Tradition and Technology Merge in Printing Arts

By Jessa Parette Eldridge '11 & David O'Brien '14
Friday, January 31, 2014

Antique, heavy printing machines equipped with hand cranks, wheels and motors, sit in the screen-printing and printmaking studio. Screens, vacuum tables and rows of sinks, splashed with ink like a Pollock canvas, makes the room feel more like Laundromat than an art studio. Each vintage printing press—a Clamshell Letter Press (c. 1930), a Potter Proof Press (c. 1920) and a Vandercook Proofing Press (c. 1940s)—requires meticulous preparation, precise technique and tedious manual labor. In a digital age of instant gratification, these printing presses seem obsolete. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.

Screen Printing at John Brown UniversityTod Goehner, associate professor of visual arts at JBU, teaches elective screenprinting and printmaking courses, and each class rarely has an open seat. “Tradition makes these students more intentional because these approaches cause you to take more time in thinking through the processes of producing a comp,” says Goehner.

The JBU graphic design program prides itself in using a pedagogical approach that combines fresh technology with traditional techniques. Few art programs outside of JBU carry the antique and modern equipment used to develop traditional and modern techniques. However, Goehner says, JBU gives the graphic design students the opportunity to learn using antique and blemished but extremely valuable pieces of equipment.

The high demand for traditional printing methods extends beyond academic development. “Companies today are looking to put out marketing products that have a texture and a certain rustic look, and these can only be created using this style of traditional printmaking,” says Geohner.

In addition to adding texture and dimension to the print job, traditional printing presses also offer color precision, as the has designer more control than the four-color process used in digital printing. Combining letterpress, foil blocking or thermography with the perfect selection of paper means the finished product is unique, elegant and of high quality.

Technological advances have created a smooth transition for computer-to-plate, an evolutionary shift that has elevated a designer’s ability to add detail to his or her digital artworkLetterpress equipment at John Brown University. Thus, specialized paper sizes, textures, varnishes or ink choices blend with the accuracy of digital imaging. This two-dimensional approach is incorporated throughout JBU’s program with multiple Mac labs and courses that involve using new programs and software such as Avid, Maya, ZBrush, and Sketchup to create digital offset prints.

Mastering the technique of both genres—traditional print and digital imaging—is not an asset usually offered within art programs, and is exactly why JBU’s art department produces highly versatile graduates.

Foundational methods in traditional printing have melded with modern design, and the art department has adapted with the change. Employers, students and professors alike value traditional printing techniques because the art created is more than beautiful.
It is unforgettable.

 

 Jessa Parette Eldridge '11 is staff editor and writer for university communications

David O'Brien '14 is a workstudy for university communications