secondhand smoke sticking to the foam of your trucker hat is about as dreamy as it gets.

Who are some of your favorite current designers?

I've always loved the hell outta Aaron Draplin. His work is really great, but more than that he's just a tremendous force of positivity, and I think that's more important than just about anything. Other than that, I don't follow a whole lot of poster designers' work that closely, mainly because I don't wanna unconsciously rip anybody off. I glance at a few blogs every now and then, but other than that most of my favorites are just my buds.

Alex MacAskill runs a shop called Midnight Oil Print & Design House up in Nova Scotia, also a Hatch alum, is one of my favorites. His instagram feed is hilarious. As far as Nashville goes, Bryce McCloud over at Isle of Printing, Andy Vastagh of Boss Construction, and Rachel Briggs, who's the most ass-kickin'est illustrator ever, are my personal favorites to keep an eye on. Heather Moulder, who still works at Hatch, is also a hero of mine. She's got a really great sense of humor and she has a masterful handle on the neo-hillbilly aesthetic, as I like to call it.

What are you working on now? Where can we find more of your art?

Well, the show poster situation slows down for me over the winter, which is a nice break—whether I want one or not. Also, everybody in Utah kinda hibernates anyways. Lately, I've just been doing a lot of painting, writing, and rewatching “Hee Haw”—ya know, real intellectual-type stuff. Also, I'm working on starting a literary zine out here, and I've been writing a bunch of music, too, both of which are very fun and kinda keep the creative blood circulation healthy. But tour season approacheth, so I'm sure I'll be gearing up for poster printin' time soon enough. And, I think there's some work for sale at the Southernaire Market downtown, where you can also buy those salted toothpicks I love so much. Other than that, I got a fancy little Etsy store where you can buy most of my work.

Carl Carbonell's who poster for Booker T. Jones

What’s your favorite Nashville memory?

I think this was on my 23rd birthday? I used to drag my friends out to Brown's Diner for supper on my birthday. There was one year where I showed up with a dozen, or so, folks and we all sat at a long table in the back. Anyone who's ever been there knows that you oughta not be in a big hurry, because there's usually just a lone server, and amazing things take time, so you may wind up waiting for a bit on your food. We all knew that, and we were happy to wait as long as we needed to get food, or beer, or whatever. Anyways, we'd all wrapped up our food, and we were slowly finishing off what was left of the pitchers, when the waitress (whose name I can't remember, which I feel sincerely horrible about) walked out of the restaurant. It was a little weird, but again, we knew things didn't necessarily follow the standard order of operations there. So, we kept sipping our beers, and waiting on a check at some point. About five minutes later, or so, the waitress walked back into Brown's with a plastic bag from the Harris Teeter across the street. She then walked into the kitchen, where she stayed for about a minute or two. She eventually came out of the kitchen wielding a condiment cup full of peanut M&M's with a single lit birthday candle sticking out of it. It was one of the most wonderful things that's ever happened to me, and I still think of Nashville as a place where all it takes to feel some lovin' is a greasy sandwich, a pitcher of beer, a smile, and of course some peanut M&M's.

You always have good advice, memorable stories, fun anecdotes, a daily sermon—anything you’d like to leave us with?

I really shouldn't be giving anybody advice. But if I were gonna, I'd say: Try and go to bed at a reasonable hour at least three nights a week. Don't eat sandwiches without pickles on them. Read books outside (weather permitting). Sneak into hotel pools. Avoid that one weird, racist gas station at exit 101 or 102, or whatever, on I-40. Go to Robert's at least once a month. Be proud of yourself. Be proud of the people you love. And for the love of Mary, Joseph AND God, DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES text message, scroll through Instagram, or swipe your chicken Tinder, or whatever other weird shit you do on your phone, while another actual human is trying to talk to you with their actual mouth. That's just damn disrespectful and you're a grown-up now. Oh durnit, now I'm soundin' all grumpy again…

FOUND is a monthly interview series by Original Fuzz Magazine. Our aim is to discover visual artists from every corner of the world, no matter their background or creative vision. Art is important.

If you like this interview, you'll love the rest of this month's issue. Find it here.

Liz Earle is a writer who likes art. If you'd like to be a featured artist, let her know. Send a message to hello@originalfuzz.com.