Phippsburg-Based Paper Tides Is Not Your Average Print Shop

At artist and printer Emma Sampson’s home studio, eco-friendly practices are the number one rule

Sampson uses 100 percent cotton papers in her studio and is committed to using all the scraps in other projects (or as fire starters for her woodstove).
The photographs on the wall were both taken by Sampson, while the pieces coming off the printer are by Aimee Bartee. “This is my workbench”, Sampson explains. “It’s a cozy spot for clients to pick up prints, consult, and hang.”
A collection of art in Sampson’s home studio; most of the pieces are Sampson’s own (the map hanging was created by Topo Gallery and printed by Paper Tides).
“When I started to think about my own business, I wanted to have control over the papers I was using. I didn’t want bleaching agents in my papers. I didn’t want plastic coatings. I didn’t want to be producing so much trash,” explains Sampson.
Printer and photographer Emma Sampson examines a work by artist Sunny Allis in her Phippsburg studio.
At work on the computer. “I utilize the entire width of the roll,” says Sampson. “I talk to clients about how we can print more ethically.”
Sampson’s printer needs to be kept at a specific temperature and humidity, so the couple installed heat pumps in the old grange hall.

When you picture a printer in your mind, chances are you imagine something the size of a toaster oven, made of hard plastic with a few little buttons on the top. You turn it on, press a button, and out comes your image. But Emma Sampson’s machine is nothing like that. 

“People assume you can throw a roll of paper in and let it print,” she says. “But there’s a lot of fine-tuning involved. It’s temperamental. It’s a bit like a dog: you have to feed it regularly, and you can’t let it sit idle every day.” It needs to have a dust-free environment, as well as the right humidity. It needs a watchful, critical eye because the Paper Tides printer isn’t spitting out tax documents or worksheets. This studio produces fine art. 

Sampson decided to start her Phippsburg-based printing business in 2021 after relocating from Rhode Island. A Lincolnville native and 2011 graduate of the Maine College of Art, Sampson lived and worked in Providence for eight years at a print lab. “I moved to Providence for that job,” she explains. “I loved being there, and my husband and I bought a house down there, but during COVID everything changed.” Her work didn’t feel quite as fulfilling. She wanted to have a little more creative freedom. Plus, she had been taking business classes over Zoom. She found a mentor and gained the confidence to strike out on her own. “I didn’t want to compete with the print lab I worked for,” Sampson says, “So I went online and found this old grange hall in Maine on Zillow.” It had a living space upstairs and room for her husband’s studio (he’s a jewelry maker and the owner of the Xenos Works). It was even zoned for commercial use. The place wasn’t perfect, but the couple knew they could make it work. 

After six months of renovations and the purchase of a very expensive printer, Sampson was ready to open her doors. While she estimates that 90 percent of her clients in Rhode Island were photographers, she’s noticed a shift since moving to Maine. “I’ve found that I’m doing a lot more reproduction work,” she says. “I work with painters, illustrators, and designers. A big thing I’ve been doing is helping further people’s business.” For instance, if she meets a painter whose graphic style and bright colors would translate brilliantly to paper, Sampson can use her skills as a photographer and printer to create high-quality, eco-friendly prints of their best works. This increases an artist’s revenue streams while offering would-be collectors a chance to decorate on a budget. “People want to buy prints,” she points out. “While there are a lot of older people who buy original artworks, there’s a whole younger crowd who would like to.” Like many millennials, Sampson doesn’t have a ton of space for new canvases; smaller prints fit her living quarters better. For painters and illustrators, selling prints can seem like an unnecessary complication. “I make it pretty effortless for them. They can make a shop, put up pieces for sale, and send me the orders. They don’t have to lift a finger after that. I print it, ship it out, edition it if necessary, and it goes straight to their customer.” Her current client list includes photographer Aiden Klimenko, husband-and-wife illustrating team Tight Loops, and Maine landscape painter Graham Walton. Recently, she has begun working with local artist Susan Bartlett Rice, a painter who had never done reproductions of her work before. “She got a hundred orders in the first few days,” says Sampson. “That was a pretty cool thing.” 

Another way that Sampson decided to distinguish her business from the competition was through her choice of materials. “When I started thinking about my print lab, I realized that I wanted to have control over the papers that I was using,” she says. “I didn’t want bleaching agents in my papers, I didn’t want plastic coatings, and I didn’t want to be producing so much trash.” Her time in the industry showed her how wasteful printing can be, especially fine art printing. “It was endless environmental waste to create artwork for the 1 percent.” Sampson saw this as an opportunity to challenge herself. She selected a variety of 100 percent cotton papers and set about educating her clients on how to work within the available sizes for each roll of paper. The scrap that is left over can be burned in her woodstove because, as she explains, “It doesn’t have all those chemicals.” She adds, “And all my packing materials are from companies I respect. My tapes are plant based. Everything in the studio has been thought through.” Her hope is that these small acts will add up to something bigger. “Maybe I’ll inspire someone else to be more eco-friendly. It’s very obvious to me that we should all be working toward greener business practices.” 

When Sampson isn’t seeking out new materials or fulfilling orders, she reserves time to work on her own photography practice. Although printing is her primary source of revenue—and her current obsession—she’s been snapping images around Maine since she was four. “I’ve always been a right-brained, creative person,” she says. As a child, she photographed cats, trees, and portraits of her brother. “My mom was really great. She’d get them developed for me, and I was always so into the tactile feeling of holding a print or a Polaroid.” In middle school Sampson learned how to use a darkroom to develop and print her own work. The darkroom became her happy place; she relished learning the old-fashioned, tactile ways of making. Her personal work reflects this sensibility as well as her lifelong interest in the bits and bobs that clutter Maine homes. “I love images that are spooky or witchy, and I love using natural light,” she explains. “I like to make little setups, which feels like getting back to that childlike imagination.” She draws from her own library of objects, shooting mundane things (beach rocks, feathers, shells, figurines) so that they appear mystical, whimsy-washed. “If you come from Maine, you’re usually a hoarder,” she says. “We all have these little collections we hold on to.” And while there is a limit to how many boxes of rocks one household can handle, Sampson knows exactly how to save space. “I still like to print my own work,” she says. “I like to touch the papers.”