By Ashley Lodato
Bryan Putnam, co-owner of Pinetooth Press and Woodshed Ink, always knew he wanted to make art when he grew up. “I was always drawing,” he says. “I thought I would be a children’s book author.”
The 2005 Liberty Bell High School graduate was a student of the late art teacher Sean McCabe, who nurtured his passion for drawing. “I can’t overstate his influence,” says Putnam.
Then at Whitworth University in Spokane, Putnam discovered print making, and the connection was instantaneous. “It was such an exciting medium,” he says, “It was this cool extension of drawing and it allowed me to make multiples.”
After completing his bachelor’s degree in visual art with a focus in print making, Putnam went on to receive a Master of Fine Arts at the University of Oregon. He stayed another two years as interim department head of the print-making program, filling in for his mentor, who was on sabbatical.
Teaching was rewarding, but Putnam had “an itch to do my own thing.” That’s when he started Pinetooth Press, the retail half of what is now Putnam’s two-pronged business model. Putnam and his wife Regan, operated Pinetooth Press—which offered original designs screen printed on apparel—in Eugene, Oregon, for a year, until the lure of the Methow Valley became too strong.
The Putnams returned to the Methow Valley in the spring of 2016 with plans to establish Pinetooth Press here, with Bryan running the business and Regan behind the scenes, as well as caring for their infant daughter, Sylvie. But then Methow Arts Alliance asked him to design and print hundreds of custom T-shirts for their annual arts festival. “I kind of stumbled into Woodshed Ink,” Putnam says of the other half of his business—the custom design side.
Putnam’s Arts Fest T-shirts were well-received, and similar requests soon started pouring in from other local businesses. “I was already set up for small-scale printing,” says Putnam, who brought his printing equipment with him from Eugene. “And then through word-of-mouth advertising I started getting other jobs.”
In addition to Methow Arts, those core customers now include Methow Trails, Methow Cycle & Sport, Glover Street Market, Blue Star Coffee Roasters, North Cascades Heli and a growing number of other local businesses and non-profit organizations.
Putnam guides his business by three basic principles: create an evocative and effective design, use high-quality ink, and print it on first-rate apparel. “I want to make someone’s favorite shirt,” he says, “not just their next garage rag.”
Putnam works with clients to develop logos for their apparel. “Mostly people trust me to work with their logo and make it dynamic and more interesting to wear,” he says. “I don’t just want to slap someone’s existing logo on a t-shirt.”
Throughout his education Putnam was trained to use water-based, eco-friendly materials and he continues this practice in his work today. “The ink we use is non-toxic,” he says. “This means while we’re printing we’re not breathing in hazardous fumes, and we’re not pouring toxins down our drains.”
“I was trained to use olive oil and citrus sprays for cleaning,” he continues, “You can basically eat the things I use for cleaning.”
Putnam currently operates both Pinetooth Press and Woodshed Ink out of an old house-turned-business on Riverside Ave in Winthrop (between Hotel Rio Vista and Methow Trails), but in the fall he will move printing production to Twisp to gain more space. (The retail shop will remain in Winthrop, at least through December). The Putnams bought the auto parts store on the corner of Glover Street and Second Avenue and have plans to use the back warehouse area for printing and eventually renovate the front space for other uses.
“It’s an important location for Twisp,” says Putnam of the corner space. It was also the answer to one of the biggest challenges of operating a small business in the Methow Valley: finding ample and affordable work space.
Despite obstacles, Putnam finds the Methow Valley to be quite welcoming of new businesses. “People underestimate how great it is to start a small business in a small town,” he says. “There are so many perks to doing business in the Methow Valley. You can really put yourself out there. The excitement for what you’re doing is palpable.”
Pinetooth Press and Woodshed Ink are both at a stage of growth where Putnam needs to add an employee so he can spend more time growing the businesses. This summer, Putnam’s brother Kyle is helping with the printing to free Bryan up a bit for design work and business growth, including establishing a solid online presence.
Pinetooth Press’s retail space is airy and well-lit, and filled with a tantalizing array of locally-inspired T-shirts, sweatshirts, caps, patches and other apparel. Each design is thoughtful. Some are sassy, others stark or whimsical. With his retail designs, Putnam says he is “trying to honor the Methow Valley specifically.” His designs feature local peaks, flora, and fauna, creatively rendered.
“This isn’t just your typical resortwear,” says Putnam, “It’s local apparel that people can be proud of.”