Growing up in SE Portland, Rich Batcheller had a natural ability to draw and illustrate and he loved to fish, his dad was the greatest fisherman he ever knew and life was good. Then came his teenage years; rebellion and impatience rolled into one. “However, once I hit my teens, I hated fishing his (dad’s) way. Sitting in a boat and waiting around was not my jam. So, I flipped to bicycles,” he said. “I was super into bicycles—BMX to be exact. BMX Freestyle was my thing in the 80’s-late 80’s. Riding halfpipes, doing tricks and riding away from police. Funny haircuts and tight jeans and heavy metal—always in Vans shoes.”
By the time Rich was nineteen, he’d moved from BMX to mountain bikes, “at that time the dreamiest bicycle was a Klein Bicycle. I would joke around that when I got my (stuff) together I would work for Klein Bicycles someday.” He admits that he “sorta wasted” the first few years of his twenties, making bad choices and following girlfriends around the PNW, but just shy of getting it all together, Rich applied for a CAD designer roll with Klein, which he eventually got after the number one pick declined the offer. It was his dream job and would be the beginning of a lifelong career designing, engineering and creating.
“I immediately started working right next to Gary (Klein) who was a genius from MIT and awkward as engineers come. He looked like a 70s Microsoft guy.” Rich, who had what he described as a “mechanical/maker gene hiding way below the surface” absorbed as much knowledge as he could, which helped refine his existing “fundamental DIY/make it work” engineer living inside him. “I started designing key elements of the bicycle frames and working with our highly educated manufacturing engineers soon after,” Rich explained. “Once I semi grabbed a hold of who I was in the circle, I began being a liaison between marketing/sales and Gary. They just didn’t know how to speak to the guy. I did my best to turn down the less critical info and turn up the more easily digestible content that was sent to magazines mostly.”
The job with Klein came at a good time for Rich, and he spent the next seven years focusing on work, and “continuing to make bad choices.” By the age of thirty-two, Rich had hit his stride and met his wife, Kirsten. “That definitely helped clean up the mess a bit. I stayed messy but way less messy.” After Klein, he worked as a senior design engineer at Twenty Four Seven for seven years, then as a brand spaces manager at Nike. He eventually moved to Bainbridge Island in 2012 when he took a position as a PNW store design studio manager for Starbucks in Seattle. “By the time I was 41 I had two kids. 43 years old I started Blackmouth and that’s when I just about shook all the badness and started softening the rough edges.” He hasn’t looked back since.
Although Rich enjoyed designing for others, he saw a gap in the design and fabrication market for unconventional projects and as an unconventional sort of guy, he was inspired to start his own company to fill that need. Blackmouth Design encompasses the design, project management, engineering, fabrication and installation services under one roof. They also employ the most up to date software and technology, such as Adobe Suite, Solidworks, SketchUp and Rendering to create 2D/3D ideation and designs for retail environments and fixturing, art installations, event designs, architectural elements, experiential and residential designs.
Some of Blackmouth’s more unusual projects include a “nest” that they created for the Feathered Friends flagship store in Seattle, the “Needle in a Haystack”, 17-foot diameter penthouse light-fixture constructed with more than 2,500 brass cylinders, 135 LED lights and features the top of the Space Needle in negative space. Pre-pandemic, they began a relationship with Exploding Kittens, Inc. and created a 20-foot-tall fire breathing monster. As Bryce Moulton, Rich’s right hand man, told me, the creature was created for an event in Portland, but was cancelled due to the pandemic, “as far as I know, its never seen the light of day and is sitting in a warehouse somewhere,” Bryce said with a shrug, “it was a great project and I hope they resume the event and use it.” They have also done work for the Bainbridge Island Downtown Association and the Historical Museum, such as the cases for their Past to Present exhibit.
Prior to the pandemic, Blackmouth was so busy they needed to utilize what Rich calls his “bench” contractors—the term is a nod to the benchwarmers in a baseball game—the company was working on projects all around the country (New York, Florida, Texas, Vancouver CA, and closer to home in Seattle, Bainbridge Island and throughout the PNW and west coast). Even though Blackmouth can create practically anything in-house, sometimes projects would come to them with such a short timeline, or be too far from home that they would utilize other partners to complete things like sheet metal work, woodworking, welding, installation and more. “We run on a particular amount of chaos,” Rich explained. On a local level, they’ve partnered with Modern Collision, Sound Repro, and Olympic Powder Coating.
Like many companies, the pandemic forced them to downsize, going from almost 20 employees to just four. “Some of the folks we had to let go, did come back, but many moved on,” Bryce said. Blackmouth also had to rethink their business model as retail customers were their “bread and butter”, so they turned to residential work. However, Bryce noted, the retail industry is beginning to revive itself and they’re happily back to doing 2/3rds of commercial and retail design and fabrication.
More recently, they designed and built the backdrops for the 2022 and 2023 three-day Queer/Pride Festivals on Capitol Hill in Seattle. The backdrops are themed around each year’s graphic design and performers.
At Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, they were looking to update their kids book area, which was a castle playhouse, so they turned to Blackmouth for the design and build. “The bookstore logo is of a schooner, so it made sense to utilize that as the play element,” Bryce explained. “We worked with the client to get to a simplified design of a schooner. It’s scaled to fit exactly in their space, and made to look like it’s coming up through the floor. It was a super fun build that the fabrication team really got into, and they put a lot of love into it.”
One of their more distinctive projects as far as materials go, was done for Uwajimaya in Seattle. Working with Gensler Architects, who did the design and graphic design, Blackmouth was brought on to fabricate, as well as develop the system of brackets and rails for the signage. “The material palette is somewhat unique for a retail space, with a focus on natural materials. Everything is wood, Richlite (recycled paper and resin), steel and linen fabric,” Bryce said.
What’s in a name…fish of course. Rich still loves to fish, so when it came to naming his company, he chose Blackmouth as it’s a common nickname for Chinook Salmon. However, he didn’t want it to be strictly about fish and that’s where the idea came to create their “bear” logo to accompany the name. As he notes on his website, “His personal and professional ideologies have been curated through the lens of fishing and his connection to the river. It’s in this space, he feels inspired, it’s where he hones his creativity, and it’s where he comes back to center…When Rich opened Blackmouth Design, his goal was to create a company and culture that mirrored the space and feeling of being on a river. The obvious place to start was the name. While Blackmouth speaks to Rich’s passion for both the river and fly fishing, it also speaks to what you can expect from the company as a whole, an organization committed to the experience. Much like fly fishing, it’s about the long game, with the goal of delivering quality and meaningful work. At Blackmouth Design, the relationship will always come first.”
In addition to Blackmouth, Rich is collaborating with a fellow angler designing and building a lightweight rigid insert for inflatable rafts with the durability and functionality of a drift boat. The innovative design allows for multi-purpose versatility for downriver fishing. Boats can be custom ordered at Abstract Watercraft (https://www.abstractwatercraft.com/).
Where does putt-putt golf come in? Putt-Putt Clash is the brainchild of Bryce Moulton. As an industrial and product designer, Bryce had worked for Watson Furniture in Poulsbo for several years, and as much as he enjoyed it, he wasn’t tapping into all his creative energy, so he decided to look for something else. When he approached Rich about a contracting position, Rich hired him on the spot. It wouldn’t take long for the two to mesh and six months later, Bryce was a permanent fixture at Blackmouth and now does design, engineering, and graphics. He also figures out how to have fun…and that’s where Putt-Putt Clash comes in.
Bryce loves miniature golf, but noticed there really isn’t anywhere nearby to play. He’d come across Smash Putt in Seattle and thought “that would be fun…what if we do something like it and open it up to the community to create the holes” and that’s what they did. In 2022, they opened up their first Putt-Putt Clash contest, where creatives design their own holes. Teams can consist of one or more builders, be it a family, a couple of friends, or a group of co-workers. The submissions are then brought to the Blackmouth Design studio in the Day Road industrial park and set up for a “open to the public” putt-putt golf experience on the grounds around the studio, where the golfers get to rate the holes for first, second and third place winners.
When they held the contest last year, they had twelve entries, one of which Bryce and the team at Blackmouth created. When Bryce tried to find miniature golf putters, he checked places like eBay and other used marketplaces, but surprised that he couldn’t find any—the solution of course, was to make them at the studio. Using a laser engraver and plywood, they cut out the putters and used gaffers’ tape to wrap the handles. The putters and the event were a huge success and they had over 350 people attend.
This year the event will be held on July 22nd from noon to 8pm. Tickets are $10, and include a golf ball, putter, score card, and a ballot. Tickets can be bought the day of at the entrance, or online at https://puttputtclash2023.eventbrite.com
After playing, you get to vote on your favorite course. Voting will close at 7:30pm Saturday. After counting the votes, they will announce the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners, and award the $500 grand prize!*
Cay Sal Pies will be on hand, offering their unique “piescream” – frozen pies on a stick. There will also be water and sodas available for purchase.
*Prizes for 2nd and 3rd are likely, but depend on attendance. Although the Putt-Putt Clash is only a little over a week away, submissions are still open, for details visit: Putt-Putt Clash — Blackmouth Design
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