Print That Won’t Dye

Why is screen printing, silkscreening and letterpress so popular?
What is it about print? Surely we should all be living in a Blade Runner world by now yet the only blades I see are squeegees.

Poster for Bloomington Print Collective by Izzy Jarvis,2011

Socially Attractive and Personality Driven. The craft movement has been gaining  popularity for past few years through the combination of social media and digital cottage industries as well as social scene craft nights and shared studio spaces dedicated to print. The fine art / design / illustration crossover has blossomed within university courses that allow for hybrid courses and the extension into print studio / gallery / art spaces. Design, illustration and print has been brought further into the fold of commercial art leading to the cult of the graphic design celebrity or ‘one man brand’. 
The Economy Fad:  Desire for Individuality. Part of the craft explosion, ad agencies adopt a printed or childlike aesthetic which is shorthand for ‘We’re one of you. We’re quirky enough to hire artists, also, please note we are sensible with cash’ :The more fingerprints on the page the more friendly the brand. 
Also we’re all obsessed with nostalgia, anything that involves graft, recycling, digging your own potatoes whilst wearing a tin helmet wins.
I suspect however that screen printing is popular because it’s lots and lots of fun.
I asked a few print agitators what they thought…

Print Club London
‘Expose your work to a world outside of the creative sector, It’s really key in expanding what we all do.” Kate Newbold, Director Print Club London.’

“When we founded Print Club London 5 years ago there were no other silk screen printing studios like ours, most people used college facilities or small beds in their houses, all very low-fi. But we thought that with the growing interest in the craft movement people would want/need space to print their own work and indeed they did. What emerged was the HUGE number of people wanting to learn silk screen printing. That the courses we run are hugely popular is testament not only to the popularity of silk screen printing as a product to be sold, but also that it is a process that is continuing to grow. I always imagined at some point we would stop selling workshops and the craze would die down but it hasn’t. We also have a gallery on brick lane and such as been the demand for bigger facilities at PCL that we have now opened up a newly built unit in our warehouse for desk designers called Millers Junction. We see young graduates thinking about design as a business. Be good at design but also be better at selling your own brand and marketing yourself. Expose your work to a world outside of the creative sector which is really key in expanding what we all do.”
‘I think the overall outcome from the current wave of ‘graphic design celebrities’ is ultimately a positive one” Caspar Williamson, author of  Reinventing Screenprinting’ 
“It is easier to sell artwork if it is marketed. I think a lot of people have seen the way artists such as Banksy have skyrocketed– £50 screeenprints suddenly appearing for £10,000 in auction and the buzz that is created around artists and designers that become the ‘it girls/boys’ of the art world. Lots of auction houses, art fairs and art agents have seen this happen and are on the hunt for ‘the next big thing’ constantly. However I think the overall outcome from the current wave of ‘graphic design celebrities’ is ultimately a positive one, as it pushes people to be come up with continually more creative and original work if you don’t want to simply be written of as a rip-off or copy-cat.”

Dan Mather

‘Experimentation is vital to the development of a solid portfolio, understanding and confidence in the process of silkscreen.’
“Developing my practice of the screen print process is not an individual accomplishment. Working in a shared studio not only offers a insight into the approaches of other printers but offers a chance of learning, critiquing, support and encouragement (and jealousy). When printing in a shared studio, for me, there is a noticeable difference between those who are designers printing for themselves and those more on the side of commercial printing. Experimentation is vital to the development of a solid portfolio, understanding and confidence in the the process of silkscreen. A sense of ownership is a part of a design and print occupation.”
Dan Mather, still from film 2012
‘Brands disappear overnight, record labels shut down as quickly as they start up, pop up shops and exhibitions are more popular than starting up a gallery long-term and working at a reputation because so many of these things are too inaccessible’
“With the prominence of social networking and the constant sharing of work and ideas which are then blogged and tweeted about, even the tiniest letterpress or screen printing studio in the middle of nowhere can now receive an extraordinary amount of attention in comparison to previous generations. I guess it’s also fuelled by the state of the economy – as things get worse, people return to DIY and there’s definitely been a zine revival… but also, small, independent businesses don’t need to go to a big printer for a big order of merchandise. There are many T-shirt or record labels that put out 3 items and then merge or disappear into the unknown. I suppose the ‘pop up’ trend may just be a symptom of the general lack of permanence across the board.”

Jennifer Mehigan,illustration and Found Images,2011

Brands disappear overnight, record labels shut down as quickly as they start up, pop up shops and exhibitions are more popular than starting up a gallery long-term and working at a reputation because so many of these things are too inaccessible. Ideas and brands don’t plan for a legacy as much, I guess, and I think this is also largely related to the social media idea. The whole formal system idea to being an artist or a designer is changing, we are cutting a lot of the middle men cut out and I’m a fan.
‘There is a huge opportunity for handmade products to include these [digital] interactions’ Co-owner, Ink Meets Paper, Daniel Nadeau
“I think consumers are getting more and more comfortable with digital interactions. There is a huge opportunity for handmade products to include these interactions, but the challenge is to use technology in a way that authentically complements their handcrafted nature. Developers spend all of their time shaping and crafting code, just as a woodworker spends all his time shaping and crafting wood. I think we are just now becoming comfortable enough with technology in our daily lives to start exploring the dialog that exists between the physical and digital.”
Ink Meets paper, QR Business Card, 2011

Once people are comfortable with that dialog, really cool opportunities arise. We are already working on geo-location features to point the viewer towards the nearest retailer, as well as sharing details of the card easily through social networks. I’ve been asked several times if we’ll always use QR codes for our card backs. I always joke with Allison that in 5 years we’re going to have to learn how to incorporate microchips into the paper. Technology moves fast, but it’s constantly giving us more ways to authenticate the products we create. It can be overwhelming though, considering all of the nuances of these interactions. Sometimes it would be nice to just print cards, but when you see that dialog click and watch the viewer take that step to learn more about what they bought or received, it’s all worth it.
‘Consumers have lost faith I guess and the hand rendered / craft approach emotes nostalgia’
Kate Gibb, Hand 5, 2011

“I do feel that part of the success of the hand rendered approach also has to do with our current and past financial climate of the last few years.  Not just an aesthetic change in culture and creative trends. Consumers have lost faith I guess and the hand rendered / craft approach emotes nostalgia, feels familiar and subtly instils a kind of trust from a product.”

‘Letterpress and other traditional printing techniques are manual processes that perfectly coexist with digital graphic design’ Christian Majonek 

Gebirge, Christian Majonek

“I began my graphic design studies at the Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig, in October
of 2009. This school is one of only a handful of schools in Germany where you can find
traditional studios for manual typesetting, wood cutting, screen printing, lithography, etc.
The school offers classes where students are able to study these old traditions, their origin and history. This is not only extremely interesting but also helped me find my
own personal art. Letterpress and other traditional printing techniques are manual
processes that perfectly coexist with digital graphic design. In my opinion, the two can
also inspire and profit from one another.” 
Carey Ellis
‘The smaller, more individual designers are keeping the traditions alive’
“Fashion, like any other art from will move with the times and reflect new technologies including the rise in digital print. Traditional screen printing goes hand in hand with fashion, and anyone involved with the industry will instantly see the unique craftsmanship that goes with screen printing that cannot be fulfilled by digital. I work with both techniques, but have more of an attachment to my work that i produce using screens because of the handmade element.

Carey Ellis, Sway, BA Textile Design Degree Show 2011

I think many designers today use digital print as it is great for mass production, but the smaller more individual designers are keeping the traditions alive and ensuring that screen printing is still fashionable. With the economic climate, the fashion conscious will be buying less and instead getting more one off special timeless pieces, which will help those designers who screen print as the item will be not only more unique, it will be special.”

Trillusion – Final Major Project from Carey Ellis on Vimeo.

Is this a fair summary?

What do you think the current excitement over print is down to?


Another Brick In The Wall & The Guide To Common Courtesy

The ongoing saga of job seeking & intern hardship in the UK…

Yesterday morning I woke up to this. If it was enough to make Miss Trustram boil over then it was worth a read.

So I had a look and I wrote this…
Then later on, in an unrelated exchange, I read this. Not entirely the same starting line but for the sake of debate we’ve got a situation
Graduates feel like they are being taken advantage of
Design studios feel besieged by inappropriate advances

If you haven’t read the @anothergraduate blog yet then go read it quickly now then come back, It’s only been up for about a week, won’t take long: READ ME
If it’s one thing, it’s honest. It could be the design intern equivalent  Secret Diary of a Call Girl with a bit of work, obviously less sex… I’m getting off the point, this is serious stuff.

The bit that stuck with @leblond and I was the bit about the tea, ” I don’t make tea…” (@anothergraduate thinks it’s demeaning). Ouch. If we all stopped making tea the world would grind to a halt. We could stop there and write @anothergraduate off but let’s give them a chance. I emailed them.

“I really don’t want you to think I’m some self-important arrogant graduate who thinks they are entitled to a job” explains @anothergraduate “[ As an intern] you’re good enough to do the work but you’re not good enough to get paid for it – it’s undignified labour and I understand we have to do it but due to my financial circumstances I am aware that I will have to give this up soon”

Do I hear cries of Boo-Hoo from some of the longer toothed members? I asked @anothergraduate if they thought it was political and blamed my generation (35+) for the current economic situation. Turns out it’s nothing to do with the economy…

We have a Catch 22
“Is it the current situation? or is it because people offer themselves for free design agencies take advantage” questions @anothergraduate. “They can afford to pay; they just don’t. Why pay for a junior designer when interns are cheaper and you can get rid of them when you need to.”

@anothergraduate I’d say, first part, absolutely correct. A Catch 22. Your peers put themselves up for free, you’ve got competition to get paid. We’ve all done a freebie, the people at the top probably did it too. They don’t want to change the system because they think ‘well it worked for me, why is X complaining”  Like hacking at NOTW it’s a cultural thing. But it doesn’t mean it’s right. It serves a purpose but working for absolutely no cash is not fun.

Anyone in the world who hasn’t seen this graph yet… It answers a few questions

I asked @anothergraduate what the worst character traits of design studios in dealing with graduates were… “I hate it when they don’t get back to you, regardless of how many phone calls and emails. It’s especially rude after they have interviewed you – they decide you’re not good enough for them and forget all about you.” Fair point. Let’s see things from the other side. let’s assume it’s the initial contact that’s the problem here for a moment…

Tomi Vollauschek, FL@33 On advice for Students & Graduates On How to Approach Seeking Work…

After our Twitter exchange I asked the formidable Tomi Vollauschek, Co-Founder of Stererohype and FL@33 for his opinion of what students and graduates should and shouldn’t do when approaching a studio for work. This is what he said…

DO: Please do your research: consider your interests/fascinations/strengths (and weaknesses) and prepare a shortlist of your favourite studios accordingly 

Write a personal email (addressing the right person, giving tailor-made reasons for your choice and what you can bring to the studio)  #sayingireallylikelondondoesnothelp

Consider the possibility that you are probably not god-sent and that many many many others are also sending applications—that should help finding the right tone of voice. #arrogancedoesnothelp

DON’T: Write generic email applications and cc your vast list of studio’s email addresses… #bad #veryverybad

If you don’t start your application by greeting a specific contact or at the very least mention the studio name you obviously didn’t do your research and/or you couldn’t be bothered writing a tailor-made application..

If studios mention that they are currently not hiring please don’t ignore it. at the very least acknowledge that you read that bit of info but that you would like to try anyway (that’s one hurdle overcome). #trustme

To sum up, Vollauschek says  “I know it’s all fairly obvious and we all keep on talking about this mind-boggling lack of common sense. I just don’t get why we continuously receive such an enormous amount of these kind of applications/enquiries? It currently feels like it got worse in the last 12 months or so… We surely can’t blame everything on colleges…” 

Has it got worse? Is it a rotten culture? Internships are under the spotlight as more graduates find a voice amongst the general unrest with sites like Intern Aware questioning the legality of the entire process. 

What does a Creative Recruiter say?

We need to re-evaluate how the system works. But let’s talk about REAL JOBS. I asked Darren Scotland owner of Character Creative, a  young go-between creative recruitment agent for design studios and ad agencies, based in Leeds. What are graduate pitfalls from a agent’s point of view? “Surprisingly I don’t come across as many of these as you’d think – don’t get me wrong, universities aren’t spitting out hoards of design geniuses but there’s not many massive fails either – more a sea of mediocrity really” says Scotland candidly.

Universities are feeding students out of date information
“I was speaking at a graduate event before Christmas and there were a couple of students who had been to see the University’s career adviser, ” explains Scotland. “They’d been told to stick very rigidly to a two page CV as a word.doc and to include two mug shots at the bottom of the 2nd page. Very odd to see the same CV from several designers and I’m certain they’d have gone straight in the trash at any agency.”
It’s not any tougher now than it has been in the past
“I actually don’t think it is any tougher this year than it has been previously – it’s always been really, really hard! Getting that first role has always been the most difficult step for someone wanting a career in design – it’s basic, way too much supply and not enough demand.”
Alternative routes to education
“If I had my time again I’d seriously look at alternative routes. E.g Hyperisland are piloting a school in Manchester at the moment that I think will be a big success and Shillington College do a similar thing with traditional printed media. Many of the best designers I’ve worked with haven’t been formally educated – they’re self taught and have a genuine love for what they do.” 
Advice for @anothergraduate (and everyone else) :
“I could list a few but I think, particularly relevant for @anothergraduate: Be humble; you’re not the finished article – way off in fact – so be as good as you can be and have bags of enthusiasm. Make cups of tea, run errands, do whatever you can – don’t be a walkover though – I think it’ll be pretty obvious if an agency is taking the piss.
Obviously your work will play a part in getting you your first job but, in my experience, it’s secondary to attitude.All it takes is one piece of work to prove you’ve got it. If the attitude is right, most agencies will be happy to mould and shape you to help get the good stuff out of you on a more consistent basis.”

Definite No – No’s:
No blind emails – Dear Sir/Madame, etc, etc…
Don’t mud sling. Sending 10-20 personal approaches is always much better than 500 generic emails.
Don’t be scared of the telephone! Always follow up your first approach to make sure people have received it. If not why not? Start the conversation…
Darren Scotland wrote a blog post on the subject last year that is worth a look:

In Summary

 BOTH job seekers AND job givers should follow the simple rule…

And thank you to all that contributed at such short notice to this piece, especially @anothergraduate for highlighting the problems. Good luck with the blog & job hunt.

Is it all about making tea? What’s your view?