Shannon McKinnon, the Archibald Prize and the Art of Screen Printing - Image Magazine


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Shannon McKinnon, the Archibald Prize and the Art of Screen Printing

Shannon McKinnon, the Archibald Prize and the Art of Screen Printing

This article appeared in the June Issue of Textile Image Magazine.

In today's digital world Aisle6ix stands apart, taking a deliberate stance against the automated and mass produced. Shannon McKinnon (SM) believes that "no matter how fast life gets, some things are worth taking time over – and creating a perfect screen print is one of them." From printing T-shirts for Mambo to Scott Marshs' iconic Archibald prize entry, Textile Image Magazine (TIM) caught up with Shannon to learn more about his work and what inspires him.

TIM: Tell us about your background. How did you get into the industry?

SM: I'm a huge fan of the Australian clothing label, Mambo. I used to spend my pay from my first job on their clothes, and it felt like they were always creating exciting and original designs. Initially, Aisle6ix was a T-shirt label, but I realised that I enjoyed the printing aspect more and all of my friends became graphic designers, so I started printing for them.

In my 20s, I started in the industry through a TAFE course in Ultimo, attending one night a week. Every semester I asked the teachers to fail me so I could keep going back; this went on for four years until I moved to London.  In London, I worked in a studio called Photofit. That was such an important learning experience for me, and so much of what I learnt in that print shop I use in my business today. I stayed in London for two years, then moved to Melbourne and worked at Screenplay, a great hand screen print only studio in Fitzroy. I then moved to Sydney to live with my now wife, Shakira and participated in the Australian Government-run NEIS program. Instead of getting the dole, you do a small business course, write a business plan, and then you put that into action, and so Aisle6ix Industries was born. I set up Aisle6ix so I could print T-shirts for myself and my friends. I would be at a party, and a friend would say something like, "home theatre is an oxymoron", and I'd write it down, find a font I liked and then print them a one of a kind T-shirt. I shared a studio with a couple of mates in Redfern, and the business has grown from there. Nine years later, Aisle6ix employs six people, and we ship T-shirts and prints all over Australia.

TIM: What attracted you to do what you are doing now?

SM: I just wanted to make T-shirts that no one else had.

TIM: Do you print things other than T-shirts?

SM: We also hand print posters although that is less of a focus for us at the moment as it takes up a huge amount of space in our factory, has different processes plus we are really busy on the clothing side of the business. We would like to expand more into this area when we get a bigger factory, hand printing limited edition posters for tours and game day sporting events.

TIM: What sort of customers do you work with, and what type of work do you do for them? 

SM: Our client base is made up of ad and creative agencies, craft beer brands, band merchandise, including T-shirts and posters, cafes, coffee roasters, tattoo studios and motorbike and car brands. We love printing great artwork, so it's generally based on reproducing original artwork for a brand or product launch. We've also done a bunch of live printing events, which is a great way to show people the joys of screen printing.

TIM: What are some of your favourite projects? Why?  

SM: A recent project was printing for Scott Marsh; he asked us to screen print into a section of a painting that he was submitting for the Archibald Prize. Joel, our art director, did an amazing job recreating that artwork and Ben Curley then handprinted it onto the almost finished art. Scott Marsh was a finalist, so I took the guys to the Art Gallery of NSW to see the painting hanging. We have also been screenprinting T-shirts for Nat's What I Reckon, who collaborated with Sydney artist Glenno on a T-shirt that sold over 300 units in 48 hours; we then had to print, pack and ship them all over the world.

TIM: Where do you get your inspiration from?

SM: A lot of inspiration comes from our clients and friends, amazingly talented people like Ken Taylor, Lynes and Co, Glenno, Billy Zammit, Ben Brown, Sindy Sinn, Cam Scale and Loretta Lizzio, who are constantly creating great artwork. I am also a massive fan of FAILE because they take art and make it simple with halftones and cut and paste, which I like. I also love the work done by Morning Breath, who just won a grammy award for an album cover. Also, we did a print job for Mambo, which was great fun.

TIM: What are some of the trends you see in the projects and artworks being created by your clients?

SM: Hmm, that is a tough question; everyone wants their artwork to be bigger; people are always trying to push more colours which is great but also hard, especially when you only have six print heads to choose from. There's also the constantly moving moment around ethical clothing and sustainability, which I feel will mean that T-shirt suppliers will up their game, which will reduce prices which means more people will choose that sort of T-shirt.

TIM: Community is important to you; how do you build community?

SM: For me, building a community is all about sharing the skills that your friends have with other people. If I can't print something or print it to the standard that I feel it deserves, then I will pass on the project and try and link that person with someone who I know can.

TIM: In your own words, printing has been becoming "quicker, faster, cheaper now it's coming back full circle" Why?

SM: People want to know who is behind the product and that the person that did make it is not being taken advantage of. 

TIM: What is the future of screen printing in Australia? 

SM: Hopefully, the impact of covid means that a lot of companies that have been shipping from overseas realise that we can print locally at a quality that they require and maybe paying a bit more is worth it.

TIM: What can be done to influence it? e.g. overseas trends that can be applied here?

SM: I feel that the community around printing is growing. There's a great event called "Make Screen Printing Great Again" that Donovan Sendall and Pamela Manell hold at T1 in Sydney that has been a great push towards getting printers talking to each other, which leads to the sharing of information on trends and techniques.

TIM: If you could go back in time, what is the one piece of advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

SM: I'd tell myself to buy some shares in Apple and Google, travel as much as you can as soon as possible and that the job that you end up doing is a job that you love, so keep going and don't worry.

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