Industrial Printing in Depth

Promised, somewhat delayed & now posted, more technical details for relief printing on very large blocks with a road roller. Why you would ever want to, especially if there was perfectly good stone litho press nearby, I won't try to explain.

To begin, most people who organize these events refer to the pressing vehicle as a steamroller, but I doubt anyone has used an actual steam-powered roller to make prints. They use a road roller (i.e. diesel powered).

Last August, "big print" events were held in Vancouver and Seattle. The Vancouver event was organized by Peter Braune, artist Richard Tetrault and the mob at New Leaf Editions on Granville Island. Drawing on his contacts in the local arts community, he recruited a 11 artists to participate, including two international participants in the current Vancouver Biennale. Each contributed $300 toward materials, with a standard commission agreement for the sale of the resulting prints.

The artists worked on a 4-by-8 foot sheet of 1-inch high-density fibre board. Technically, each of the resulting blocks was a woodcut. A variety of tools - whatever was required - were used to cut the blocks, including wood chisels, trim routers, mat knives and wood grinders.

The blocks were printed on both paper (Stonehenge, because it was available in 100-ft rolls wide enough to accommodate the blocks) and a hemp-cotton cloth.

The printing was to have been done with a 60-inch-wide double drum road roller: being wider than the blocks would ensure complete compression along the edges of the block, and the weight (compared to a smaller machine) would aid impression. Also, the rear drum would allow the printer to drive straight across the blocks just once to print a block.

Unfortunately the equipment supplier had a mechanical problem with the promised 60-inch machine, and a smaller 50-inch single-drum version was supplied. This allowed for almost no lateral error when aligning the drum to the block. The single drum also meant the machine had to be driven over the block, and then reversed so it would be in position for the next block. (The double-drum machine could have been driven across a block to make an impression, then simple reversed for the next.)

The blocks were inked with rubber-based letterpress ink, which proved a poor choice for printing on the cloth; it took ages to dry. Peter says next time he'd use Gamblin relief ink. A number of very large lithograph hand rollers were used, with two or three people inking a block ("Once you know the sound of a roller on a full block, you know when to print," Peter says.)

For the bed of what would be the printing area, they needed a smooth, flat and level area of pavement. Some kind of system is needed for registering the blocks; chalk marks on the pavement can work. A trip of plywood cut with a bevel along the 4-foot dimension was placed on the ground, parallel to the roller. This acted as a ramp, raising the roller to the block's face, rather than bang into the edge and possibly push the block along the ground, or (worse!) crush that edge of the block.

A thin press blanket was placed on the ground, to minimize irregularities in the ground. The block was then placed on the blanket, and the paper or cloth laid down: two people held one of the short ends while two others positioned the opposite end around the edge of the block nearest to the roller, and held it in place. The two helpers then gentle lowered the material on to the inked block.

As shown above, the back of the paper or cloth was covered with a rubber blanket (any heavy-duty smooth underflooring material would work) & a press blanket (the "packing"), and then a thin (1/8-inch) sheet of MDF (the "tympan"). The rubber blanket was subsequently moved to above the MDF sheet because it had a seam down the middle that was affecting the impression. Ideally it would have stayed below the tympan.

The roller was fired up, driven very slowly across the block, and then reversed back. The paper or cloth was then inspected while still on the block, and if any areas (i.e. along the outer edges) looked to have not been completely printed, they were rubbed with spoons.

The sheet was then lifted off by two people starting at one end, gently walking back to left it off the plate. Because the sheets were more than 8 feet tall, small step ladders were required at the far end to allow them to lift the sheet off the block, or a third person held the edge like a bride's train as the other two finished removing the sheet.

Peter's inaugural Big Printing event was a success. They hope to repeat it next year, taking advantage of a few lessons learned:
- The cloth they used was too coarse for printing on; use a finer weave.
- Have a system, and lots of space, for drying the prints.
- Make sure your rubber blanket is one continuous piece larger than the blocks, without any seams in it!
- The event drew a steady crowd all day, with lots of interest in buying the prints.Have a plan for selling the prints as they're being printed. This means have a single person whose only job is to deal with the public, answer questions, and take money. (This also leaves the other members of the team free to focus on their tasks).
- Don't underestimate how much physical labor is required. It was a very hot day: hats to prevent sunstroke, and canopy tents to work under while inking etc. were required.

All of the blocks were printed twice on cloth and twice on paper, for a total of four prints. The artists kept one of each, and the printing team kept the others to offer for sale. These are being included in an upcoming auction at the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island on September 27 (5 - 9 p.m.) to benefit C3 (Creative Cultural Collaborations Society) and SCWOP (Society of Contemporary Works on Paper).  

Participating artist Richard Tetrault's site has some more images from the two-day event. Apparently there also are a bunch of photos on various facebook pages, but you're on your own finding those. HM don't do facebook.


About a week after Vancouver's Big Printing, Seattle's School of Visual Concepts held its annual Wayzgoose and Steamroller Smackdown. They've been printing with road rollers for a number of years now. I didn't get to this year's event, but a colleague who did sent the following images, form which we can deduce some of their technique.

First, instead of wood they used pieces of lino approximately 2-by-3 feet (that might be big in Seattle, but in Vancouver....). Lino might make for easier cutting, but it also makes for a much less robust matrix. Looks like a can of Van Son rubber-based ink in the shot below (and they used those horrible, cheap & tiny Speedball rollers to ink the blocks!).


They laid a sheet of plywood over the blocks - no details on how they built up the "bed" beneath. But they also used the road roller equivalent of a Kelsey 5x3 tabletop press to do the printing (even if it was a double roller).

The Flickr set on the event's home page offers lots of images of the process. In summary, it looks like they laid a sheet of plywood on the pavement to act as a bed. The inked linos were placed on this, then the paper placed down, then what appears to be a piece of cheap artificial grass laid down, and finally another sheet of plywood to act as a tympan. Why they would use the fake grass, which would have been a terribly uneven and squishy surface against which to press the paper, I cannot explain.

Looks like one guy stands on the plywood to keep it from shifting while the roller passes across.

So that's the tale of two cities making big prints.


Back in Vancouver, New Leaf's had a busy month: the binanual juried mini-print show, BIMPE, they organize opened last week. Check it out if you get a chance. It's a great opportunity to see some fantastic printmaking from around the world, and buy prints at very reasonable prices. The show will also be stopping in Kelowna and Edmonton.


Tangled Up In Blue

A progress report on Decorating Paper, the next title in Barbara & Claudia's ongoing exploration of paper, color and decoration:

"Always looking for a way to justify an indigo workday, the paper decorators embarked on a shibori (tie-dye) project, using a variety of Japanese papers, including Usu Kuchi, Kiraku kozo, Gampi, Mingeishi Awagami Kozo and Sekishu. The papers were first coated on both sides with konnyaku, a starch made from the root of the arum, devil’s tongue. Konnyaku toughens paper and is essential in the making of traditional Japanese crinkled papers.

"When the konnyaku had dried, the paper was dampened, then gathered into puckers and tied. The tied parcels were dyed in indigo, left in the air and sunlight to oxydize (a necessary step in turning from indigo “green” to blue), then rinsed and redyed when necessary to deepen the blue. They were then untied, re-rinsed and dried and flattened. The konnyaku stiffened paper resisted pressing under weight and needed to be ironed flat.

 "The resulting shibori sheets are flexible and strong with an attractive texture."

Decorating Paper will be a publication that exceeds even Cutting Paper in scope, format and content. Work on assembling the vintage, and making the original papers that will be collected in the two-volume set has been going on for the past year, along with researching and writing the text. We're now getting ready to start printing (i.e. some time this fall), making final revisions to the content and design. First through the press will be a prospectus, to be issued by mid-fall.


One Last Spin with the Kelsey

Remember that blog about the tiny sheets of suminagashi marbled paper (yes, that's redundant, but just for those not in the know) that Barbara was making a while ago? The text pages for the miniature books of those specimens got printed last weekend, and it was noteworthy not only for being the only HM book that will be printed while we are on the lam, it is also the last book that will be printed on HM's first press.

This Kelsey Excelsior actually predates HM. It was used to print the three A Lone Press publications, including Fragments & Glimpses. Under HM is was used to print Ars Anatomica, Jim Rimmer's Duensing specimen miniature, and a few other things. But for more than five years now it's been tucked in a corner, so with the move to a new space, I decided to find it a home where it will be used. It's going to a young graphic designer keen to learn about letterpress. I'm not very keen on miniatures anymore. They're OK for something like Suminagashi, when the content suits the small size, but otherwise eh. If HM publishes any more, I'll print them on the Albion, like I did for the last miniature we issued.

The pages for Suminagashi were printed on J. Whatman handmade paper, a mixture of wove and laid. The edition will be just 12 copies, as that's all Barbara had enough samples to make up. It'll be issued before the end of the year.

Here's a shot of my own attempt at marbling, a.k.a. ink smeared on the counter top & photographed when the phone was absent-mindedly put down. Looks like the cover to a Cocteau Twins album. Beautiful.


The promised blog with technical details about printing with steamrollers is still happening. Just couldn't get all the details in time for this week...


It Depends on Your Perspective

Apropos nothing in particular other than art & design, I love this series of photos by Duane Michals titled "Things Are Queer" (1973). There's an article about it by Jonathan Wienberg over here.

It gave me a rush the first time I saw it (and subsequently as well). I want HM to publish books that elicit that same response (which the ones by Claudia & Barbara typically do). I cannot decide if it's odd that almost all of the art that inspires me comes from outside the realm of books and printing.

The recent post about printing with steamrollers seemed widely popular, so next week we'll have a follow-up: a more detailed description of exactly how the printing was done, from inking thru driving, plus a comparison of methods with Seattle's big print event earlier this month.


A Nash Stash & More

Some kool stuff from the past week...

Found a John Henry Nash stash, loads of ephemera and Christmas greetings. A couple of high points: an extract from Aeropagitica and a notice for an exhibition "rare old volumes."

A case worth's of beautiful, shiny new 24-pt Deepdene from the great team at LA Type & Rule. It's going to be used for an elaborate new publication with/by Harold Budd & friends; details to follow. For now I'll just say, think sound & vision.

A history of the Seton Village Press published in 1990 by the Press of the Palace of The Governor's at the Museum of New Mexico. That imprint issued a number of interesting and innovative books; I'll write about them another time. Bulletin in Bold Characters is an attractive book, and I don't know anything about the Seton Village Press, so it'll be an interesting read.

Finally, an exquisite etching by Charles Frederick Kimball titled "Old Houses at Stroudwater." It's signed and dated ([18]80) in the plate, and was originally published as an open edition included in the American Art Review 1881. While the actual image is too pastoral for my taste, the lines, the ink and the paper (a very light gampi) combine to suggest (at least to the suggestible) impending malevolence, which is to my taste. And all for $5!

p.s. Bob: the book's on the way. 


Industrial Printing

The gang at New Leaf Editions were having fun in the sun last weekend, printing 4 x 8 foot woodcuts with a steamroller. They had about five different blocks, each by a different artist. Inking each one up took five or ten minutes and a small team of inkers.

The blocks were laid on the pavement and the paper or cloth to be printed laid over. It was all then covered with two rubber blankets (one thick, one thin).

Andrea drove the press while Peter checked "registration." They'd wanted a machine with a wider roller, but it blew up or something, so they got one that was just slightly wider than the 4-foot blocks.

Revealing the print!

Considering it was hard to get a shot of anything without at least one other shutterbug cramming the frame, I can't find any other photos of the printing out there, so no details about artists etc. available at this time.

The mob at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts is holding their wayzgoose this coming Friday. They've been mashing prints with a steamroller for a number of years now. Be interesting to compare their methods.


An Etching in Reverse

Helping Peter Braune and the gang at New Leaf Editions bind up copies of a book they're publishing, Getting to Know You. They raised funds for the project on Indiegogo last spring; see some info and images here.

Copies are being cased in printed paper over boards. Since New Leaf is primarily an etching studio, and the book contains etchings, I suggested they create some kind of intaglio-printed sheet for the case.

This they did, and the first copies were printed as etchings, i.e. the large copper plate inked, wiped, and printed on a sheet of (white) Arches Wove. But then, just because they like experimenting, they inked the plate with a roller, turning the intaglio plate into a relief plate, and printing the "etching" in reverse. Used a lovely blue ink. Looks great.

Copies of the book will be available from New Leaf later this summer.