Q/A with Melanie Yugo, of Possible Worlds | “Prints & Inks: Risograph Edition” Local creative studio Possible Worlds wrapped...
Q/A with Melanie Yugo, of Possible Worlds | “Prints & Inks: Risograph Edition”
Local creative studio Possible Worlds wrapped up their recent exhibit “Prints & Inks: Risograph Edition”. Creative director, artist and designer Melanie Yugo curated an exhibit in the Chinatown-based space, bringing together experimental prints by artists from Canada, to Brazil, to the Netherlands.
Melanie Yugo has a feature article in Uppercase Magazine, interviewing several risograph printmakers: http://uppercasemagazine.com/issue25
S66: You recently curated the Risograph edition of the Spins & Needles “Prints and Inks” show at Possible Worlds for June-July. Please tell us a bit about Risograph printing, and what makes it so special.
MY: The Risograph is a printing machine that is essentially a high-speed stencil printer. It looks like a regular photocopier, but what it outputs are prints similar to those with a silkscreened, handmade aesthetic. It’s great for producing creative content in multiples, like posters, art books, zines and album covers.
The way it works is that a file is sent through a computer, or an image is placed on the glass of the machine. The stencil of the image is transferred to a master stencil sheet, which is wrapped around a cylinder filled with coloured ink. Ink is pushed through the stencil onto the paper as it passes through the machine. To get different colours, the cylinder corresponding to the ink colour you want is changed out each time.
It’s only in the last several years that the Risograph has been used more and more in creative contexts. The machine was developed in 1986 in Japan for large-volume print jobs in offices, churches and schools. But then toner-based photocopiers took over. So artists and publishers began to experiment with these discarded Risograph machines, finding them in basements or online on eBay or Craigslist, for relatively good prices.
I think what attracts artists and publishers to the Risograph are a few things. Compared to other types of printing, such as silkscreening or offset, there are less barriers to printing with the Risograph: less setup time, less equipment and generally lower costs overall. It has allowed artists to reclaim printing as an experimental process, to play with different colour gradients and inks and to push the limits of what the machine can produce. Since the artist or publisher owns the means of production, they are able to work on their own terms and share their publications more widely.
S66: The artists you selected range from across the U.S., to Scotland, Singapore, and the Netherlands. What influenced your choice in artists, and their work?
MY: I came across many of these artists when I was asked by Uppercase Magazine earlier this year to write an article on the Risograph printing machine. I had known about the Risograph for a couple years, and was interested in exploring this form of printing as part of the greater context of the graphic arts world.
The artists, designers and publishers who are now part of the exhibition are all considered to be leaders in the arts-based Risograph community. I wanted to include those who represent a range of aesthetics and printing practices, particularly social or collaborative practices, such as knowledge sharing, collaborative publishing models. and even commercial work. For example, Knust in Nijmegen, the Netherlands are considered to be the pioneers of using the Risograph for creative purposes so you can see this in the complexity of their work. They also run a collaborative print workspace, performance venue and artist residency. Issue Press in Grand Rapids, Michigan, focuses on not just producing artist publications, but also organizing and sharing information about the Risograph creative community. Several publishers in the show are well-known for working in a collaborative publishing model, inviting artists to print with them in addition to their own work.
I also wanted to reflect the international nature of the practice, which is what resonated with me the most when I was doing my research. I think one thing these artists and publishers have in common is their openness and awareness of being part of a global community of creative Risograph users, who are eager to share their work and knowledge.
S66: Are there any styles, or techniques, that are especially dominant in Risograph printing right now?
MY: Right now you’ll come across images with thick bold lines, solid shapes or filled with halftones, gradients, collage and patterns, often paired with text. However many styles and techniques dominant in Risograph printing now are because of the limitations of the machine. Like silkscreening, really graphic illustrations or designs print best. So artists design work with the Risograph’s strengths and limitations in mind.
That said, many artists use the printing process to experiment and see how far they can go, for example on different paper stocks, colour gradients and line work. Many share the results of their experiments or process online, whether it is the final work or not.
S66: As part of the exhibit, you announced that Spins & Needles/Possible Worlds now has a Risograph printing machine. Are there any projects lined up?
MY: We’re really excited to have a Risograph as part of our studio. We’ll be using it for our own print projects, such as collaborative art books or poster series with local artists. But we’ll also be offering it up as a resource for the Ottawa creative scene.
We’ll start to take on select Risograph projects starting in September. Several artists, studios and music producers have already approached us to ask about printing their work on the Risograph. We’re also thinking about offering workshops or meetups for people to become familiar with how to create work for the machine.
We’re hoping to help artists and small businesses across disciplines to put more of their creative content out there in printed form, and to share with a wider audience. Print work is also a great entry point if you’re looking to add artwork to your walls, reading stories from alternative viewpoints, or just learning about independent art and culture. I think that’s what attracts us to the Risograph, and print in general: the means to share your creative ideas with a wider audience in an accessible manner.