Interview with Mitch Fleming from Potato Press
I was extremely excited to interview Mitchell Fleming who works at the progressive Gold Coast company, Potato Press. The reason we interviewed Mitch was because what he does at Potato Press is not only impressive, forward thinking and exciting but they really walk the line between the analogue and digital realm. Myself, Emma Van Zaane, Amelia Barker and Krystal Kingarrived just shy of 11am on a bleak, rainy day. Rodney Wooldridge greeted us upon arrival and let us set up in their workshop. I’ve always been a fan of seeing workspaces and find a certain honesty in observing the environment that people work in.
Mitch Fleming studied at Griffith University completing a BA of Graphic Design & 3D design in 2012. After graduating he worked freelance until gaining a position at Potato Press. His role is as a graphic designer and production worker. Working for such a progressive company can be challenging at the best of times, Mitch tells us “Basically a job will come in, we’ll all read the brief, have a meeting, figure out how we’ll attack it. Because a lot of the time we don’t know how we’re going to make it until we start designing it really, and it’s because we get all these custom one off jobs”. Mitch informs us “I’ve only developed working with the machinery since I came here. When I came to Rodney it was as a graphic designer but at the time we needed more of a production role, now I’m a bit of a hybrid.”
Emma, Amelia and I were blown away by some of the incredible services that Potato Press can offer, anything form large format printing, UV printing, laser etching and cutting, signage, branding and identity. From the outside we’re all starry eyed mesmerised but Mitch brings us back to earth by admitting that you can become desensitised when you’re around it all the time. Because he’s always laser etching, UV printing and he’s done it a thousand times he sees it a part of his everyday life. Recently Mitch had an exhibition of his personal works and nearly didn’t exhibit any of his amazing laser etched pieces but his friends said to him “no it’s quite different, you need it it’s really cool”. He ended up relenting and the reaction was well worth it.
I still see laser printing and etching as relatively new technology for people out there who don’t have access to it but Mitch comments that it is becoming more accessible to the general public. I find this interesting because if the technology becomes easy to purchase and use, does that compromise what Potato Press is doing currently? And will it affect them negatively in the future? Mitch believes, and no one is disagreeing that the quality of the work being produced by Potato Press is second to none. “We don’t want people who want the ten dollar job that takes us three days to do. We like the challenge, we like to make good stuff. We want to say “hey look at this!”. Even if laser etching machines are more affordable now and easy to import from China it still doesn’t seem like Potato Press has any real competition in the market place. Mitch comments that larger print companies may have a slight advantage given that they potentially have more money to spend on research but I think more importantly Potato Press’ success would absolutely have something to do with adaptability. “We can go from making trophies to signage, whatever the market wants we can adapt to that. It’s happened in the past, about a year ago we were doing more hand bound folders and portfolios, things for big corporations and before that it was signage, it was big custom timber signage. We just move with the market.”
Let’s back up a bit and look at how Potato Press come about. Rodney Wooldridge, owner and manager began Potato Press from humble beginnings in his garage. From there it started to grow, more people came on board, more equipment was purchased and ended up in the space they reside in now on the Gold Coast. The goal from the get-go was to do custom based work. Mitch told us that their niche was doing the smaller more difficult jobs because massive printers and book binders wouldn’t take on due to difficulty o
r just couldn’t justify the cost. “If people have something that is particularly tricky or want something that is quite unique, they’ll come to us.”
Because of the size of the company it means that Potato Press can adapt and change to the market. Mitch truthfully says “It doesn’t matter if it’s analogue or digital its the same process. We still have all the ability.” From the outside, Potato Press feels like it’s in limbo between digital work and analogue processes but “it’s the cross over that makes people like us. I don’t think there’s anyone else in Australia that has the same equipment and the same skill set that we have. It’s either people in factories that don’t have the skills or there are designers that have to send their stuff off to China because they don’t have the equipment.”
Given all the incredible work that Potato Press produces we were certain that there would be a 3D printer hiding out somewhere. Turns out it’s something they are cautious to try and with good reason. “It takes so long to print something and it still looks 3D printed, the finish isn’t quite there yet.” At this present time Mitch says that the only thing it could be employed for would be to make moulds for new trophy designs but that could involved other substrates like resin which he states honestly “that’s a whole other ball game”.
Because Potato Press do such a varied amount of work we imagined that it would be hard to describe to new customers and clients. In actual fact not much advertising happens due to word of mouth but funnily enough Google images and Pinterest. “Because our stuff is so visual its the image search engine that comes back to us, you’re not going to look at the description of the trophy you’re going to look at the photo. So people find us through images searches. We’ve got international people finding us and sending us emails.”
The trophies that Potato Press creates are phenomenal. Layers of acrylic, timber, with some tasteful etching and ink filling, the work is a display piece for sure. We were curious though because how in the world do you show what you’re going to create and how with mere words alone? Mitch confirms that most of the time they are digital renders that are then approved by clients before moving on the physical. It was interesting to hear about the larger successes of Potato Press, they recently completely a massive order from the US, for this particular job they went to the immense effort of creating a physical mock up to show the client. Amazing that a company would have so much skin in the game to gain a client! “Because it was a big job, we did a one off and sent it to them. We wore the cost to send it to them because they were really keen. They were stoked when they got it and we got the job!”
Mitch tells us he spends quite a few weekends in the workshop working on some personal projects, “You seem to not stress as much when doing your own things so you experiment more, then those techniques get used in paying jobs as well, so if you can experiment, Rodney is all for that, just don’t break the machines. If you come up with a cool new technique you can keep that in mind for the next job.” I feel Rodney really understands how creative people work, if there is no creative freedom and an outlet it can mean creatives go a bit mental. Because Rodney has worked in the print industry and factories for years it means that he has a thorough understanding of how people work, an essential quality for a business owner in a creative field.
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All photos by Krystal King