Clatter Press, a sibling of CCAD-educated graphic designers, teaches Central Ohio the art of Riso printing with their new publication “Big Mess”
A couple of years after graphic designer Nigel Ewan graduated from college, he accidentally noticed some hot, noticeable colors on printed materials. Usually these types of colors indicate a large, expensive edition, but this item was more of a short-lived, short-run work of art. So how did you do it?
Ewan’s curiosity led him to risograph or “riso” printing, which emerged in Japan in the 1950s as a copy or duplication tool for businesses. In fact, a Risograph printer looks very much like a large office copier. But in recent years, artists and printers who loved Riso’s hot colors and affordability in a compact package have started reusing the technology for making zines and art prints.
In the summer of 2018, Ewan and his sister Dempsey, a graphic designer friend and CCAD graduate, bought their own Riso printer and some inks on eBay and started Clatter Press, the only (as far as they know) Risograph printing company in Central Ohio.
In addition to printing comics, posters, and zines for clients, Nigel and Ewan recently launched their own quarterly Riso publication, Big Mess, which debuted in April 2020. (Annual subscriptions are available for $ 35 on the Big Mess website.) The sixth and most recent issue, printed in July, includes two companion publications on metal, one with writer Aaron Beck, who highlight his formative experiences with heavy metal describes, and the other with metal smith Christine Hill with photos by Brian Kaiser.
In some ways, Riso printing is like any other traditional printing method, as the Ewans explained in a recent interview in Nigel’s Clintonville living room above the Clatter Press basement printing facility. The machine pushes ink through a sieve. But that’s where the similarities end. In this process, the image is die-cut onto a thin sheet of rice paper (called a master) and the wet, eco-friendly inks are made from rice bran and soy waste. The ink is never heated or hardened, so the bright colors are easy to smear and smudge.
“It looks a lot messier than digital printing ever would be, and it looks a lot more natural and organic,” said Dempsey. “It falls into this weird category because it looks so different from other things. Everyone reacts when they see it. ”
“For better or for worse,” added Nigel. “People are so unfamiliar with it. Even in the art and design world, at least in Columbus, people might have heard of it or have a general bias about what it looks like, but they don’t really know. So it polarizes. … people find it a little cute and a little quirky, a little messy. But it’s actually even more chaotic. ”
This clutter can create challenges when Clatter Press works with new customers who are used to cleaner, clearer print styles. “We had to teach people a lot about what it is. … And we also had to teach people what to expect, ”said Nigel. “It can be difficult to argue with customers and say, ‘No’, that’s the way it should be, and if it’s too chaotic for you, you may not want to do it. ‘”
So Big Mess is not just a chance for Nigel and Dempsey to use Riso printing for their personal project; It is also a teaching tool, a means of showing people what Risograph is and what is not.
The Ewan siblings act as Big Mess’s creative directors while working with writers, photographers and graphic designers. The editions vary in size and color, and each has its own theme. Issue 5, Groceries, was inspired by friend and author Jill Moorhead’s love for grocery stores. Issue 2 is about breakfast, and number 3, the smallest yet, is titled “Purple,” and it uses just purple ink on pink paper.
“Big Mess is a perfect mix at best, where we have control and influence over the art direction to make things look as good as possible, but we also don’t do all the work,” said Nigel. “We can get cool things from others so that they are more diverse.”
For Nigel, the clutter of the Riso print isn’t the attraction. (“I would love it if it wasn’t messy. I would love it if the ink dries,” he said.) It’s the idea of a private print shop and connecting with a tradition of designers who have a means of production for their work . “My design and printing are all related in my personal practice, and I’m getting better at designing for it and I’m getting better at printing my own things. So I see Big Mess as an extension of my own work, ”he said. “And I like to be self-sufficient. As long as we have ink and paper, I can roll out of bed in the middle of the night and go downstairs and print something. ”
However, Dempsey has fully recognized the messy, unpredictable nature of the Riso printing process. “There’s an element of surprise, a part that you can never control,” she said. “I find this opportunity and the variables very appealing. … If people accept that, it’s really fun. ”