Launched in 2014, Knuckles & Notch is a new Risograph print and publishing studio based in Singapore founded by by Dhojhan (Djo) Hanapi, Marilyn Yun Jin and Muhammad Izdi, and now run by Joe, Marilyn and other collaborators. It was a serendipitous walk through the New York Art Book Fair and visits to Risograph studios in London that inspired them to start their own studio, centred on a relatively unknown printing machine in Singapore.
As part of their mission, Knuckles and Notch aims to elevate the profile of Risograph printing as a fine art practice in Singapore and beyond. They also provide a platform for local talent to produce and showcase their work to the public in a published form. A year into their company, they are well on their way: they’ve printed the work of dozens of artists (with themes ranging from political icons to sexuality to pop culture); organized Risograph-based exhibits; and provided hands-on Risograph workshops to design students.
Here’s what they had to say about their work.
In 2011, we headed to New York in search of finding something that the art scene in Singapore is lacking, mainly looking for a new form of printing technique other than the ones we already know of like letterpress and silkscreen. When we were there, we heard of [the New York Art Book Fair] that was going to be held and when we got to the fair, we stumbled upon a couple of zines and art prints that looked like silkscreen but something seem different about it. There were booths after booths presenting the same kind of technique and when asked, we were informed it was actually [using the] Risograph.
Keeping that in mind, we actually went on to do more research on it when we got back to Singapore. Our main source of research was the Internet and we found out that [studios and publishers in] London use the technique more often than most.
In 2013, we finally decided to go with it, as there was no Risograph press in Singapore. Because there was nobody that we knew of at that point in time who knew about the Risograph, we headed to a Risograph press in London and did a test print there. We even went around to museums and saw that other than schools and shops, galleries were also using the same technique for their printings.
In London, some graphic design studios own their own Risograph machines and offer printing services to clients. There were even machines up for self-service whereby the patrons are given a simple introduction to how they are to use the machine and are given the freedom to use it at any time for a particular fee per hour.
After getting some test print samples from London, we headed back to Singapore and arranged a meeting with a Risograph distributor we found. The distributor was initially puzzled and curious about our interest in Risograph heading towards graphic design and illustration. Throughout the 25 years in the business, apparently nobody has ever ordered the colours that we requested from the distributor.
After we got our machine, the company just progressed from there, starting with small shows at a studio consisting of about 10 of our artist friends and promoting it online.
With a good response from the public, we managed to get attention from Singapore Polytechnic Design School, where we had an introductory class for the students and had them to eventually come to our studio to print their artworks.
Following that, we did a show called ‘Yum And Dangerous Zine Show’ that presents not just Risograph printing in posters but also in zines and books.
2. Why set up a Risograph press focused on creative projects, now?
As Singapore’s industries are all fast-paced, it is important to continually catch up with them. Thus, Risograph was an ideal choice for something that is just as fast but not digitally tainted. Personally, we feel that digital printing kills the whole attachment to the work after it is being printed. Risograph, however, maintains that texture and rawness similar to hand produced works. Even when we were back in school, we leaned more towards silkscreen than digital printing.
As the industry is growing, more talent is emerging in art schools [in Singapore] and even the public is appreciating art more now. And for us to grow in Singapore, we need all the resources and options that we can get our hands on.
As mentioned before, Singapore does not have a lot of such resources, mainly Risograph, thus we decided it was a good idea to have a press here where we can educate and be of service to those who decide to engage in this unique printing technique.
3. As one of a few Risograph presses that focus on creative projects in Sinagpore, or Asia for that matter, how difficult/easy has it been for you to set up Knuckles & Notch, particularly in Singapore?
When we were looking for a Risograph machine, nobody knew about it and especially not about how to actually get it. We did our own research online throughout 2011–12 and found a distributor through a website but it was not as easy as how we are explaining it to be.
The research on Risograph did not just stop at the technicality of the machines, but also thinking through the process of how the work will be printed on the Riso. Every artist has to keep this in mind. The control over their artwork is so much more than just creating something and printing but the thinking process of how the colours and finer details are going to affect the end product.
Now, more and more people are becoming aware of this medium and the main objective is to reach out to more students to print Riso for the good quality and small budget needed.
4. What kinds of projects and clients does Knuckles & Notch choose to work on? Are they mainly Singapore-based clients, or are there clients outside Singapore as well?
We work on a wide range of projects varying from publications, books, zines, posters and any project that wants to explore the idea of Riso for that matter. We have artists who contact us to see if its possible for their artwork to be printed in Riso and we always try our best to make it happen for them.
We have clients from Australia and even a couple from Germany who came down to the studio for a visit and talked about future collaborations. Even when we were in Tokyo for the annual Art Book Fair, there were international artists who were interested in working together in the future.
5. What’s the biggest every day challenge you face as a Risograph printer and publisher? On the flip side, what’s a memorable moment you’ve experienced at Knuckles & Notch?
The machine itself is definitely a main difficulty faced. We only find out new things when [printing] mistakes have already been made. We make new discoveries that push the boundaries of this printing technique even more; making mistakes is not always be frowned upon. The person who prints it also controls the quality of the art piece. It is our aim to get as close to what they created digitally such as, for example, giving it a right tone and colour.
Memorable moments at Knuckles & Notch would be the meeting deadlines, getting feedback, and especially seeing the expression on the faces of those who used Riso printing for the first time. But meeting new people from different walks of life would be at the top of the list. We are constantly in search of opportunities to meet other creatives from other parts of the world and get inspired by the style and culture that they bring. International art fairs that we attend exposes us to different kinds of artists who share similar experiences, which leaves us feeling a part of the Riso community.
6. Where do you see Knuckles & Notch in one year? Five years?
Collaborations with artists have always been encouraged. As Singapore is growing into more of an arts hub, there is a pool of local talent that are producing works but not publishing them. We want to provide a platform for them where they are able to showcase their art pieces through fairs and social media.
In five years time, we hope to be working with the Riso Kagaku company (the company that manufactures the Risograph) to explore the range of colours that they have. We also hope to be experimenting more and pushing the possibilities [of the Risograph].
7. 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?
With the high quality and different set of colours that Risograph carries, this printing technique has definitely impacted the graphic arts world in the most positive way. Personally, we feel that everything just looks good printed with the Riso and looks way better than digital printing. It gives a different effect that no digital printing can offer.
Pushing the boundaries of the machine and discovering what else it can offer is definitely a challenge that engages most artists. Nobody knew the machine was able to print the artworks we see today.
In the future, we hope to see bigger Riso machines that are able to print larger sizes of artworks; possibility towards an A0 (33.1 x 46.8 inches) size.
8. Bonus question: Top 3 publishers/designers/printers/artists you admire or are inspired by?
We truly admire: