Saturday, July 31, 2010

Am I a Printer or Printmaker, or maybe both?

I have one of these personalities that have the ability to completely shut an area of my life away never to return. Good thing or bad thing, it is part of my make-up. Sometimes it gets used to help through traumatic times, other times, just because it is convenient to help me through the next phase in my life.

The trouble with having a mind made up of boxes is that sometimes I forget where I have stored some information that could be useful! A less troubled mind would draw connections through life’s experiences and grown from it. Why can’t I manage that? Ramble time!

When I was still in High School, I drew line drawings for a printer to use in logos, print illustrations and for the local newspaper. I wanted to be an artist, but I could not see a living in it, so I figured that design would be a good compromise but I could not afford college. I dropped out of 6th form at 17 and took a full job at the print shop that I had been drawing for. I was enrolled into an apprenticeship for print origination and reprographics, which required about 10 hours a week at college for 2 years and 35 hours “on-the-job” training. My plan was to earn enough to get through design school and learn the trade I would be designing for at the same time.

My first day on the job, I was sent to a fellow printing firm to pick up a “left-handed setting stick” and a tin of tartan ink… it was a print apprentice initiation joke @_@

I learnt so much during those years, thanks mostly to the print shop being so small and the college being well funded in the printing area by national businesses. In work I was rotated in all areas of the business, other than operating the offset litho presses. It was a newly opened shop by a young owner that was starting with older equipment and technology (and poor paid staff such as myself LOL), to get his business up and running.

I took orders, answered phones, used the computer typesetter, designed business stationary, illustrated, cut and pasted design work, designed logos, ran errands, proof read, made the tea, used the reprographics camera for negatives and positives, developed aluminium plates for the press, folded flyers, stitched books, glued spines, wrapped up letterheads for customers and even drove them their orders! Probably lots more, but you get the idea. The print machine was the only the thing out of bounds.

At college (where there were just two girls on the whole course) we learned how to use the “fancy” technology that the big firms used (and a little about old technology such as letterpress) print theory, history and other information to do with print origination. It was mostly photographic based, separated with computers in those days but we covered letterpress, lithography (4 colour and single colour process)and screen printing processes.

Upon completion of my apprenticeship, I received various certificates etc but the coolest of all was the legacy passed down for many centuries. Apparently, Queen Elizabeth the first passed us the right to wear a sword within the City of London, have a blind eye turned to us if we were drunk and disorderly and allow us to herd sheep over London Bridge. Not a bad result for 2 years work I would say. I am not sure that would hold up in court, but very nice rite of passage. I then moved on, got my first flat and took a Graphic Design course, but I will ramble about that another time. The point is, I moved on.

Somewhere, I have all this theoretical knowledge tucked away ALL about printing. Printmaking may be art, but it uses the theory I learnt all those years ago. The technology I used back then is largely obsolete in the commercial world, but is being seen in today in the printmaking art world. Letterpress, aluminum plates, even offset litho is being used now.

I think I was pretty good at what I did and I was proud that I reached a distinction level. So why was I such a disaster in the printmaking studio on my art course? I guess at that time my mind had shut and taped down those boxes that could have offered me valuable knowledge. I concentrated on the ideas but completely blew it on the process. I could not relate printing to printmaking, for me it was different parts of my life that did not connect.

So far this year has gone pretty well, but I can’t help but think it is a fluke. Disaster is around the corner and I will end up causing an explosion in the print studio (or something equally large). My mind is shuffling through its unlabeled boxes trying to find the connections to what I knew back then and applying it to what I am doing now. There has to be ways to use the print knowledge I have with a creative thread to make a successful output of work within the print studio.

I just need to open those boxes and figure it out.

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