Tuesday, June 22, 2010
In the Studio with Maneating Flower: Fighting the Good Fight
When it comes to making letterpress flasks, I view the entire working process as a battle of wills between myself and my materials. It’s a struggle, I assure you. Never having come across another letterpress printer who primarily uses leather, nor one that makes flasks, there wasn’t exactly a how-to guide for getting it done. The result? All out war between what I want to accomplish and the materials that don’t want to do what I say.
Getting the printing process to work at all was my toughest battle. See, leather doesn’t like being printed on. Most normal printing inks don’t dry on leather, except for water-based ink which dries nicely but runs when you get it wet. This isn’t exactly a desirable quality when you’re making a product meant to hold liquor. After a full year of experimenting with different inks, and at the suggestion of some sweet (albeit confused) commercial printers, I found the perfect ink. Me 1, Materials 0.
I have similar stories with my adhesives, my threads, my tape, even the size of my leather panels, and through these I have emerged victorious. However, there are some times when my materials completely kick my butt.
Winter apparently isn’t a good time to print if your studio is set up in an unheated garage. This isn’t because you’re more or less freezing, it’s because different viscosity inks don’t mix when they aren’t warm. They look like they mix, they feel like they mix, then you roll a slab and your beautiful teal ink is has giant transparent splotches in it. These splotches transfer to your brayer too. I pretty much freaked out at this one and thought I was going to be out of commission for a while. Warming up the ink fixes the problem, but the stress and worry this caused me was definitely a score for the inks.
Another huge problem I had was with registration of multiple plates. While I may have won the war with this one, I sorely lost the first few battles. In general, leather is hard to work with, especially when it comes from old clothing. It’s worn in spots, fuzzy in others, and really loves sticking to ink but not always to the backing paper used to keep it stable. The first time I tried registering two plates it went so horribly wrong. Nothing was working out. The results weren’t predictable, so anything I did to compensate for the misregistration didn’t help. Apparently the stretchiness of the leather was partially to blame, and each piece of leather stretches differently from every other piece. Talk about major frustration. The second attempt wasn’t as bad, but I had problems with the leather shifting on press. Recently I fixed both of these problems with a better jig and enough spray adhesive to choke a small planet. Yes, these are fairly obvious solutions. No, I do not ever do things the easy way first.
Overall, I feel like I win the vast majority conflicts with my materials. I’m sure the score is really about even by now, but my failures force me to keep trying and eventually I wind up with a better product. And while I may spend most of my days cursing and covered in glue, ink, solvents, and tape, I seriously love every second of it. And that’s a victory right there.
Written by Ned of Maneating Flower