Standing in the middle of the print shop at the Oxbow School of Art is a lone Vandercook no. 3. About to descend on this solitary press: 24 participants in my pressure printing class for the Paper and Book Intensive course. This is a new ratio for me. A worrisome ratio. A terrifying ratio. Here are a selection of the dreams I had leading up to my flight to Michigan: The I’ve-forgotten-all-of-my-teaching-materials dream. The I-cannot-find-the-press-room dream. The the-press-is-broken dream. The I-show-up-on-the-wrong-day dream. There were others. I will not bore you. The source was the ratio, and the ratio was not going to change.
I arrived in early May and the participants arrived a short day later. A friendly bunch, ready to try their hand at pressure printing, they had no idea that they were about to engage in press warfare, edging out their colleagues and friends for a few short minutes of press time. It was a scarcity economy, and anything could happen.
The fact that the group of people in question approached the singular press situation with good humor and generosity of spirit was certainly helpful. But under certain circumstances even the most peaceful and civilized people can turn on each other in unpredictable ways. I like to think that the only thing that kept this course from descending into violent conflict were the sign-up sheets.
Do you see Michael and Ashley, here pictured enjoying what appears to be a leisurely printing session? The only thing preventing Suzanne or Tom or Heather or Bonnie from leaping savagely from stage left is the sign-up sheet taped to the press. Sometimes a little paperwork can be the difference between an artistic endeavor and a trip to the emergency room. And although he looks relaxed, Michael knows this. Can you tell? Look at his shoulders. He’s ready.
Completely booked out, these sign up sheets began at 6am and didn’t conclude until 11pm. Each position was fought for with the grim determination of printmakers on the edge. Even class time was strictly apportioned, each pair of printers allocated only 20-25 precious minutes to proof their pressure plates.
The first slot in the above photo is empty only because at the moment this photo was taken, a knife fight related to that very issue was in full swing next to the drying rack.
Ok. That is not true.
In fact, against all odds, this course came together beautifully. And while I am rather proud of my rigorous sign-up system, what really kept the madness at bay was the fact that the 24 people in this course were patient, friendly, and understanding. I am forever in their debt.
I am not going to give a complete lesson on pressure printing today, but here is the briefest of descriptions: After making a few critical press adjustments, a pressure printed image results from the combination of a pressure plate, which sits behind the paper, and the inked surface in the bed of the press. Here we are using a piece of embroidery as the pressure plate:
Bonnie created her own plate below using plant material and paper:
She complicated the image by creating an interrupted inked surface; only the circles will be inked below:
The resulting print is pretty delicious:
Pressure printing allows you to break the rules and create a painterly image with different tones on a press that is designed to print one color at a time. By day two we were in full swing. People busily pumped out all kinds of imagery. By hand-inking some of the bases in advance, we were able to print in multiple colors even when the press was inked in green, a default color we often returned to unwillingly due to some kind of strange color magnetism.
Things picked up on day three after I moved in a second press, a vandercook SP-15. I created a new sign up sheet, and with twice the presses, we were finally able to relax.
That was a joke. Did you get it? That second press is imaginary.
Anyway, once you’ve stopped chuckling about that, have a look at some of the work that emerged over four days:
Janine used a linoleum block as her inked surface in order to create pristine white lines:
Bonnie printed with bubble wrap:
Bea created a figurative scene by layering paper on her plate:
Elissa made this out of paper bags:
Suzanne went out of her mind:
Anne created a beautiful image simply by using folded paper as a plate:
and was able to pull a ghost print by picking up residual ink on the base.
These are only a few examples from an extremely productive week. At the end of our four days, we had piles of printed materials. We even embarked on some simple book-making .
Contrary to the opinions of most mathematicians, this was a successful class even with a ratio of 25:1. To those among you who partook in this class, thank you so much for a wonderful week. I think my anxiety dreams are finally drawing to a close.
The Paper and Book Intensive, or PBI to its devoted followers, is a truly wonderful series of workshops offered each year. It currently finds its home at Oxbow, but has had many locations over the years. Text directly boosted from the PBI website: “Now celebrating its 30th year, Paper and Book Intensive is an annual working sabbatical for practitioners and motivated beginners in the book arts, papermaking, and conservation. For two weeks each year, participants gather for daily class sessions, lectures, discussions, and shared meals to promote unusual levels of exchange, knowledge and inspiration.” Sound good? keep your eye on the website and get ready to apply as soon as it comes up again in January. If you thought twenty five people vying for one press was bad, you should see the PBI waitlist.
I write this from the Washington Dulles airport after a series of delays and flight cancellations. Will I ever get home? I do not know. Things look good, but things looked good yesterday before I was unexpectedly housed at a Ramada Inn in Grand Rapids, Michigan with Jessica Peterson.
Oh my god, it’s time to board. will I get home? Cross your fingers for me.