What It’s Like…To Be a Screen Printer

Kid Icarus According to Greek legend, Icarus, the son of master craftsman Daedalus, tries to escape the island of Crete by using wings that his father has fastened out of wax and feathers.  The story doesn’t end so well for the Greek youth, but for Toronto-based screen-printing boutique Kid Icarus, handmade creations are the only way to get off the ground.

The husband and wife team of Michael Viglione and Bianca Bickmore, crafts original designs for band posters, fine art posters, greeting cards, wrapping paper, invitations, and much, much more.  I was lucky enough to visit them in their Kensington Market studio to find out what goes into creating and maintaining their screen printing specialty shop.

However, before we get into why Mike and Bianca do what they do, it’s important to first understand what screen printing is.

Very basically, an artist imprints a stenciled design on a piece of porous mesh that is stretched on a wooden or aluminum frame.  With the stencil blocking areas the artist doesn’t want printed, the screen is placed on top of the material (paper, fabric, etc) receiving the design.  Ink is placed at the top of the screen, and using a squeegee, the artist drags it across the screen.  The paint travels through the mesh exposed by the stencil and is transferred to the material underneath.  Voila!


Now, on to Michael and Bianca:

I Am:

Mike: Master Printer, Store Owner

Bianca: Graphic Designer, Project Manager, Store Owner.

Together we are creators of Kid Icarus, a store in Toronto, Ontario that specializes in screen-printed goods, and husband and wife.

I have been working towards this since:

Mike: In 1994 I was enrolled in the Ontario College of Art and Design when I realized I wasn’t really into the drawing and design aspect of the program.   What I did discover, however, was how much I loved the screen printing process and the value in the handmade prints. In 2004 I began printing full time and Kid Icarus opened in 2007.

Bianca: In high school, my parents pushed me to excel in the math and science programs, even though my marks were significantly stronger in my visual art classes.  After high school my folks wanted me to apply to University instead of college, but I applied anyway, and took design.  It upset them at first, but when they see how happy I am now, it was worth it.

After college I worked in corporate design for five years.  I knew I wasn't going to be doing it forever, but that job gave me the discipline and skills to apply them to what I am doing now.  When the company announced that it was moving to a new location, I knew right then that this was my chance to follow my dreams and leave the corporate world.  My boss actually told me to do something I was passionate about, because she knew I needed to move on.

My responsibilities include:

Bianca: I correspond with the clients and work with them directly on their project.  I deal with the files and help them with anything that needs to be changed.  I am also the in-house graphic designer and store keeper.

Mike: I take over from Bianca after the pre-production work has been done, and work on the technical aspects of printing. I separate the colours involved in each design (as each colour needs to be on a screen of its own), and do the colour mixing to create the shade the client wants.  I prep the screens, and physically do all the printing by hand.

What I love about it:

Bianca: I love that every day is different!  People come in to the shop and see how much work and value there is in a piece, and easily fall in love with the store.  I enjoy developing new ideas into projects, but what I value and love the most, is that almost all of the products in our store are local, that's really important to us.

Mike: I love teaching people what kind of work goes into a print.  The shop is open-concept, so I’m often printing and explaining what I’m doing to people at the same time.  I also love being able to be selective with the work we do.  We have gotten to the point where we are fortunate to choose what we work on, and I really enjoy the challenge and the excitement of seeing something amazing come in.

Something else I really love is when I see clients come back, or when they have spread the word about us to someone else. They’re happy with the work we’ve done, and that is an amazing feeling.

What I hate about it:

Bianca: Accounting and inventory.

Mike: Sometimes things don’t go right, and we have to cancel our evening plans and work until the job’s done.  But in the end, we’re not letting anything leave the shop that we don’t believe is a quality product.

In our job there is no such thing as ‘same day service.’  Multi-colour prints are expensive due to the number of screens and time involved, which some customers don’t realize.  Also, photography doesn’t always translate well onto the screen, but we’ll show samples to our clients to see if it's the style they are looking for.

Is there a special moment that stands out in your career?

Mike: A year after we opened the shop, there was such a buzz around the city about us!  I remember a couple girls who walked into the shop and were looking around, and before they left I overheard them say: “I thought this place was [going to be] a lot bigger.”  It was funny; our reputation was obviously working for us.

Bianca: I remember the day I stood inside this shop, before it had opened, and decided to quit my corporate design job. Working full time with Mike (my fiance and husband to be) was a crazy idea, but I knew that this was the beginning of something I would be proud to be involved with.

Advice to those interested in a career like ours:

Mike: Whatever you’re doing, if you’re passionate about it, you’ll find a way to make money off of it.  Not to become rich, but to live.  People pick up on your passion and feed off of it.

Bianca: Don’t listen to your parents or anyone else; listen to yourself.  Talk to people; business owners, go to the places you’re inspired by and learn from them.  Don’t be close-minded; leave your computer at home, and do the footwork.

Favorite Quote:

“Small businesses make neighborhoods.”

- An anonymous friend of Kid Icarus