The Lightbox: Growing an Artist’s Studio One T-shirt at a Time

“This is the workspace,” Lucy Hodkiewicz said, gesturing to racks of screen-printed bandanas drying. Nearby, there was a screen-printing press that can hold four different screens, all perfectly aligned during printing, plus a powerful electric dryer with a surface area the size of the print. 

She pointed to some beat-up wooden frames holding screens from her early days of an entirely manual – and slow – process.

“When I was doing [screen printing] by hand, I didn’t need to put it in a press, so the screens didn’t have to have nice frames,” she said. “I just used old picture frames and painted them.”

Hodkiewicz would set the frame on the table, put the shirt down, set the screen on top, then pull and squeegee the shirt.

The owner of The Lightbox, a screen-printing studio and retail store in Ephraim, said the process was “super DIY, super slow. If I wanted to do a run with 30 shirts, it might take me three hours, and now 30 shirts can take me an hour.”

But that is all changing. In addition to upgrades in the technology she uses to create her art, Hodkiewicz has opened a second studio/shop in Sturgeon Bay. The new space had been home to The Yellow Room, a group of three women artists who have now taken up residence in a building across the street.

Hodkiewicz was working at Trixie’s in Ephraim when she met Meg Lionel Murphy, one of the artists of The Yellow Room, who shows with a gallery in New York City.

“I was like, you live here? You’re an artist, too, and we’re the same age? That’s amazing,” she recalled. 

The new space in Sturgeon Bay is significantly larger than the 400-square-foot shop she opened in Ephraim three years ago. The retail space alone is 468 square feet, and the workspace is more than double that at 1,183 square feet. The new location provides ample space to accommodate her modern screen-printing equipment, plus space for drying racks.

Hodkiewicz’s flash dryer may be the most expensive technology in the shop, she said.

“It hovers over the shirt and blows hot air over it,” she said. “So right away, you can have a dry, ready-to-sell, ready-to-wear shirt versus when I first started, they were all going on these racks in the sun for a couple of hours to a day to dry.”

That’s helpful, considering that tees are her main seller, the most popular being the three-eyed-toad-and-amanita-mushroom combination. She also does bandanas, bags and mobiles.

Hodkiewicz pointed out plastic storage boxes of material and blank tees along one wall – her projects for the winter. 

“I’m hoping this winter I will be producing most of my summer goods,” she said. “I always hope that will happen, and then in summer, I was printing my face off.” 

During the summer, Hodkiewicz will print new work in Sturgeon Bay as needed, but she still plans to manage the Ephraim location while her boyfriend, Lukas Kubelka, runs the Sturgeon Bay shop. She owns the Ephraim building, and that’s where her customer base is, she said.

“It took a couple years to get regulars, so I’ll be there,” she said.

In between running the business side of her art, Hodkiewicz said she’s constantly sharpening her focus. Where she once had 25 other artists represented in her retail space, she now features seven, all female, and mostly Door County artists.

“I’m trying to have very little consignment in the shop and focus on creating as much product in house as possible.”

The primary focus will be printmaking, from tees to 64-inch square tapestries as she moves toward more artistic expression in her printing.

“Screen printing is a really accessible art form,” Hodkiewicz said. “It’s nothing fancy, which is why I like it as an art medium.”