Alex White has turned his tiny North Park garage into a print shop and laboratory where he turns food into dyes. The artist and designer is looking for the perfect organic mixtures with strong, natural pigments for use on T-shirts, greeting cards, posters and other handcrafted products for Domestic Stencilworks, the small business he runs with his father-in-law, longtime screen-printer John Mohr.
"The research and development is kind of never-ending," White says. "This has only been a couple of years in the making, and it doesn't really exist, so I don't have anything to fall back on or reference, and I'm always trying to make the dyes better."
White picks up a glass jar filled with water and rusty nails.
"I'm brewing nails right now because I'm working with different mordants," he explains, referring to a substance used to set dyes on fabrics or paper. "You can dye and stain things easily, but are they going to last? I'm always flirting with that line: What can I print with, consistency-wise, and what's going to be viable through wash and wear? I've found you need a metallic-type mordant a lot of times, so I've been messing with a bunch of different things."
The smell of strong, fresh espresso hangs thick in the air. The base for White's favorite dye discovery so far comes from used coffee grounds he collects from local roaster Café Moto.
"Go ahead and feel it," he says, pulling down a T-shirt printed with an espresso-dyed, stenciled image of a French press. "See how it's a nonexistent texture? It just flows with the garment."
The espresso dye cracks slightly after time, but the effect is a subtlety that White and his customers appreciate. Next to White sits several glass jars filled with other food-grade dyes he's created during the past few years: cabbage, carrot, IPA, mustard, Pinot Noir and tomato.
"This one's all beer," he says, holding up a beer-themed greeting card, which is hand-numbered—they only print in small batches—and looks more like a frameable fine-art print. "The under-print is Stone [Brewing Co.]'s Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale. It looks like motor oil, pretty much, but it prints kind of gold-metallic."
White does the design work for Domestic Stencilworks. The distinctive, graphic images he creates are often a nod to the politically charged stencil street art that inspires him. Mohr steps in during the printing process and uses his expertise to make sure everything comes out with discernible craftsmanship. The duo recently launched a Kickstarter campaign in hopes of growing their small printing business.
"The goal is just to make an honest living continuing to do what we enjoy doing so much," White says. "It's pretty simple. We just want to employ two people."