In the second installment of her wonderfully-titled column Cork Heads – looking at some of the brightest sparks in Cork’s currently thriving arts scene – photographer Brid O’Donovan talks to Billy ‘Pretty Boy’ Browne and Roisin ‘Handsome’ Hanley from Pretty Handsome Studio, a project that combines the DIY aesthetic of screen printing with inspired musings and doodlings in a mission to produce the finest t-shirts, designs and prints for your wondering eyes to feast on.
[How it all started]
Billy: We were in college together, studying design communication in CIT. We were friends and then we got together at the end of first year, went through college together and then kept going out! We went off to Australia for a year and then when we came back we were both unemployed and just hanging around so we decided to just do our own thing. Over in Australia, there are loads of print shops. People just set up small t-shirt shops in tiny abandoned shops, like old butcher shops. I thought that was really cool and thought that we could totally do this back in Ireland and when we got back and we were unemployed, we thought let’s just do that! It seems to work!
Roisin: We didn’t want to get caught up in having to get ‘normal’ jobs. There didn’t seem to be many screenprinters around the place so we set it up for really cheap, DIY style. We got a printing press made for a few hundred quid. We just made use out of everyone we knew who had a trade – electricians, builders and just asked them to make us things.
Billy: We did not go the conventional route of buying things so we decided to build them all – like our makeshift lightbox and our makeshift darkbox. When we first started, we were in my uncle’s old house. It was a big four storey house but it was quite dilapidated. We were living there rent free while he was trying to sell it because he needed someone to basically keep the heat on. We were working out of the wardrobe in our bedroom – that was our darkroom. Another room where the floor was half collapsing was our print room and the shower upstairs was where we would wash out the screens so this studio here is very much a step up!
Roisin: It was hard enough to get a place in Cork because the studios were either too expensive or not available so we thought that we’d never get anywhere. Then this place popped up.
Billy: It was accidental. We came in here to Camden Palace and asked if there was any spaces free. Luckily enough a group of screenprinters (Cork Community Print Shop) were moving out that day so we were able to take their space.
[On getting your name out there]
Roisin: At the start we were also using a garage in Effin as our workshop. My brother in law was really helpful, he helped get things made. He was an electrician so he knew a lot of people in the area and he spread the word and was telling people that we could make t-shirts and business cards and loads of graphic design basically. He really helped with getting loads of commissions. We were printing t-shirts for electricians and carpenters and stuff like that. We know lots of people in bands so they spread the word for us. We gave them business cards and got them to pass them around when they were out.
Billy: Gary (Meyler – G-Man Blog) was probably the most helpful. While doing the posters for him we were meeting the bands who were playing at his gigs and a few of them got back to us to do stuff for them.
Roisin: We did our own push online with our website and all the social media and from that a few bands in Dublin got on to us.
[From commission to print]
Roisin: Gary would send a quick email saying that this band is going to play. Most of the time I wouldn’t have heard of them because he is always promoting up and coming bands but I can never wait to listen to them because I always think “Gary’s promoting them, they are going to be great!”. He would give me a few words to sum up the band and I would ask him to tell me how he imagined the poster to be like. From that vague description I would spend way too much time getting caught up in these posters. I’d be there for days obsessing over them. At the start I’d take way too long but Billy would control me a bit. He’d tell me “It’s done, stop! Stop doing this”.
Billy: She would say “Oh, this rabbit has a trinket but this one has a violin. Which one should I pick?”. I’d say “I really don’t think it matters which one the rabbit is holding.”
Roisin: You get caught up in the whole concept of it.
Billy: There are times she would come to me and say that there was a problem with the poster and I would be like “What’s the problem?”. “That’s the wrong shade of yellow.” “Roisin, I don’t think that really matters. Who will notice that that’s the wrong shade of yellow?” Except whenever she meets anyone and they compliment her on her work she just comes back at them with “It’s the wrong shade of yellow!”. I have to tell her to stop telling everyone.
Roisin: I don’t take compliments well.
Roisin: Billy’s brothers, along with a few others, have organised an arts festival in Killorglin over the June bank holiday weekend called KFest. We are exhibiting works at it and I think they expected us to make stuff we usually do like screen printing but we’ve decided to do something new! We are starting from scratch and doing something totally random. There are 25 people from Camden Palace going down and there will be street performances and gigs. They’ve organised a ridiculous amount of stuff.
Roisin: As a child I was obsessed with drawing. I drew all the time. People always told me I was good at drawing and then in secondary school I started putting a portfolio together. I really wanted to go to art college but I didn’t want to be an artist. I wanted to do something more focused. I was obsessed with music as well. I found an pullout in a magazine and in there was a piece ‘Jobs you can do in music when you can’t actually play an instrument’ (laughs). I was going through them all wondering what I’d do and then I saw Graphic Design and thought “That’s the people that do the gigs posters and album covers. That’s exactly what I want to do.”
Billy: I was given too much freedom! The rest of the class would be doing stuff and me and two of my friends would be down the back. The teacher just let us do what we wanted. “Are ye drawing the model?” “Oh no we kind of went off and started drawing other things instead.” For my portfolio for college I cut up one of my Geography books because I doodled so much over it and I presented that. That’s also why I got a D in Geography. My parents are very encouraging in whatever we wanted to do, much to their own detriment. My mum is a very good writer and my dad is very creative, they both have a great eye for things. My oldest brother Jason writes comics and scripts, he has his own comic out. My older brother Neil is a total all rounder, he’s very skilled but he is such a useless b*****d!
My other brother Conor is a writer, completely dyslexic but a very good writer when someone edits him. He has a great imagination. He is involved in KFest too and him and a few others have started up this new art prize called Screaming Pope. It will be launched at KFest and they want to make it the Turner Prize for Ireland. So, during school I just drew and doodled and somehow got myself an illegal copy of Photoshop and I started messing with that. Because I had a copy of it, whenever the school needed a poster made up they would be like “You know how to work that Photoshop thing don’t you? Will you just knock up a poster there for the school play.”
So, I started doing that and when I went to my career guidance teacher I had no idea what I wanted to be. It was very old fashioned. If you were a guy you did engineering and if you were a girl you were a nurse. That was what we were told. She told me I should do product design “It’s engineering but it’s also artistic.” On the page next to that in the prospectus was Graphic Design and I thought to myself “Ah! I’ll do this!”
Roisin: There’s a lot going on in Cork, even just in here in Camden Palace. There’s always so much going on in this whole place and everyone is so encouraging. It’s a great environment to be around.
Billy: Cork is really good but also really bad at the same time. No one really promotes themselves really well. Everyone does things but unless you stumble across it you’d never have heard of it going on. It should be a lot easier for people to know what’s going on.
Roisin: I think people are afraid of the fact that they might come across badly if they are pushing themselves.
Billy: It is picking up though and people are definitely getting better. With the KFest for example, the lads have been going nuts sending it out there and promoting it.
Roisin: It’s very easy to ignore things like that too if you are being bombarded with the same thing. You stop looking at it, which is not helpful either. It’s hard to find the best way to actually do it. We have tried different ways as well. We are running Pretty Handsome as a business and we are trying to do it full time and make a living off it. We used social media a lot but people really spread the word themselves. After a while we thought “Does it matter if people like you on Facebook?”. Obviously they get to know your name but it doesn’t make a difference really. Around Christmas we did the markets and the Fair Alternative and doing that was the best really. We fired out business cards and the process of people actually seeing you and coming in the next day, bringing other people was brilliant. After that we started seeing people on social media but it was better that they found out about us through actually seeing our stuff physically.
Roisin: We have been working on a project for Turncoat Press. They decided to get a bunch of local illustrators and writers together to put an anthology together of different comics. It was so well organised. When they mentioned it to us we imagined that it would come to fruition at some point. But they just handed us the script and told us to get started into it and have it done for a certain point. Now it’s gone to press and the launch is in a few weeks.
Billy: I did colouring on one story which Colin O’Mahoney wrote. I was given the artwork and just did the colouring for it.
Roisin: I illustrated one of Emmet O’ Brien’s stories. It was great. It was just a few pages and there is no dialogue which made it easier because I could just draw the images pretty much. I didn’t have to worry too much about the story, I could just wing it! I hadn’t dealt with comics before and I don’t read comics so I kept it really simple. He’s very happy with it so that’s the main thing!
Roisin: There’s also an arts festival in October that is being organised by loads of people in Cork. Moray Bresnihan who runs MutantSpace is involved and he puts on DIY festivals every year. Come to think of it I think he got us our first job in Cork. We designed and screen printed a poster for Trash Culture Review for him. That was the first poster we screen printed and we did it for free. We were just happy to do something and he has been great since. He organises Trash Culture Review once a year, which is a DIY festival. His main thing is that Cork needs to get everyone together but it is too cliquey and everyone is doing their own thing and not helping each other out as much as should be happening. So this festival that he is organising for the start of October has just gotten underway. He put an email out and said that anyone who wants to do something in Cork and have something good happen that is our own thing and will be run by us, not by the council or anything like that just come to this meeting and we will plan this and get something together. So that’s in the works now.
Billy: Moray is always like “If you have an idea, give me the idea and I’ll get you everything that you need so you can do it.”
Roisin: He is getting all the spaces and just wants people to send in what they want to do. All the money will be raised by everyone, no outside funding. Everyone who is involved will help run it and will be the only people running it. We are doing the design and promotion for it. That’s this summer – busy (laughs).
Keep up to date with all things Pretty Handsome Studio right here and check out Brid’s full photo set below.