Gem City Style: December 2023
An interview with Chris Pace of Leadhead Screenprinting
Jessica Hunter (JH): Chris, you have been in business since 2009. Can you shed some light on your background and how you started Leadhead Screenprinting?
Chris Pace (CP): I grew up being obsessed with comic books and music, so I originally attended Edinboro University with the intention of becoming an illustrator. Edinboro didn't offer an illustration major, so I settled for graphic design and absolutely hated it. Sitting in front of a computer all day clicking a mouse is not for me. All BFA students have to take an introductory printmaking class, and I fell in love with it immediately. It was exactly what was missing for me: a chance to illustrate combined with using big, clunky equipment.
I have collected screen-printed posters since I was a teenager, so that was what I really focused on in my own work. When I graduated, I was working at a bar called the Crooked I, which had local and touring musicians performing almost every day of the week. A friend of mine already owned a very basic screen-printing setup, so we joined forces and started printing out of the basement of the bar. I met musicians and new people nightly, so it didn't take long to establish a loyal customer base. Fourteen years later, I'm somehow still doing this.
JH: I love seeing your work in the community with local businesses and artists. What services can you offer?
CP: Our main focus is offering traditional hand-pulled screen-printed apparel to smaller businesses, bands, and artists. Embroidery, custom-printed mugs, keychains and all that other stuff is not something we have any desire to get into. Being the next Canva or CustomInk sounds like a fate worse than death to me. I would love to do more poster printing, vinyl record printing, and artistic projects. We recently purchased a Risograph, which is another form of printmaking that's perfect for posters, zines, and comics which I'm really excited to start offering to customers.
JH: Tell us a bit about your process from the design to the finished product.
CP: Generally customers approach us with a design already created and we go through the process of separating the colors in Photoshop into "layers" or "spot colors." Each layer is then printed out onto a transparency, which is then "burned" onto a screen that has been coated in a light-sensitive emulsion. Essentially you're making a stencil that ink passes through onto a garment when you pull a squeegee over it. After lots of swearing, interruptions, phone calls, texts, emails, Instagram messages, Facebook messages, and walk-ins… you will eventually have a finished customer order.
JH: What advice do you have for someone interested in starting a business in Erie, PA?
CP: I'm probably the last person to ask advice from because I'm pretty sure I've done everything wrong from day one. This job started as a way to make some spare change for drinking money, and then it was a side gig, and then eventually turned into a 70 hour a week job. I never took a business class, never applied for a loan, and didn't have rich benefactors bankrolling me. I'm incredibly stubborn and independent and hate asking for help, which I'm sure has been detrimental. Don't be me. I guess my only advice is master one skill; nobody ever recommends a Chinese buffet because they have good pizza. Also… get paid upfront.
Photo credit: Jessica Hunter
JH: You recently moved; it is such a unique space! How are you liking the new downtown shop?
CP: It's amazing. We outgrew our last space and were tripping over each other. I actually printed out of PACA when it was known as the Artworks building from 2011-2013. It's nice to be back and surrounded by so many artists and creatives. Mark Tanenbaum and crew have worked hard to make something really special here and don't get enough credit.
JH: How do you set yourself apart from larger corporations aside from your sick playlists online? I'm a big fan!
CP: This job is the literal definition of repetition, so it can get boring quickly. I have to entertain myself, and that seems to manifest as me using a lot of vulgar language on our social media posts, dad jokes, and posting the music I'm listening to while we work. We are a small operation, so I'm involved in every step of the process. Will the competition respond to your emails faster? Yup. Will they complain to you about their sore wrists and recommend some obscure niche album? Nope. Choose wisely.
JH: What is the coolest and/or weirdest thing you have ever printed?
CP: I could tell you but this is a family-friendly publication.
Jessica Hunter can be found at jessicahunterphotos.com