Ruben Gonzales built most of his store by hand. The Arizona native grew up B-boying, or breakdancing, and creating street art in Tolleson but moved to Phoenix four years ago to give his design work a go in the big(ger) city.
He's humble about his beginnings but is passionate about every screenprinted poster, sticker, T-shirt, and skateboard deck (coming soon, he hopes) that he's burned, pulled, and dried himself in the back of the store.
"It was a rough start," he says. "No one in town would teach me how to print, so I spent days, weeks, teaching myself."
Gonzales' artwork is heavily influenced by the time he spent dancing. During competitions or hangouts, each B-boy would size each other up and express his/her personalty through dance and fashion. Gonzales often made his own apparel and designs but decided to open up shop last summer.
When he's not in his new storefront, The Lab 137, on Roosevelt and Sixth streets in downtown Phoenix, he's either delivering a batch of his latest prints or he's out back welding the shelves and framework in which to display them.
Gonzales says his goal is to continue experimenting with design and with screen printing while teaching and collaborating with artists and designers in the community. He's also doing a little reorganizing and setting up the back room with co-owners Dave Bjorn and Monica Robles to host workshops. — Claire Lawton
The Lab 137: 610 E. Roosevelt St., 602-748-5471, thelab137.com
"That's George. He came with the furniture," teases Mary as we start a tour of the Phoenix Rubber Stamp Co. Indeed, George has been working here since 1965. He is seated at the computer working on typesetting a half-sheet of rubber stamps, including one I have just ordered. "Mind if I take out a little of white space?" asks George. I do not, because one look at George tells me he is the maestro. At the Phoenix Rubber Stamp Co., they can make just about any kind of stamp you could want.
Mary tells us of people who come in to get stamps made for their wedding, and a cake decorator who orders stamps with the impression at double the depth (and minus the ink) to press into her confections.
Though rubber stamps might make you think of something sort of antiquated — a man in a visor sitting at a desk stamping a big pile of papers — they are still alive and well. And at the Phoenix Rubber Stamp Co. they do it all — self-inking, traditional hand stamps, address stamps, date stamps as well as engraved name plates, badges, and embossers. There's a simple satisfaction to stamping something: marking it, personalizing it, the feel of the stamp in your hand.
The whole process from making a vellum negative to finished stamp takes place on the premises, and I watch as polymer and light are used to make an impression — raised edges around the text and image appearing magically after a few minutes under intense light. For most custom stamps you can order it one day and pick it up the next.
They have gotten a few requests for a "bullshit" stamp over the years, according to George, including one from Barry Goldwater. The mind swirls with the possibilities: gift tags, or recipes, or business cards.
The Phoenix Rubber Stamp Co. is definitely old school, in all the right ways. Founded in 1964 by Booth Bazzill, the place is still run by his daughters and family members. It moved to its current location in 1985, taking over the space of a former jewelry store. But the real gem here is reasonable prices for a custom made stamp. — Sativa Peterson
Phoenix Rubber Stamp Co.: 4020 E. McDowell Road, 602-273-1963, phxstamp.com
If you catch Nancy Hill or Beverly Wolfe working the large Potter #2 proof press named "Beatrix," in Gallery Hazel, slow down.
The pals joined forces and got to printing. Hazel and Violet INK was born, and we haven't sped past the building since.
The vintage artform is beautiful. They select typefaces and designs from their collection of midcentury paper in all sorts of sizes and weights and ink before getting the press warm. After everything is aligned, a few clicks, a thud, and a pressed coaster, poster, or greeting card is ready.
Hazel has provided creative relief from the pair's day jobs and is a great addition to Fourth Street and McKinley, which has been shaping up since they arrived.
Hill says when she really gets a break, she'll start letterpress workshops on the press in the window. In the meantime, we'll continue to stare. — Claire Lawton
Gallery Hazel: 714 N. 4th St., 480-544-2162, galleryHAZEL.com