Summer courses mix typographic printing and problem solving
Students mix ink with problem solving and critical thinking in an experimental letterpress printing class at East Carolina University this summer.
Everything from bubble wrap, chipboard and mylar to traditional wood and cast metal type is used for letterpress printing, an age-old art form. Also called relief printing, the process involves producing an image using a raised inked surface that is pressed and transferred to make multiple copies.
“They’re doing things they don’t know how to do and learning along the way. So there’s a lot of failure and they understand why it didn’t work,” said Dan Elliott, associate professor of graphic design. . , which gives its students a weekly prompt with a new process or technique – as well as the freedom to investigate what they can create.
“It’s more of a course in critical thinking than creating a specific thing and figuring out how to control the results to achieve the same thing over and over. This is where problem solving comes in. Because it could be something by accident. So, OK, how can I do this on purpose and make it consistent? Elliott said.
At the end of the five-week class, hundreds of prints up to 12 by 20 inches will be connected and hung from the ceiling in the two-story lobby of the Jenkins Fine Arts Center. “All the processes and techniques they learn now will apply to the final project,” Elliott said.
The class is 11 students, with a mix of undergraduate and graduate majors ranging from art education and illustration to photography and graphic design, where most of their use of color is digital.
“When they mix colors here, they learn more about how color works. So even if they’re struggling to get an exact color when they go back to the computer, they know a little bit more about what they’re selecting, which is good,” Elliott said.
Some combine multiple interests, including an art student with concentrations in graphic design and photography who printed on darkroom paper. “He combines letterpress printing with photography in an unexpected way. It’s not printing a photograph, it’s printing on photo paper and seeing what the results are, which has led to some interesting results so far,” Elliott said.
Michael Gaines, a Charlotte grad student studying photography, also enjoys mixing different forms of media. “I love alternative photographic processes, so I can integrate them in all ways into different projects. I also love working in the book arts,” Gaines said. “A class like this really helps you think outside the box, which is why I really wanted to take it to push my ways of thinking.”
Last week, Gaines made a piece called “little bubbles” on paper he printed the day before with bubble wrap. He used different letters and types of text – two exclamation points and an apostrophe for a fishing line, two letters to make a fish, another one of a Russian letter – in his final product.
ECU’s art and design school has about 500 metal-type crates and three wood-type crates neatly arranged in large cabinets next to the typographies and production tables. Old print projects hang along the perimeter of the classroom, along with variations of the numbers nine, one and eight – an important number in the typography community because the type is 0.918 inches tall, has Elliott said.
Raleigh’s Anna Query, a rising senior film and graphic design student, said she wanted to take the course for her portfolio and work outside of a predominantly digital space. “It’s something different because we’re mostly on the computer all the time. It changes,” she said. “You can come up with so many different ideas, and I feel like every day is a new idea.”
Lexi Karaivanova, a sophomore and political science student from Greenville, said she was eager to think more creatively since she’s not an art major. “I can’t have an idea in my head and then know how it’s going to translate, so being able to be more in tune with that,” she said. “Think outside the box, don’t take things too seriously. I’m doing something I don’t know how to do and every day is different.
Rachel Spencer, a young art education student from Wilmington, plans to teach art after graduation and wants to teach her students as many methods as possible. “It’s probably the most interesting class ever,” said Spencer, who collaborated with Jalisha Armstrong, an illustration student from Tarboro.
In addition to different types of forms, students experimented with ink, including adding mineral spirits to the surface of the form to see what happens.
“It’s about gaining knowledge, not knowing what the final piece will look like,” Elliott said.
“The way I view my experimental work is that it informs my professional work. It’s something I can do and mess up without worrying that my client will be upset that I’m taking too long. If I have these processes in my toolkit, I can do something for a client or a commission and I don’t need to experiment then, I just know how to do it. A lot of it is learning how to go through that process, learning how to control it, and then they know how to do it later when there’s maybe a higher risk of failure.