This week saw us doing two different workshops effectively at the same time and in the same place, no less. We were given instructions so specific that they were rather easy to misinterpret. In preparation for the big day, we were asked to prepare stencils of a certain size on a certain type of paper to be applied to old work of a specific scale for a specific reason.
Our stencils were to use quotes from the shared student resources made available to both the Cass and Solent university that, in one way shape or form, have some connection to Southampton.
I find hand drawing font to be a far more enjoyable process than applying it after the fact. As I hand drew the various pages, I tried to experiment with the shapes and layouts of the letters. Typography is never going to be my favourite thing ever, but taking a more illustrative approach makes it feel not so dissimilar from figure drawing, and that, I can appreciate.
I tried to avoid being overly precious with the stencils, to preserve both my time and sanity. The chance of me achieving perfect smooth symmetrical curves while drawing with a scalpel were zero, so not worrying about it allowed me to focus more on the thinking than worry about the doing.
As a result, I ended up creating a font that was primarily made out of crescent moon shaped curves. I didn’t stick to that format religiously, but that was the rough idea.
After trying out curves, I was curious to se how jagged lines would work. I was pleased to see that using a scalpel worked quite well with such a letterform.
I played around with layout with my last stencil. It could be quite interesting if the image was contained within the white space that the text leaves open. Unfortunately, as you will see, 20 people doing two workshops at the same time in a small timeframe with a limited amount of equipment doesn’t allow one to create the most work you’ve ever seen ever.
Ultimately, I had to pick one stencil and do a handful of prints to ensue everyone got a turn. I mean, we’re all paying our tuition fees right? I decided that the ‘silent’ stencil was the one I wanted to see in action and I applied it to some prints of earlier work.
It would have been nice to play around with layout, like moving the paper so I would only part print on it, but personally, I feel that such things are best left to situations where you don’t run the risk of permanently damaging expensive, (possibly irreplaceable) equipment.
I always factor in the ease and cost of the processes I use, which is why I opt to use digital software to paint instead of… well, paint. I can’t help but feel that a process like screen printing is sometimes promoted not as a quick-fire way to mass produce posters for immediate use, but as some sort of art form that has some sort of inherent value above its practicality because of tradition. Maybe Warhol and his ilk have something to do with that, but I wouldn’t really know, so let’s leave that there. My point was simply that I don’t agree with any notion that screen printing a poster automatically makes it more valuable than running the same design off of a photocopier. (I’m fully aware that there is a market that will treat screen prints as art objects and therefore pay ‘art’ prices, but lets really not open that can of worms.)
The second workshop we did was an introduction to mono-printing. Now, from the limited research I’ve done, it has come to my attention that ‘mono-print’ can refer to a variety of techniques that share some elements, but can differ quite drastically in terms of complexity and the necessary preparation. We were looking at the simplest form of mono-printing, where one applies certain types of ink to a flat surface, then applies the paper on top and applies pressure to the paper where they want the marks to be made.
This (and all other) types of mono-printing, lend themselves to mass production. Once you’ve removed your first piece of paper, you can simply add another, add some more marks, or not, and create a series of direct duplicates or variants. It is worth noting that none of the duplicates will be identical due to the amount of ink changing as duplicates are produced, but you get the idea.
One interesting technique to consider is of taking some sort of image and using it to trace over to create said image on the reverse side of the paper. I gave this a shot with a picture of Netly Abbey taken from Spike Island by Philip Hoare. It’s very important to know where you’ve actually applied the pressure in this instance, so it is highly recommended to trace the image with a pencil or something and make sure you can see the lines you’ve made. I tell you all this in hindsight so you don’t have to learn the way I did.
Using a loose, gestural style can lead to some good results, I found. It is almost mandatory, when you’re so used to drawing with your hand making contact with the surface as you draw. You can’t do that with mono-printing or you’ll end up with great big smudges everywhere, but you know what? I regret not putting that to the test. Another important thing to keep in mind is that any text you write must be written backwards for it to show up the right way on the print. Having just finished my stencil cutouts the day before, I was in the right frame of mind to be thinking of letters as combinations of simple shapes instead of single wholes.
Another interesting technique we were shown was how to make a relief from a previous image. Using a tool with its heritage in Japanese screen printing techniques, even pressure was applied across the entire paper. This results in a negative image being created with the ink that was used up on the previous paper being missing from the current one. It’s best to use thicker lines than the ones I used, for clarity’s sake, but that’s the hindsight again.
In contrast to screen printing, mono printing the way we used it was far more spontaneous and allowed for a change in direction on the fly. Screen printing is a process you use after the final design has been finished, whereas mono printing has a lot more in common with the sketching process. That said, it too, is a messy, costly business. And while it is cheap in comparison to screen printing, where, at the very least you need to buy the ink and the screen(s), the ink we were show today is expensive and requires careful maintenance. Unlike the infinite array of colours and textures available to the user of the Adobe digital suite (especially if he obtains said package through extralegal means).
As I reflect on the two techniques we were shown, I can’t help but feel that they are far more indicative of fine art than they are of modern day design. One will more than likely have cheaper, more flexible options for mass production in today’s digital age. I’m not saying I don’t see the value in such time honoured techniques or the tactile worth of the finished article (I vastly prefer to read a real comic book than a pdf, for example), but everything is relative; does the cost in time and money, convenience and options available to you, outweigh the value of creating work in the same way some very famous artists have done, or being able to position yourself as the ‘traditional craftsman’? When I have such a close deadline to finish everything while making it awesome and have to create companion pieces as well, I find it difficult to say its worth taking five times as long, costing ten times as much, just to say that I did. Difficult, but not impossible.