Proper Print Shop: Satire, Beer Money, and Creating Access to Art

At midday the small shop appears to be a lackluster shop with bars in front of the windows across from a rec center and a large church. It’s when the letters light up at night reading “PROPER PRINT SHOP” in bright rainbow colors to the sidewalk on the other side of Montana street that one recognizes the shop that has made it its mission to help young artists grow and be able to reach an audience.

Founder and co-owner, JJ Childress, explained that Proper Printshop was originally just him and a friend in college making band t-shirts to make beer money.

“It was never an intent to be a business, when we started printing t-shirts, it was just kind of as a joke, for fun,” said Childress.

Since its creation seven years ago in 2011, Childress’ recreational hobby has become a lucrative business that has become a cornerstone of the art scene in El Paso. It is a common sight to see an El Pasoan or Juarense walking around the city in their Proper Printshop t-shirts with the street signs reading “No Mames Way,” a play on words of the slang “no mames, guey,” often heard in the twin border cities, or the Chihuahua with the Dia de los Muertos design.

JJ Childress in the back part of Proper Printshop wearing one of the shop’s t-shirts. Photo by Antonio Villasenor-Baca.

But Proper does not just make t-shirts, now making posters, pins, caps, sweaters, and printing large quantities of artworks from various local artists for the artists to be able to sell on their own.

The shop rose to its level recognition slowly, garnering “more and more inquiries,” said Childress until they decided to move into an official location.

People recognize the humorous albeit edgy and provocative design work that Proper is known for. But those designs and those jokes are part of the culture of the shop.

Childress said, “our favorite thing to do is satirize, pretty much all day we’re joking, and that’s where the designs came from.”

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However, it’s more than jokes and puns that have made Proper Printshop a viable business. Childress and co-owner, Alan Hudson, have led the business with the clear goal of promoting their hometown of El Paso’s culture and helping their clientele get the most out of their services.

They have found the balance between the artistic and business aspects. Events they host like the Art en Vivo created an environment where they can help, for instance, an unknown artist have an audience to see their work and at the same time make some profit from the prints that the artist sells.

They made a print shop somewhere you want to be. There aren’t many that can picture a big chain store being the location where people want to go and shop for art, maybe even spend an evening with friends. But that’s exactly what Proper Print Shop has done.

Their mentor, Arturo Negrete, a renowned printmaker from Mexico City, inspired these events. Now they prepare to open a space just two doors so they can exhibit more art and host more events.

Childress said “we’ve always tried to do events to add to the culture in El Paso,” and explained that whether it is a young artist or work he’s doing for a company that the function of Proper Print Shop is to help “companies express themselves in a way they haven’t been able to before.”

Proper Print Shop’s goal as is Childress’ and Hudsons’ is to “teach young people to value themselves from the beginning. Don’t give your stuff away for free.”

– By Antonio Villaseñor-Baca

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