ben and the thaliad risograph

In recent years many artists have increasingly relied on ‘giclee’, a high quality ink-jet printing process, to reproduce original paintings as affordable artworks. I’ve never felt at all inclined to market my work in this form, because while I acknowledge that the process can reproduce an image to a high standard, for me a print should aspire to be more than a basic means of reproduction. In the past I’ve made relief-prints with lino-blocks and card-blocks toughened with shellac, and I’ve produced monoprints from images drawn on glass and aluminium plates. I made one editioned etching of a Mari Lwyd, aided with an award from the Contemporary Art Society of Wales. I’ve never tried silkscreen printing, though I love the silkscreened images produced by my friend Paul Bommer.

A Risograph is a stencil printer, and I recently discovered exciting images being produced by the Risograph method at Ditto Press in London, where interesting artists and clients flock to work with an enthusiastic team of artist/printmakers. I’ve been collaborating with Ben, who has been deconstructing the cover artwork of Thaliad in order to remake it as a Risograph print. The above image is a screenshot of the artwork remade in six separate colour plates: yellow, green, black, orange, ‘federal’ blue and bright red.

The result of this collaboration will not be a print that reproduces the collage in the way of  giclee or photo-lithography. The Risograph print honours the original artwork while showing evidence of the stencilling technique combined with the judgement calls of the print-maker at every stage of the process. The stencilling inks won’t attempt to  reproduce the colours of the original, but will create their own versions of them to produce a print that is a fresh and craftsman-made object rather than a standardised commercial reproduction. It’s a technique that utilises modern technology, though the results have a slightly naive quality, with the colours fresh and jewel-like. And of course, it will enable me to offer for sale, print-versions of the original artwork, without going the way of a giclee. This is an exciting new development for me, and one that I hope, with Ben’s help,  to try again with images made specifically with the Risograph printer in mind.

Above: detail of the original collage.

You can see a clip of Ben


28 thoughts on “ben and the thaliad risograph

  1. The risograph idea is interesting–I look forward to seeing what you design especially for it. New forms have a way of bringing on fresh response.

    It’s too bad that mass-market reproduction is so dominant, dulling us to the original and preventing many people from buying originals–thoughI think there are many reasons for that. Some of the reasons aren’t all that different from why people buy bestsellers rather than hunt down something less commercial.

  2. As a printmaker and artist’s book-maker I wholly agree with you, Clive, and also with Marja-Leena. The difference between a reproduction – no matter how technically brilliant – and a hand-pulled print is still not fully understood by the general public but this confusion suits commercial enterprises who sell reproductions printed in huge numbers as if they were the same thing as an artist’s signed and numbered hand-pulled limited edition.
    But thank you very much for mentioning Ditto Press and the risograph process, which I hadn’t heard of but which I’m certainly going to look up. Stencil printing by hand (known as ‘pochoir’ in France) is the process which was used to print the limited edition of Matisse’s stupendous book ‘Jazz’, a masterpiece. It looks as though the risograph machine does something similar to hand-printing from stencils and I’m very curious to see the process up close, especially after my recent exhausting marathon of stencil-printing for the accordion book. Will go and visit Ditto Press and report afterwards.

    • Say ‘Hi’ to Ben at Ditto for me, Natalie. He’s been lovely to work with, albeit at arm’s length. Ben is currently adapting the Thaliad image for the stencil process, but once this is out of the way, I have an image planned that I’ll prepare with the Risograph printer specifically in mind. I love the effects I’ve seen on the Ditto blog site.

      Re ‘pochoir’ stencilling by hand, I did the cover of the book Witch with a stencil to produce the red ground under the lino-print.

  3. Had a look at the Ditto Press, really impressed with their work, this should be a very beautiful print! Glad you brought up the ‘private press’ books such as the Old Stile Press books. I love these, they are such gorgeous objects in themselves and as you get a number of exquisite prints in a volume, darn good value if you’re on a budget.

  4. Clive, is risograph the same as the Japanese Gocco printing? Somewhere I think I’ve read they are one and the same process. I love the clarity of the images with it and I am in the same camp as you and the others about giclee. Maybe it does have its place but an original print should be just that. Sadly not all the buying public understand the differentiation. I don’t have a problem with artists reproducing their work but giclee is too grey an area for me.

    PS Have given in and ordered the Simon Armitage. Should be on its way. Better warm up the vocal chords to see if it resonates as much when I say it aloud as when you do!

    • Lesley, I’m not sure about the Japanese Gocco print. I’ve googled it but haven’t yet quite got a handle on how it works. I would think it significant that the printers are manufactured by a company called Riso!

      You won’t regret ordering the Armitage. A jewel of a translation.

  5. Risographs are new to me, sounds fascinating, Clive!

    Glad to see you write about giclee as reproduction, for it’s a thorny subject often discussed amongst printmakers and in art schools. Reproductions are not originals, but often sold at shockingly high prices and signed by many big name artists as if they were limited edition originals. Buyers don’t always understand the difference, especially if sellers don’t make them aware.

    Archival inkjet prints (the English term for ‘giclee’) which are originals created just for that medium sometimes get a bad name because of the reproduction issues of giclee prints, hence we avoid that term. Most of us who work in that medium are still creating small limited editions of them and try to explain the process to viewers and buyers to make them aware of the difference. Actually we have to explain many print methods for some think they are never originals – the word ‘print’ seems to confuse them.

    Sorry if I sound like I’m on a soapbox!

    • No, Marja-Leena, feel free to get on your soapbox. It’s important that the processes be understood. I am constantly shocked by the prices of ‘giclee’ reproductions, and disturbed that buyers can be misled into believing they’re having some kind of ‘unique’ item just because it’s been numbered and signed.

      So, for anyone reading this who is confused, let me try to explain. The numbering and signing of giclee reproductions has been borrowed from the legitimate practice of editioning and signing relief and intaglio prints. Any relief or intaglio print… and there are lots of ways of making them, all with different names… will be the finished artwork. There’s no original painting from which the image has been taken. It will have been designed purely and simply to be seen as a print.

      Unfortunately the term ‘print’ is so imprecise as to be almost meaningless. Even those with a knowledge of art can come unstuck when it comes to understanding prints and how they are made, and I won’t attempt a rough guide here. Suffice to say that while the cheap photographic reproduction of artworks has long been an accepted way for people on limited budgets to acquire images to frame for their walls (Athena posters being a good example) a reproduction, even when all gussied up in the shape of a giclee, is not an ‘artists’ print’. It’s just a reproduction, pretty much the same as a reproduction of an image in a book or magazine. You can print it carefully and vibrantly on heavy paper. You can number it and sign it and put in a fancy frame. But it’s still a reproduction, and there’s no earthly reason why it should be priced as anything other than a reproduction.

  6. That’s good news, Clive. Like you I think prints should be prints, and giclée reserved for works that can’t be reproduced by any other method. On the other hand, art is so unaffordable for many people, and I think it’s good when artists are able to create editions that can be signed and offered for sale. It’s a complicated issue and I’m glad to see Thaliad in the forefront of your experiments with new/old ways of making things — seems utterly appropriate!

    • I agree about the aspect of reproductions being available as a resource to anyone aspiring to own an image of an otherwise unaffordable artwork, and all artists have the choice whether to go down that route or not. When I was a teenager I had reproductions of Picasso’s Don Quixote drawings above my bed, and so I am not averse to reproduction per se. However I am averse to the confusion that arises when reproductions are marketed and priced… as is often the case with giclee… as though they were ‘artists’ prints’. Just to be clear here, on the rare occasions when someone known to me has requested a print of a particular image, I’ve made available at no charge a printable version on the strict understanding that the result will be for private use only.

      Now that the monograph Clive Hicks-Jenkins (Lund Humphries, 2011) is available, I consider the job of providing images and information about my work to those who are interested, to have been done. There are reproductions in quantity in the book. However I don’t want to go the way of producing and marketing giclee reproductions of paintings for framing.

      I make relief prints from time to time, mostly from lino-blocks. There are affordable relief prints too, made by Nicolas McDowall from the blocks used for the Old Stile Press editions of Equus and The Mare’s Tale, and some of these are usually available at the Martin Tinney Gallery. Of course the Old Stile Press books themselves are probably the best sources of all, every image in them having been printed by Nicolas on his press at Catchmays Court. An OSP book containing many relief prints will cost little more than a couple of the separately editioned prints framed and made available for sale.

      ‘Private Press’ books are not at all well understood by people unfamiliar with how they are produced, but the reality is that they are a fantastic and relatively inexpensive resource for any collector interested in the art of printmaking.

  7. First, happy to have a definition of why I so dislike giclee; aside from snobbishness, I think it cheapens art rather than enlightening the public. I favour prints with integrity, demonstrating a sympathy for the medium, rather than facile reproductions with no soul. I would far rather have a print from the woodblock by Clive Hicks-Jenkins than a shiny giclee print. (no matter how stupendous the original).

    The Risograph method seems wonderful. I am just sticking my toe into the waters of print reproduction. Happy to have this new info.

    As always,

    • Giclee has its place, but like you Leonard, I don’t quite like the results. For me a print should be an object in its own right, rather than a reproduction of an image made in another medium, such as paint. Digital printing has come along in magnificent leaps and bounds, but I prefer the results when used as illustrations in books.

      I’ll be posting about how the Risograph turns out. I think I made life quite difficult for Ben, because at the time I made it, I wasn’t thinking of the collage as needing to be deconstructed for the stencil process, though he seems to have achieved that rather well. But next time I plan on making an image specifically for reproduction on the Risograph printer, which should be a really interesting challenge for me as an artist.

      • Right, that will be exciting to work within its limitations and assets. Curious to see how well it turns out now that you have this information at hand. Considering how handsome the enclosed image is without that benefit, the results should be spectacular.
        As per giclee’s place, I’m not really convinced; aside from the quality of reproduction, perhaps suited to well established masterworks for educational purposes. Call me prickly!

    • Leonard, try lino-printing. The material is relatively easy to work… though you’ll need to stick it down on a firm base… and the results can be fantastic. Always invest in proper steel gouges, which you can keep keen on an ‘Arkansas’ stone. Don’t whatever you do buy a cheaper specifically made-for-the-craft-market lino-cutter with interchangeable blades. A pointless saving as the blades blunt too fast and don’t sharpen well. (I’ve stabbed myself more regularly with blunt blades than with sharpened ones, because pushing a blunt tool through the lino takes more effort and consequently a ‘skidding’ accident is much more likely to occur! Of course with tools like these it’s much better to have NO accident!) I have a little set of steel wood-gouges that were a tad expensive, but kept well-honed on my stone, never disappoint.

      I posted a stage-by-stage account of cutting and printing from a lino-block, in a comment-box HERE. You might take a look.

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