February 18, 2019

#TalkTherapy with James Tucker, Founder of The Aesthetic Union

Written by
Alex Maceda
Reviewed by
Updated on
July 25, 2023

If you’ve walked around San Francisco, chances are you’ve seen this welcome poster. It’s made by James Tucker and his team at The Aesthetic Union, a favorite local shop of ours in San Francisco’s Mission district. James opened the doors to this letterpress and design studio in 2013 and has been hosting community workshops, doing print collaborations, and running the front-of-house art store ever since. Known for his honest and candid thoughts on social issues, James is an advocate for mental health and the benefits of therapy.

As a San Francisco-based company ourselves, we strive to support local brands, businesses, stores and artists — especially those with an eye toward mental health — by decorating our clinics with their pieces. Collaborating with The Aesthetic Union, a favorite of the team and a shop aligned with our values of community and inclusion, was a no brainer.

Inclusion, acknowledgment, and celebration of different identities are fundamental to the way we match our clients with clinicians on our team at Two Chairs. To help enable a strong therapeutic relationship, we take into account not only more “obvious” aspects of identity — like gender and race — but also more nuanced pieces like lived experience, interpersonal style, and ways of working together in and outside of the therapy room. Inclusion is a precursor to empathy; the acknowledgment and respect of each individual’s unique experience. Both are key aspects of the patient-clinician relationship.

These two concepts are at the forefront of what we do, and are not confined to the therapy room. In my work leading brand and clinic design at Two Chairs, I think about this idea a lot. We aim to infuse both inclusion and empathy into every step of our process, from the tailored support our care coordination team provides to the thoughtful details in our physical clinics. There is always more work to do here, but I am excited to share the most recent step we’ve taken in this process.

On our website, we write, “Serving and supporting all identities through supportive, unbiased, and non-judgmental spaces.” This statement has been a guiding principle — so we wanted to elevate and surface it within our clinics themselves.

Taking some inspiration from The Aesthetic Union’s poster, we designed an image that put our inclusion value front and center. We used green, one of our brand colors, and our serif font to echo our logo, visually aligning the sentence with our brand. Additionally, we incorporated ligatures to represent the idea of connection — a core value in the Two Chairs world. We then enclosed the sentence within a circle — a shape that communicates wholeness and safety — to symbolize the goal of supporting our clients within the safe spaces of our clinics.

From there, we collaborated with James and store manager, Daniel, to adapt the image for the shop’s 1951 Heidelberg Cylinder press. First, we picked colors for ink and paper. The green complements the plants and warm, natural colors we have at our clinics while the silver echoes some of our furniture and tabletop pieces. To make the most out of the medium, we opted for a ‘blind deboss’ for the circle, a technique only possible on letterpress. Though subtle, the deboss catches the light when hung and gives the poster some texture.

I was excited to be there in-person for printing, along with my teammate Hadley, who was able to capture the process. While printing, we were lucky enough to pick James’s brain on the shop, mental health, and creativity. We’re excited to share both photos of the making of our poster and his thoughts below.

A conversation with James Tucker, owner and Master Printmaker at The Aesthetic Union

We’ve loved visiting and now working with you at your print shop, The Aesthetic Union. How did you come to be in San Francisco and start the shop?

I’m originally from New Jersey and I moved to San Francisco in 2007 in pursuit of learning more about letterpress as a business after graduating with a degree in printmaking from Maryland Institute College of Art.

I started The Aesthetic Union in 2013 after Heath Ceramics reached out to me about leasing a storefront in their tile factory. This was a dream of mine since I was younger, not so much a print shop, but to have a hub of creativity and create a community within it.

How do you think about building community through your business? How can art figure into building community?

I think about the business building a community every time I open the doors in the morning. Inviting people into the storefront to try out art supplies eventually leads to them wandering to the back into the print shop. People keep wanting to come back to share their friends and family and return for gallery openings and workshops. The community sees the shop as an anchor for art and craft in a city that leans heavily in tech, this is something I’m most proud of.

How do you decide which projects/collaborations to take on? What attracted you to Two Chairs mission and/or why were you excited about this print in particular?

I’m excited to share my craft with messages I fully support. The print I did with Two Chairs echos a print I designed and letterpress printed for the community that welcomes people from all walks of life. It’s like a welcome mat in poster form and really is important to put these messages out into the community with this current climate of intolerance.

How does your mental health relate to your creative process and cultivation of mental wellness?

How does therapy figure into that process? My family has a history of mental health problems. I, myself, have been diagnosed with clinical depression. Creating art is one of the most therapeutic ways of dealing with my depression but can also compound it. Art is a way I can learn about myself and listen deep within. My own art is a combination of memory and location that is strongly rooted in Japanese woodblock printing and American folk art traditions.

Therapy has been an off an on again thing in my life. Most recently, a combination with medication, meditation, and mindfulness, with therapy, has really helped me learn more about the patterns that lead me to depression. Having a trained person to recognize those patterns and talk to about my deepest-seated feelings without judgment has opened me up to a fuller life.

For many, James and myself included, creating art can be a therapeutic process. As we open more clinics, I look forward to collaborating with and featuring more local artists and mental health advocates within and on our walls. Interested in being part of our art program? Don’t hesitate to reach out to me at amac@twochairs.com.

About the writer: Alex (Amac) Maceda led brand strategy and clinic development at Two Chairs.

About the artist: James Lewis Tucker was born in 1984 in Red Bank, NJ and grew up on the Jersey Shore. He has a BFA in printmaking from Maryland Institute College of Art. After college and a series of apprenticeships at letterpress shops, he moved to San Francisco in 2007 to pursue a career in printmaking and design. His letterpress shop and design studio, The Aesthetic Union, opened in 2013. James leads a design and print team who work with individuals to create traditional printed matter using contemporary techniques. James also uses the shop’s presses to produce limited edition prints and large mono prints. He experiments in watercolor, performance, and writing. James is inspired by the California landscape, structuralism, modernism, minimalism and ancient poetry.

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