Inspired by Philly sports, first-world-problems and bubble-gum pink, designer Dylan Houser is creating art on his own terms
You won’t hear it from the man himself, but there’s an artist in north Philadelphia who’s changing the way people think about screen printing and streetwear design. Dylan Houser moved from California to the City of Brotherly Love in 2007, and brought his brand of self-deprecating, dry-humored art with him.
Philly didn’t exactly welcome him with open arms, however. Not at first. He faced a bad breakup, homelessness, layoffs, and a near-death bike accident that involved a Greyhound bus and a driver named Michael Myers—on Halloween, no less.
That string of mishaps—paired with his lemons-to-lemonade attitude—only motivated him to plant roots in his new city and create art on his own terms. In 2017, almost exactly a decade after he was left to sleep in parks and abandoned buildings, Dylan and his best pal from high school started a design and screen-printing company, Pink’s Inks.
The print shop’s founders have become known for delivering printed Ts (and other swag) to fellow artists who are just as picky as they are about quality and design.
Pink’s Inks has also given Dylan a platform to express his own take on design and style, which includes frequent spoofs on the Simpsons, tattoos-gone-wrong, professional wrestling and lots and lots of pink (he explains below).
His unapologetic creativity has caught the attention of big names in music and fashion industries and led to collaborations with The Roots, QuestLove, Stüssy, Puma, Urban Outfitters, Inked magazine, and UBIQ.
Asked what 22-year-old, fresh-out-of-design-school Dylan would think about the work he’s doing 12 years later, Dylan said, “He would’ve definitely made fun of me for making so much Grateful Dead art. I thought it would be all streetwear and hardcore bands at that age … I am really thankful to be making a full-time salary doing art and only selling out a little bit.”
Artistic Fuel: So, let’s start at the beginning. Way back. What were you like as a kid?
Dylan Houser: Oh, man. My mom always jokes that I was the grown up in the household. Because she and my dad were a bit of a handful, and I was the serious one and the worrywart.
A|F: What’s one of your earliest memories of creating art?
Dylan: My mom was the event coordinator at the Monterey County Fairgrounds and they held art contests to promote events. I always hoped my art would be the art for the event and end up on a T-shirt, but my art wasn’t very good. I remember working really hard on a design for the fair—the theme was “fine swine and fancy flowers.” I didn’t win.
A|F: Ah, bummer.
Dylan: Yeah, but then they had an art contest to promote the circus. And I drew some form of a clown, and I won. And I got to pick any item I wanted from the gift shop and I chose a switchblade comb. I wish I still had that comb.
A|F: You’re one of those rare artists who’s making a living doing what they love. Tell us about your journey to become a creative entrepreneur.
Dylan: After I studied digital design in Phoenix, AZ, I got a job as an intern in the art department for Paul Frank. After the company was bought out, they fired the last hired. I had worked there for five or six years and still I was one of the last hired, so I was let go.
Subsequently, I moved to Philly—my girlfriend at the time said she had a place for me to stay and a job interview at Urban Outfitters set up. Well, I flew out and none of that was true. So, I thought, I’m gonna stick around and really show her I can make it on my own. Well, I spent my 22nd birthday homeless, sleeping in parks and abandoned buildings.
That was the moment I decided, when I finally have a job and have business cards with my name on them, I’m going to get my first tattoo as kind of a reward for myself. So when I got my first job, I got the cover of Misfits’ Legacy of Brutality tattooed on my calf … Now I don’t have any much more room for tattoos.
A|F: What was that first design job?
Dylan: I worked as a designer for UBIQ for a few years. I did a really silly Phillies themed shirt that said “ILL” and things haven’t been the same for me since. It was the perfect storm because I did it in spring 2009, right before they [the Phillies] won the World Series. So Philly was high on baseball at the time.
They actually laid me off after that and I was unemployed when the design came out … I remember I was in Austin at South by Southwest and saw two people wearing shirts with the design. I thought, that’s crazy. At the time I made the design, I was making a salary of $24,000 salary, and I think they sold 40,000-some units at a $13 average profit margin. I thought, oh man, if I could just make $1 royalty on each shirt, that’d be pretty cool. That’s definitely when I started thinking about starting a company with my friends.
A|F: What was the final nudge to open Pink’s Inks?
Dylan: In 2009, I got into a pretty nasty bicycle accident. I got run over and dragged by a bus—a bus driven by a man named Michael Myers, on Halloween, which seems made up. I was bed-ridden for a couple months, so I was reading all these books. One was “Drunk Tank Pink” about this shade of pink called Baker-Miller, that’s the most calming color in the world. I became really fascinated with it.
Fast-forward to 2017, when I was working as the e-commerce director for Inked magazine and I had just gotten my settlement from the accident. For the first time in my life, I had money in my bank account. But still, I didn’t have the guts to quit a steady job and start at zero. And then got laid off. I was a little salty about being let go, but it was my kick in the ass to do this. So later that year, my buddy Woody Kumetat and I started Pink’s Inks—inspired by that Baker-Miller shade of pink. Now, Inked is actually one of our best customers. In a way, they’re still paying my rent.
A|F: In just a couple years, the shop has gained a big following. What’s been some of the most fun projects?
Dylan: We printed shirts for Questlove’s Cheesesteak—that’s a cool one because they’re worn by his staff at the Phillie’s stadium so thousands of people see those shirts we printed. And we print for Jeremy Dean, an awesome artist I’ve been a fan of for a long time … We get to print for the local preschool on up to some fancy clothing companies and big bands, and then everyone in between.
A|F: What kind of art are you creating for yourself?
Dylan: Every day this year, I’ve been doing one drawing a day. The theme is “Today Sucks.” It’s a fun way to make a theme and brand it. At a glance it might sound negative, but you’ll see it’s more of a joke.[Editor’s note: Dylan also drew every day of 2014, under the same theme, and it paid off. Urban Outfitters picked up two of his “Today Sucks” designs for T-shirts. Check out #todaysucks19 on Instagram.]
A|F: What’s next for you and Pink’s Inks?
Dylan: Our business partner Mason Warner got a royalty and licensing agreement with Grateful Dead. He and Jeremy Dean formed a partnership, called Play Dead, and we’re their exclusive printer. We’re really excited about that.
And then at some point we need a bigger space. Twenty boxes came in yesterday and now the shop looks like a hoarder lives there. We’re on the fourth floor of a cool historic building called Globe Dye Works, and we have great neighbors— Brian Giniewski’s ceramics shop has really inspired us. But it’s amazing we haven’t broken any ceramics yet as we haul boxes in while his border collie chases us. But it will happen.
A|F: Well, I think that’s everything from me. Thanks again for the interview. Hope today goes well.
Dylan: Oh, it’ll suck.
A|F: [laugh] Ah, of course.
Dylan: But yeah, thanks for featuring us.