UT alumnus runs successful printmaking company

Cat Cardenas

Color is something there is never a shortage of at Rural Rooster. Buckets of ink containing almost any color imaginable line the art studio’s shelves. There are screens of different designs on every table, and clean T-shirts are nowhere in sight. The artists, of course, don’t mind the chaos, describing screen printing as messy — but a labor of love.

Rural Rooster is an East Austin screen printing studio founded by J.J. Campbell in 2001. Six other artists help run the studio. Each comes from varying artistic backgrounds, such as graphic design, T-shirt printing and poster-making. Campbell and the other artists of Rural Rooster can be seen during the East Austin Studio Tour, a self-guided tour showcasing the studios of local artists. The tour will take place Saturday-Sunday and again Nov. 22-23. 

While Campbell started out designing T-shirts for bands he was in as a teenager, the Austin artist and UT alumnus is now a regularly commissioned artist. He now designs posters and other merchandise for bands such as Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and St. Vincent.  

“I was still a senior in college, and I started working under that name — Rural Rooster — just out of my house.” Campbell said. “I’ve worked on perfecting my craft since then and getting other people involved who have helped the business change and evolve over the years.” 

Louis Eastman, the primary T-shirt printer at Rural Rooster, believes working with various artists helps not only the company evolve but the artists themselves. 

“I’ve learned a lot from my coworkers,” Eastman said. “They’re very knowledgeable and well rounded. I can bounce ideas off of them, and brainstorming is always welcome. It gives you different perspectives [because] we all have lots of experience in several different fields.” 

Although she has been working for Rural Rooster for just two years, Colleen Judge is an experienced printmaking instructor. She said she focuses primarily on creating the shop’s posters — something that allows her to work on more intricate designs. 

“I like posters because you can get a lot of different details with only a few amount of colors,” Judge said. “Printing posters allows me to see how paper and ink interact with each other, and it allows me to mix inks and manipulate colors.”

The printing process is an intensive one. After creating a design, every color that makes up the design has to be separated, dedicating each screen to a
single color. A transparency is then printed out for each color while the screen is coated in a photo emulsion, which reacts with light and leaves the screen with a stencil of the design.

“There are several stages to it,” Campbell said. “Once I have an assignment, I’ll start in on the design, and I’ll generally draw out a few directions in my sketchbook or do digital sketches and get inspired by things around me.”

For Campbell, his work at Rural Rooster has been heavily influenced by his experiences making T-shirts for bands, studying studio art at UT and working a part-time job through college.  

“I definitely learned a lot of the craftsmanship behind screen printing at UT,” Campbell said. “We talked a lot about the implications of certain image and colors. It helped me build my visual vocabulary to help me communicate certain things. Then I worked a part-time job at a T-shirt store through school, and there were things I learned there that I didn’t learn in college. I think the blending of both of those sides gives me a unique voice.”