Clay Hickson is a freelance illustrator living in Chicago, USA. He is also the owner/operator of Tan & Loose Press, a publishing platform centered around the Risograph which specializes in printing limited edition prints and art books. Using both analog (pencil) and digital tools, he is recognized for his vibrant, colourful works which reference pop culture, the 1980s, geometry and still life. His past clients include Bloomberg View, The Fader Magazine and Editorial Magazine. Clay’s latest project is the recent release of Tan Lines 3, which builds on previous publications featuring the work of leading graphic artists and designers from around the world in Risograph form.
Here’s what he had to say about his work.
1. How did you initially find out about Risograph printing? Did you know of anyone else at the time who was using the Risograph in their practice or in a studio setting?
I think I started noticing Riso printing around 2010. I didn’t know anybody that had one but I would see images of Riso printed zines online. The first Riso studio that I remember being really impressed by was Landfill Editions in the UK. They published a comic by Jim Stoten called “Feeding the Murray” that blew my mind. That’s when I really started looking into Risograph printing.
2. What attracted you to start using the Risograph in your graphic art and design practice? And why do you still continue to use it as a primary tool instead of other print forms? At one point you were translating your illustrations through silksceening.
I went to school for printmaking, so for years I had been approaching image-making from a printer’s viewpoint. But after graduating I had a few frustrating years trying find a printshop that I was comfortable in. I was maybe a little too uptight to share a shop with a bunch of people, but didn’t have the funds to build up my own space.
So when I discovered the Risograph, it seemed like the answer to all my problems. It allowed me to make prints without a lot equipment or space. At this point, I still prefer the Riso process because of the quality of the prints it produces. They have the same beauty of a screen print but feel about as precious as a photocopy. I like that balance.
3. How would you describe the style of your work? As you’ve become more familiar with the Risograph, how have you seen your style, aesthetic or process change from your first few projects, if at all?
I always describe my aesthetic as 1980′s post-modern design combined with a little Northern-California-New-Age-Hippy aesthetic and a splash of West Coast Airbrush. And I guess it’s all of that through the filter of Photoshop. But my influences are always changing and bouncing back and forth.
The Riso has had a pretty major impact on my process. There are a LOT of limitations that come with Riso printing and I enjoy the challenge of working within those boundaries.
4. Could you describe the process of how a graphic or idea in your head gets translated into a Risograph print? What comes first, the Risograph machine or the design? In other words, to what extent does the Risograph machine influence how you design, and vice versa? Has your design and print process changed over the years?
At this point, I generally design with the Riso in mind. Aside from things like print size and color palette, the inherent limitations of the process dictate a lot of the design decisions I make. A major part of the image-making process is figuring out how to get what I want without sacrificing too much to the printing process. It’s a balance between figuring out what boundaries to work within and which ones can be pushed.
5. When was Tan & Loose Press founded? How difficult/easy was it for you to set the Press up at that time? How might this be different from starting a Risograph studio today?
I found my Risograph on craigslist in 2012 with no real goal in mind. I didn’t buy it with the intention of starting a press, I just liked the look of the prints and found a good deal on a machine. I had never even used one before! Initially I was just trying to print my own work and trying to figure out all the quirks with the machine. There were so many issues with the process that I couldn’t believe people were using Risos for fine art printing. There’s smudges and roller marks and mis-registration, etc… But over time, you figure out little tricks that help with all that, and you also learn to sacrifice control over some things and give in to the machine.
I spent a lot of time searching the web and combing through the Riso Tech Manual trying to figure out all the problems I was having. After countless hours online, I discovered a very tight knit and rapidly growing network of Riso printers. There are a couple online forums that you can go to whenever you have a technical issue or some new print tips. Everyone’s really supportive and trying to help each other out.
Once, I felt like I was getting more control in the printing process, I started contacting other artists that I like and inviting them to make editions. And that’s basically been my business model ever since. The whole thing just sort of evolved naturally.
6. What types of printed materials or publications were you printing when Tan & Loose was first founded? What types of projects are you printing now?
When I first got my Risograph, there were only a handful of people in Chicago using them. So I got a lot of emails from people wanting to print their comics or zines. I used to print almost anything that came my way. But after a while, I started getting tired of giving people this huge list of disclaimers about the process. Explaining the many quirks of the process to someone with no experience can be really exhausting and often people are expecting something like a digital print and are disappointed by the quality of the Riso print. So I gave up on doing outside print jobs and now I almost exclusively print with the artists that I invite to make editions.
7. Where do you see Tan & Loose in one year? Five years? How do you see your own Risograph work developing?
I try not to think too far into the future. At this point, Tan & Loose feels like a fun hobby for me. As time goes on, I’m dedicating more and more energy to it but, as long as I’m excited about the work, I’ll keep doing it.
8. In general, how have you seen the use of the Risograph impact the graphic arts world? Why do you think some artists, illustrators or designers are attracted to the Risograph instead of other print forms? Do you have any worries about the Risograph being faddish or fetishized?
The Riso scene is getting really saturated. I think more and more studios are investing in them because it is such a cheap way to produce quality printed matter in huge quantities. And it’s definitely an ideal tool for any smalltime publisher. At one point it seemed like only a lucky few had access to one and every other low-budget zine maker was forced to use crappy photocopiers at Kinko’s (not to say that those zines are in any way inferior), so the Riso did feel a little fetishized. As they grow in popularity and more people have access to one, they’re starting to feel like the new standard. When you go to zine fairs now, it’s rare to see a table that doesn’t have something Riso printed. I don’t think they’re going out of fashion anytime soon.
9. Where do you see Risograph printing headed, let’s say, in 20 years?
It seems to me that we’re in a real Riso Renaissance right now (amazing considering the first models came out in the mid-eighties!). This is purely speculation but, it does seem like the Riso Corporation is paying attention to the recent surge in interest. They’re still innovating and perfecting the machines. They actually just released a new model that can print A2 size paper! Up until now, the largest you could print was A3 so it’s applications were a little bit limited. That’s gonna open up a lot of doors.
I don’t think we are gonna start to see Risos in every office or copy shop. That may have been their original intended environment, but digital printing is too flexible and user friendly to be replaced in that way. The Riso’s place in the print and design world seems to get more secure every day. Though it still feels pretty early on–and I’m completely biased,–I would already consider it a mainstream print method.
10. Bonus question: Top 3 artists/illustrators/designers you’re into right now who use the Risograph in their work.
That’s tough… So many people are doing amazing Riso work right now. A few that really stand out to me are: