Making It: 961 Collective brings Arabic print to Cleveland
Maker: Shadi Ayoub, Owner and founder
Business: 961 Collective
Shadi Ayoub grew up in Beirut, Lebanon where his family owned a print shop.
“This is how I got interested in all these beautiful machines and got better at knowing how to run them and manage these presses,” Ayoub said.
He visited the shop many times, but it wasn’t until his father became ill that he started helping out. When his dad died, he took over the family business. Ayoub has a business degree from the University of Beirut. He said some of his process is unique to him as he is self-taught.
“Through trial and error, I really caught on quick and enjoyed learning about the process,” he said.
After moving to Cleveland in 2019 without his letterpress materials, he began visiting local art nonprofits such as Zygote Press to build a community with other makers. It was overwhelming to start over, he said, but within a few months he found his current workspace. He bought two presses and restored them to a working condition.
“When I purchased these presses, they were not in great shape,” he said. “So, I had to work a lot on fixing them, cleaning them and ordering some missing parts.”
He learned how to fix the presses back at the shop in Lebanon.
The printing process
Ayoub uses the traditional process of mixing different colored ink to create the color he wants to achieve. He then adds the ink on the press and lays the paper he made out of scrap pieces from other projects into the press tray.
He creates the design of what he’s going to print on a film negative by exposing the design in a light box to the negative.
“I've made this plate of the invite that we’re going to be printing,” he said. “It sticks on the aluminum base with adhesive.”
Ayoub secures the aluminum base into what is called a chase, a frame that holds the base into place. The quoin, an expandable tool, tightens the frame. He locks the chase into the press. His Heidelberg Windmill press grabs the paper to print the traditional wedding invitation.
He regularly prints invitations, business cards and flyers for customers. He also began printing on takeout bags for local coffee shops during the pandemic to help his business stay afloat.
“I did get to a point where I can look back and be very proud of what I have accomplished so far given the circumstances that we were presented with,” Ayoub said.
In Cleveland, he puts his Arabic heritage into his passion for printmaking.
“When I moved here, I had no access to my Arabic type that was back in Lebanon, so I resorted to using dingbat borders, which are usually used for ornaments or borders on flyers or brochures, and I set them up in certain ways to spell out Arabic words,” he said.
He said Arabic type isn’t made anymore, and it’s hard to find used pieces.
He still owns the business in Lebanon. He left behind an entire shop full of presses, ink and type.
“When I first got to Cleveland, I wasn’t sure what to do and all I knew was print,” he said. “I knew I loved doing print, and I wanted to keep doing that.”
Ayoub gives studio tours and leads workshops for kids in Cleveland. He said he wants to create a larger printmaking community with more workshops and where makers can display their work.