A 600-year-old process: A Q&A with Hound Dog Press

[The above image is “Shadow Puppets” by Hound Dog Press.]

Co-owners Nick Baute and Robert Ronk of Hound Dog Press (hounddogpress.com) work with old printing equipment (one is from 1892) on a daily basis to make letterpress prints. But they also live with the new. Their mascot, Daisy, is a 10-month-old hound dog.

LEO: What exactly do you do at Hound Dog Press?

Nick Baute: Me personally? I split the duties evenly with Robert. We do everything from taking out the trash, to printing and designing all of our jobs, including, but not limited to being the managers, press operators, designers, accountants, bookkeepers, janitors, salesmen. So basically, a little bit of everything.

Robert Ronk: I design, print, meet with clients, and go on iced tea runs … whatever needs to be done to keep the gears moving.

LEO: What are your artistic backgrounds?

NB: I graduated from [the University of Kentucky] with a [Bachelor of Fine Arts] in Printmaking, and have always enjoyed drawing from an early age. I didn’t learn letterpress until I moved to [New York City] in 2003, where I had the opportunity to learn while on the job.

RR: I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Printmaking from [UK], which is where Nick and I met. We both studied under Ross Zirkle. He was an amazing professor and artist. He became a mentor to us both and exposed us to the many possibilities for printmaking and helped us see that it was possible to build a career using the process. Nick and I went our separate ways after college, only to reconnect years later in Louisville to start the Hound Dog journey.

LEO: Explain the letterpress process. What equipment do you use?

NB: Letterpress is a 600-year-old process where ink is applied to a raised surface,[and] then pressure is applied to make the impression. That’s the short version. The full version takes about 45 minutes for me to explain — I’ll spare you of that. Our six platen presses range from 1892-1960, and we have two Vandercooks from 1950 and 1960. We continue to hand set metal and wood type, hand carve linoleum blocks and have a polymer plate maker to make our digital designs into plates.

RR: It’s an involved process, from creating custom designs — based on our own ideas, a client’s vision or from some of the many talented designers in the area — mixing ink, hand-setting type, trimming paper on a guillotine cutter from the 1930s. Our shop is like a working museum and many of the presses we operate are over a 100 — the oldest in the shop dates back to 1892. It’s fun to collect this history, which we’ve spent almost a decade accumulating.

LEO: Any plans to do some special projects for Derby?

NB: Every year, we release a new Derby-themed drink coaster at the Cherokee Triangle Art Fair. Besides that: Is drinking bourbon considered a special project?

RR: The Cherokee Triangle Art Fair is the beginning of Derby festivities for us, so we’re gearing up for the weekend. We’ll have custom prints, and if you visit our booth, you’ll have the opportunity to hand print a Derby-themed coaster.

LEO: What is something people do not know about you or Hound Dog Press?

NB: When I was 10, and my sister was 3, she squeezed my pet gerbil to death. I have yet to replace him. Rest in peace Rex.

RR: We just reached the one-year anniversary of HDP on Barrett Avenue, which has been a great transition. We love the location and are excited about what’s in store for the neighborhood.

LEO: Anything else you want to say?

NB: I feel very fortunate to be doing what we do here in Louisville. This is a great town full of beautiful and talented people that continue to encourage and support us. Thank you.

RR: I geeked out recently when I visited the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp, which is home to the oldest printing presses in the world. The massive 20th-century steel presses we have at the shop don’t require nearly as much TLC as these pristine wood presses, which date back to the 1600s and have been miraculously preserved from decay. I think it’s fascinating that hundreds of years later, and although our equipment looks a little different, our printing process has remained much the same.

Sugar Skull print
Sugar Skull print
Red River Gorge print
Red River Gorge print
Mammoth Cave print
Mammoth Cave print