BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Walking into Imagination Press, the spacious Shops at Fallen Timbers business looks like a great place to find unique T-shirts, totes, socks and wall art – and it is.
But at the heart of Imagination Press is the opportunity for guests to utilize a screen press, graphic art screens and ink to design wearable art, pose in front of a green screen or design an image with augmented reality to preserve memories forever.
“Making art and the creative process extremely accessible is one of the philosophical goals here,” said co-founder Nick Kunkel. “I know what I get out of the creative experience, which is self-expression. When human connection with words is hard, sometimes we use art to feel a connection to other humans. Having accessible ways to feel connected to other people is what we do here.”
Mary Babcock, one of several Imagination Press employees – named creators – slides a T-shirt onto a form and attaches a metal framed screen with a design. Spreading ink onto the screen with a spatula, she then takes a squeegee-looking tool and rubs the ink into the shirt through the design. A few more wipes, and it’s ready to gently heat dry before placing it into the oven for a final dry.
While her design bears the store’s name, the $25.00 make-your-own T-shirt experience allows customers to choose screened artwork – including birds, flowers, hands, faces and abstract squares and scribbles – for a customized design.
“With a couple hundred screens, it opens up the possibility of millions of different combinations,” Kunkel said. “This can be done on T-shirts, hoodies, hats, totes and baseball tees.”
Another tool in the Creation Zone, as the back two rooms are dubbed, is an ultraviolet (UV) printer, which uses light to cure inks and coatings on hard services, including plastic, metal and canvas. Holding up a canvas, Kunkel explained that artists can print their images to sell prints. A canvas can also be printed with a black and white design that can be colored with markers or paint, making it a fun take-home project.
In the back of the shop is a large green screen and a supply of wigs, glasses and other props for selfies showing off all of those creations. Organizations or businesses with a logo can customize the background for those photos to share on social media.
It’s only natural to find joy in sharing what you’ve made, Kunkel said.
“I’m a musician in my spare time. I’ve found that creatives have two primary moments. The first is the ‘I made that’ moment, when you just wrote a song. The second is when we show off our creation to our peer group and ask for feedback. We get an extra-special feeling when that peer group validates it for us,” he said.
In addition to T-shirts, mugs, totes and art, Imagination Press offers augmented reality (AR) printing. Kunkel pointed his phone to a canvas photo of a dog and videos of the dog playing popped up – a way to preserve memories of a family pet after he’s done. Another canvas shows Kunkel as a baby, held by his mom. With his phone, Kunkel was able to play a recording of him saying, “I love you, Mom.”
“This is similar to Pokemon Go. You’re looking at something in real life, but it links to digital messages. It gives the ability to create a personalized gift that’s meaningful,” he explained, adding that the videos and photos are preserved even if you lose your phone. He can see the technology being used by artists wanting to explain their work, spiritual leaders to share a message or as a way to preserve memories of a family member or pet who has since died.
“This taps into those emotionally evocative kind of moments,” he said.
To survive in an age of Amazon, brick-and-mortar stores need to offer experiences, and Imagination Press does just that, said Kunkel, who co-founded the venture with Vince Long and Matt Froehle.
An Ohio native, Kunkel moved to Memphis as a kid, as his dad was in the military and stationed outside the Tennessee city. While there, Kunkle founded Buff City Soap, which grew to 200 stores before he sold the company a few years ago.
Toledo is a great place to start a business, with low retail rents and a community that supports the arts, he said. Kunkel said he’s looking into ways to expand its reach, bringing in artists and connecting them with the community.
For information, visit www.theimaginationpress.com. The shop is located at 3100 Main St., Ste. 1137, in The Shops at Fallen Timbers.