“Just Making Things:” Hound Dog Press’ Place in Louisville

Hound Dog Press_CH15By Ashlie Stevens, Contributing Writer

There will be six vintage presses, hundreds of gallons of ink, and countless blocks of type to load up when the moving trucks come to Hound Dog Press in April. Once those are stowed away—tucked among packing peanuts and oversized cardboard boxes—it will be time to un-tack the hand-pressed posters from the exposed brick wall.

Some are funny: “You had me at bacon.”

Others, informative: “In Kentucky, there are more barrels of bourbon than people.”

Hound Dog Press_CH02And others are slightly suggestive: “I’m going to butter your bread.”

But one poster, a startlingly beautiful print that features an intricately designed sugar skull surrounded by deep, yellow flowers, is a perfect picture of the care that owners Nick Baute and Robert Ronk take in their work, and what it means to the Louisville community.

Baute and Ronk met at the University of Kentucky; both were studying for their BFA in printmaking and became close friends. During his time at UK, Baute first explored wood-engraving, which led him into the world of letterpress.

Upon graduation, Baute moved to New York where he worked in several printmaking shops. Ronk made a visit from Lexington to the South Street Seaport Museum, where Baute was working at the time, and the two spent the day making prints together, their first inkling that they could create well together. But it wasn’t until Baute married a Louisville girl that the two would get the chance.

“Initially, it was a fight to move back to Kentucky,” Baute said. He was doing well in New York and, being unsure of opportunities in his home state, didn’t want to give up the printmaking. “I had already fallen in love with this, and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

Hound Dog Press_CH05“But then, looking into Louisville when making the decision to move back, I realized that there was such a supportive community for artists, and local businesses, for that matter,” Baute said. “Still, not knowing much about Louisville, other than it was on the eclectic, funky side of things, we moved back; I convinced Robert to move to Louisville, and he and I put our shoulders to the grindstone.”

In 2010, the pair moved into their current East Market Street location, right on the edge of what would blossom into NuLu, and Hound Dog Press, Louisville’s 19th century printmakers, was born. Of the name, Baute said: “I wish it had a better story, but the truth is I owned a hound dog at the time.”

With his experience in New York, Baute knew that people wanted nice business cards and that “wedding invitations could pay the bills.” With standbys like that, as well as an ample online customer base, Baute and Ronk started exploring other hand-set and hand-pressed offerings.

Hound Dog Press has become the local choice for bold, unique music and events posters, with their services being called upon by Louisville Brewfest, The National Jug Band Jubilee and The Writer’s Block Festival.

Hound Dog Press owners Robert Ronk and Nick Baute.

Hound Dog Press owners Robert Ronk and Nick Baute.

Their expertise is also sought out by national organizations, like when the Global Arts Initiative commissioned Hound Dog Press last April to make a print to be sold in support of Ko’ox Boon, a project dedicated to youth arts opportunities and education in Yaxhachen, Mexico.

“The kids there have never had stuff like markers, and crayon, and paint; stuff that we take for granted here,” Baute said. “The organization approached us about the idea of a sugar skull and brought in an indigenous dress with hand-embroidered flowers for inspiration. They said, ‘We don’t care what you do, because we really like your style, and think we can sell these.’”

That evening Baute went home and sketched out some designs, and proceeded to carve the wooden block from which the poster would be printed. “It was a five-color reduction print, so all the colors were printed from a single block, which means that you start with your lightest color, and what you are left with at the end is your darkest key-plate, essentially. So it’s a limited edition print; no more can be printed unless I decided to recarve those layers again,” Baute said.

Hound Dog Press_CH06This attention to detail has resulted in a loyal customer base, and for the past five years Hound Dog Press’ clientele has grown steadily, which has left them busting at the seams of their current 800 square-foot printshop.

Hound Dog Press will begin relocation to their new space on Barret Avenue in late-April, before the lease on their current Market Street space runs up on May 1.

“The rapid rate of growth that we experienced for the first five years was stressful, but exciting and encouraging,” Baute said. “This was the first year we plateaued, so we are kind of taking a step back and rethinking what we need to do, where we need to be.”

He continued: “We’ve been so busy just trying to keep up with orders, that this year, in this new space, we really want to focus again on just making things.” VT