Kim Austin is a multi-faceted artist who instinctually followed her path of creative exploration right into the eponymous business she owns and operates today. Austin Press is a hand-crafted letterpress company which produces custom designed, die cut cards, most notably on deliciously thick card stock. No element of the final product uses an off-the-shelf item, including all the card boxes and envelopes which are custom built. Kim is a savvy businesswoman who spearheads all her original designs, including her latest creation of an environmentally friendly, signature “AP” candle to celebrate the upcoming 10th anniversary of her business.
Austin Press is housed in a small studio space within a three-story rectangular wood frame structure called “The Noonan Building” in San Francisco’s historic shipyard. It is in fact the only surviving large, wood framed and clad structure built in 1941 by the government for war production. It housed field offices for the immediate supervision of the workers, a tool room and one of the many cafeterias.
Kim spent fifteen years working as a fine artist in photography using vintage emulsions after earning her MFA from San Francisco State University. She switched to the artistry of letterpress, starting with a small Chandler & Price tabletop press to create a wedding invitation for her first client. She now owns two free-standing vintage letterpress machines from the 1800s: a Chandler & Price for the printing and a Franklin Gordon for the die cut work.
I was enamored with Kim’s world from the moment I passed into her historic work environment, driving towards the Orwellian smokestack beacon up to the clapboard sided wood building with its external stairway. This was only a taste of Kim’s über hipster style choices. She collects rare books and ephemera of old Victorian illustrations, as well as vintage educational books and embroidery patterns which inform her computer generated custom designs. Kim Austin forges her one-of-a-kind printed artistry from clanking metal presses like a village smithy, bending metal before mass-production reduced the demand for hand-crafted tools.
On my morning visit to her studio, I found her printing “Bird and Nest” tag sets for Crate & Barrel which will be in stores before the holiday season. On an adjacent tabletop lay several samples of her latest endeavor – a work which incorporates several crafted elements into one final product. Kim sourced the all natural beeswax made by a group of monks in Northern California of olive oil, wax from their own bees and natural aromatic oils. The eight scented varieties are poured and molded into hand-blown 100% recycled Mexican glasses, also sourced by Kim. The packaging and labeling are custom-designed by Austin Press. The final product represents the forging of these three individual crafts into the most sublime candles – with names like Valor, Journey, Discover, and Frolic – expressly intended “to be like a walk through the forest” explained Kim. My morning walk in Kim Austin’s enchanted forest lingers still, a lasting sensory and olfactory impression. When you visit her web site here, don’t forget to turn up the volume for the gentle sounds from the Austin Press woods. You can view more work from Austin Press here.