How a chance encounter provided a dream moment for an old-school graphic designer
Paid for by American Express
On a seemingly normal day in 2012, Thomas Mayo walked into a letterpress printing shop for the first time. He immediately fell in love with the space, with the aroma of ink filling the air and books stacked from floor to ceiling.
The then 26-year-old graphic design student had no idea that, on this very day, a chance encounter with a fellow artist would ignite a passion in him that would change his life forever.
We’ve partnered with American Express to celebrate the unexpected moments when life takes you by surprise and things turn out better than you expected. Here is Thomas’ story.
“I will never forget that day,” says the now 35-year-old.
“The shop looked a bit like a cottage, filled with old machinery and hundreds of books everywhere you looked, it was like an Aladdin’s cave of printing.
“I had gone there on a whim after reading a magazine that featured a famous typographer and printmaker, and becoming fascinated with old school printing methods.
“I introduced myself to the owner, John Randle, who was probably around 65 or 70 years old at the time. It was an incredible experience because he is such a kind man.
“He welcomed me into his shop without hesitation, let me nosey around and try the printers for myself and at the end of my visit, told me that I could come back whenever I wanted.
“Months later, when John gave me a set of keys to his shop, is the first time I remember feeling completely fulfilled in my life. I knew that this was my future.
“Now, nearly 10 years later, we are still very close and his son Patrick is also one of my best friends - they’re my second family.
“In fact, Patrick often jokes that John treats me like his second son.”
A passion for design
Despite his love for letterpress printing, it would be a few more years before Tom pursued his passion fully. In 2015, he took the plunge.
“I was working as an engineer, installing WiFi on trains in Italy and India, but my heart wasn’t in it,” he says.
“I longed to get back to the shop, so when I was laid off from my job, I took it as a sign. I used the redundancy money to open my own studio.
“I bought a printing press from Germany, hired a van and promised a few friends a Bavarian adventure if they helped me collect it.”
It was a dream come true and the start of a journey that would end with Thomas opening his very own letterpress printing shop: Thomas Mayo & Co.
He says: “The first thing I ever made was a few wood type letters and posters that I did for my university course with Patrick’s help in John’s shop.
“The love of wood stuck with me. Now, I specialise in making block art from the material, although I can create pretty much anything these days.”
As fate would have it, in 2021, Thomas lives in Yanworth, Cotswolds, just 15 minutes’ drive from the place - and person - who inspired him all those years ago.
He still sees John on a regular basis and the pair have published a book together too.
“It’s an incredible feeling to do what I love and I’m not sure it would have happened if I hadn’t met John all those years ago,” Thomas says.
“His support and encouragement inspired me to follow my dream.
“And I still go to his shop too - it’s like coming home, every time.”
For anyone else afraid to follow their passion, Thomas shares some wise words of what his experience has taught him.
“Don’t let fear dictate your choices,” he says.
“People are often scared of taking the first step and try to get everything ready before they do, but that doesn’t work. Don’t waste time - just crack on with it.”
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