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Print could be your life: Handmade subcultures.

The School of Print recently held a launch event with free workshops in Risograph and screen printing. I joined a room full of creatives and took part in creating a two colour notebook that featured a gatefold cover layered with illustrations by all of the participants in the workshop. The workshop succeeded as both a collaborative experience and an introduction to Risograph printing and I left feeling inspired and sort of prophetic that Nottingham now had a visible studio specialising in handmade print – a medium that I adore.

Screen printing and Riso printing are the epitome of independence. They’re the perfect medium to channel small press publications and clothing companies or works of art.

Riso printing has emerged as the go-to format for small press, but its low overheads and emphasis on volume don’t come at the cost of creativity. It’s perfect for communicating in an efficient, detailed and stylistic fashion with its efficiency and the visceral appearance of its wet ink transfer. It creates something that feels distinctively handmade but with a mono/duo/tri/quadtone approach creating something similar to a newspaper. It’s incredibly eco-friendly from its use of soy-based inks and uses less power than traditional printers. It’s not a method I was too familiar with, but after learning its processes, it ignited so many ideas in my head. Its potential is phenomenal – I finally had a printing method for my 35 page essay about the structural integrity of Norwegian timber cladding (ed. – sorry, that’s another blog).

Screen printing was something I was far more comfortable with. I discovered screenprinting through my interest in music – more specifically the subcultures of rock and roll, bands such as The National, The Black Keys and Wilco all used independent and local design studios specialising in poster design to produce work that encapsulated the band/client’s music and tone of voice. Burlesque of North America, Aesthetic Apparatus, Landland and Telegramme are some of the studios who’ve emerged from branding and design backgrounds and added creative poster design to their resumes.

In an age where digital print is faster and more economic for mass volumes – is screen printing just another sign that print is dying? No! Print couldn’t be more alive, and a great example of that idiom being put to rest is an art gallery in Austin, Texas: MONDO.

Mondo specialise in limited screenprints of popular culture (they also offer vinyl, collectibles and more). Over the past five years they’ve evolved from a gallery, into a channel that personifies pop culture. It’s any film’s pre-release rite of passage to receive a screenprinted poster treatment from Mondo. They’re also catalysts for bringing emerging artists and studios into the spotlight.

When Mondo release a print into the wild it causes mass hysteria – it’s often a desirable work of creativity embodying the film and they’re limited pieces. Especially if it’s a film whose hype is already at fever pitch. This immediately makes something finite and makes you feel part of something, a moment in time. Take any kind of movement whether it’s Pop Art pioneered by Warhol or even the all ages positivity of the punk band Fugazi, these movements created subcultures that became their own communities. Defined by their DIY aesthetic and ethics, Fugazi built punk rock into the suburbs of 1980s Washington DC.

Fugazi’s approach was my inspiration when I started my career as a freelancer and their philosophy has served as the perfect framework for fledgling creators and startups who wanted to make their creativity into something more than a product. Fugazi were built around Ian Mackaye’s desire to: 

“not necessarily to be in a band, but to be with people who wanted to play music with me.”

Their DIY attitude served as their business model, they were self-promoted and booked shows for all ages, fair pricing for tickets (always $5 to avoid price hiking) and kept overheads low by keeping a skeleton crew that featured no more members that the band themselves and strictly sold no merchandise. Fugazi’s business model had a moral compass and authenticity because it embodied the political and positive slant of their music. It’s also an aspect integral to a successful agency.

The thing about Riso and screenprinting, unlike digital print runs, it creates something tangible, something that can belong to a community, a shared philosophy or appreciation of something. Even large brands shouldn’t overlook it because of the time, resources and limited volume of output. A limited product creates a positive reaction in your audience and the visceral nature of uncertainty in the print’s texture only heightens that.

Riso and screen printing blur the lines between form and function in their output, fueling the debate of whether design is art or a universal communication tool? Well, can’t it be both?

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