Lede image by Brandon Barr, courtesy David Broughton.
David Broughton’s happy place is a two-car garage in a Brookhaven subdivision. It’s here, in the carport of a good friend’s mother’s house, where the 36-year-old puts in 10-12-hour shifts, Monday through Thursday.
On a rainy spring day, the screen printer behind Baron Press is working on an order of roughly 50 shirts for Buzz Busbee of A Better Buzz. Broughton briskly moves about the maybe 500-square-foot space, working his six-color, four-station printing press. The work looks tiring, but he’s already put in a good nine hours and hasn’t broken a sweat. Admiring the design of Busbee’s, dubbed “Bear Flamer,” the self-proclaimed “technical person” says he’s never really considered himself much of an artist.
“I was always intimidated by people who were really creative, who could come up with stuff, draw stuff out of mid-air,” he says. “I was like, ‘Aw, I suck at art!’”
What Broughton doesn’t suck at is the art of the printing press hustle. Since starting Baron Press in November 2011, he’s the joined the likes of Blackcattips, The Factory Press, Fallen Arrows, Danger Press, Pretty Likeable and Swing From the Rafters as one of the city’s go-to poster and T-shirt printing presses. Beyond the perimeter, Broughton’s racked up an impressive client list that includes MTV, StubHub, Google and Sony Playstation.
On average, the one-man team of Baron Press produces anywhere from 200-400 shirts in a single work day. By Broughton’s standards, business today is slow but steady and completely satisfying. Baron Press has been a vision that predates his failure as a screen printer in the working world. Pre-Baron Press, Broughton was employed in Snellville, doing mindless corporate work on a 14-color automatic press. The plan was to spend two years soaking up knowledge working on the high-end jobs and then set out on his own. He was fired before he could quit.
The Lilburn native took the money he made from that job and bought equipment off a guy named “Bubba” from Newnan. The remaining $100 Broughton had to his name he spent on printing T-shirts for a design he made that features comedian Richard Pryor’s mug. He thought his first printed shirt was a hit; it flopped. “I spent $100 on shirts thinking I had the coolest shirt ever, and then I did not sell any of them, and I didn’t have money anymore.”
Broughton experienced some mild success, but things ultimately changed for the better in 2014. Lazarus Ministries director Benjamin Parks approached Baron Press about an upcoming art show. The non-profit organization dedicated to fighting homelessness in Atlanta and Washington D.C. commissioned 15 local artists to create limited-edition posters using the theme “No Ordinary People.” The benefit show was a collaboration with Twin Kittens Gallery and featured 30 editions of the works hand-printed on archival paper by Baron Press.
Broughton saw it as a make-or-break moment for Baron Press. The single father had picked up a part-time gig at a printing press to help make ends meet, but this particular project was a gift and curse.
“I was so far in over my head. I had three weeks to do two months of work,” he says of the daunting task. “There was no excuse, so I finished it. I think I delivered everything in less than 24 hours before the show.”
Working with Lazarus exposed Baron Press to artists and other like-minded creatives, as well re-introducing the arts community to Broughton’s work as a printer. He’s since translated the connections into a broad range of collaborations. Broughton is just as likely to collaborate with hip-hop act Nappy Roots or We Are the Process co-founder Larry Luk as he is Bible school study groups and bachelorette parties. He no longer needs a part-time side hustle to support himself and his seven-year-old daughter, but it’s only a matter of time before he an extra set of hands is necessary on the production side of things. “The scary thing about it, and I think everybody goes through it when they start their company or business, is having to relinquish control and delegating,” he says.
Aside from looking to hire some staff, Broughton aims to move his business out of his suburban garage. For Baron Press to meet the current and future production demands coming its way, Broughton says he’ll need 2,000-square-feet to work with. He’s in talks with M. Rich Building in south downtown for a potential move into the basement. The next steps are getting the website up and running, hiring staff and prepping for Atlanta festival season. (Baron Press typically shares a booth with long-time collaborator Shirts, Y’all.)
Broughton says it’s both an exciting and scary time for the company. “In the past year I’ve changed the mindset from, ‘this is all me’ to ‘what if I can give people jobs and be part of the economy?’”Broughton says. “You’re responsible for feeding other people besides you and your daughter now.”