Mount Airy man finds niche with T-shirt press

This story was written by a student in a feature writing class at Hood College.


Glenn Houghton, 23, doesn’t have any vehicles in his Mount Airy garage. His garage is home to the Treehouse Printshop, a screen-printing business he started three years ago.

Houghton, a Shepherd University junior, bought the six-station T-shirt press and an array of accompanying equipment and materials from a Philadelphia print shop that was ending the printing side of its business.

Houghton gets a lot of his jobs by word-of-mouth.

“We don’t have a sign out front or a parking lot, so right now I pretty much do random freelance stuff,” he said. “I do a lot of stuff in the Shepherd community; there’s a lot of artists and bands and events that need fliers or shirts.”

Because he runs a small print shop, Houghton can be picky about what jobs he takes.

“I don’t have to take on all these crappy jobs that I wouldn’t really enjoy,” he said. “It’s mostly fun stuff.”

The screens on the press are for a six-color T-shirt. Each screen is one color of the design, making it difficult to grasp what the final image will look like by only looking at one screen.

But that’s one thing Houghton likes about screen printing.

“It’s cool to see it all go down, ’cause you usually start with these lighter colors, and it’s really random and abstract, and then it starts to slowly come together, and then you lay down the black layer with all the outlines, and it all just immediately turns into something out of nowhere,” he said.

The press is designed to efficiently produce large quantities of T-shirts. The press is a huge six-platform asterisk-shaped contraption that takes up a lot of room in the garage, but nothing says it has to be used on T-shirts.

Houghton also likes screen printing on paper, which he said is more difficult than printing on fabric. “Fabric is really absorbent, and you can push ink really hard through a screen and it’ll just kind of absorb into the shirt a little bit … but with paper, if you push too hard, the ink just runs out, ‘cause it has nowhere to go. Paper’s only so absorbent,” Houghton said.

Screen printing on paper makes art available to people in ways that don’t exist with other media, he said.

“Basically people who couldn’t afford paintings, they could afford prints, because they would make multiple copies,” Houghton said. “There’s just less value when there’s a thousand of something, so it made it accessible to like, the everyman. And I think for me, that was always kind of awesome. I always thought that was the coolest thing about printmaking.”

Treehouse Printshop occasionally does other screen printing jobs. Houghton said he printed ovaries on underwear for “The Vagina Monologues” at Shepherd. Keirstyn Fitzpatrick, 20, was at the shop working on a rebranding project for a design class.

Fitzpatrick redesigned classic book jackets, and her desire to have the books bound with linen covers brought her to Houghton’s shop.

“Really the only way you’re going to get any kind of design on book cloth is to screen-print it,” Fitzpatrick said.

Houghton isn’t exactly sure what direction he’s going to take his print shop. He believes he might open a studio that does both graphic design and screen printing, but he calls his current setup “a really awesome plan B,” adding, “I think I’d always like to be doing (screen printing) one way or another, I’m just not sure it’s going to be my main focus 10 years down the line.”