Photo from The Tiny Report
Issue Press is a small independent publishing house and print shop based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA. Founded in 2010 by George Wietor, Issue Press has produced artist publications, editions, and various other printed matter using the Risograph digital duplicator.
George has been recognized for playing a key role in organizing and sharing knowledge about the arts-based Risograph community and the machine itself. His self-initiated project Stencil.wiki is an online resource that consists of an interactive atlas of artists, designers and printers who use the Risograph; a compilation of art book fairs, zine fests, and comic book events; and resources for machine troubleshooting. Last November he presented at the first international Riso Expert Meeting at the Van Eyck Acadmie in the Netherlands on the theme of Mapping Risography: Building an International Community of Printers.
Here’s what George had to say about his work:
1. What about the process made you want to look more into what Risograph printing was all about?
I was immediately attracted to the intensity of the colors you could get with a Risograph, relative to digital printing. I also never really liked the sheen of the laser print, so the Risograph just seemed like a really great way to get brilliant yet flat colour.
I started printing as a co-founder of an all ages music venue and art gallery here in Grand Rapids called the Division Avenue Arts Collective. I was making posters and zines for events all the time, so I was looking for something a little less backbreaking than screenprinting and a little more exciting than digital.
I started out with the Print Gocco [a compact printing machine produced by the same company that produces the Risograph] so I was already familiar with Riso as a company, but supplies were quickly beginning to dwindle (the Gocco was discontinued in the early 2000s). So having the Risograph pointed out to me was quite serendipitous.
It was the right tool for me at the right time and ended up kind of taking over almost everything else I was doing creatively.
2. Could you describe what the Risograph “landscape”was like in mid-2010? For example, how long did it take you to find a machine? Was it easy to find information on how to use it or how to repair it at that time? Did you know others who were using it? Were there many artists or clients who knew about Risograph printing and wanted to print using this process?
I had been looking for a machine since late 2009, but it took a year to find one – and when it popped up on Craigslist I bought it IMMEDIATELY. I couldn’t find all that much information about it, apart from promotional specification sheets, but there is a repair forum called copytechnet that basically became my homepage. It was the first place I found any real information about how to keep the machines running.
I think that one thing that most people don’t realize about Risographs is that they are such great machines that by the time they make their way into the used market they are often VERY rundown and really need a lot of help to keep going. It was clear to me pretty early on that I was also going to have to learn how to become a repair person.
The first arts-based Risograph printer I found online was Landfill Editions/Many Mono in London. It was their work that really convinced me that I needed to find a machine of my own. I reached out to Hugh Frost there, and he was a big, big help to me in the beginning. I also learned about Knust in Nijmegen, The Netherlands, who have been doing this forever and are truly the Dutch masters of the digital duplicator.
3. You decided to initiate an “Atlas of Modern Risography“. Could you tell us more about this project and why you decided to undertake it? What kind of impact do you think it has made on the Risograph creative community?
I didn’t meet another Risograph printer in North America until the following year when I stumbled across Jesjit Gill’s table at the 2011 Chicago Zine Fest. Jesjit is from Toronto and had acquired a Risograph at around the same time and eventually started Colour Code Printing. We exchanged so many emails about Riso printing that his name eventually popped up on Google Chat – we still talk pretty much every day about printing.
A little while later, I initiated An Atlas of Modern Risography–a wiki map that lists studios and artists using the Risograph as part of their practice. I set it up primarily to act as a census. I really wanted to know who all was out there and see all of the great stuff people were making. Eventually, people started adding themselves and I learned about even more printers all around the world. It’s impossible to create a community of printers if we don’t even know that each other exists. I consider the Atlas a first stab at building that.
The Atlas has slowly morphed into a much bigger project called Stencil.wiki, which is about sharing Risograph-related knowledge more generally. It still has the map, but also profiles for each Risograph machine, some repair tutorials, and a really intense color chart. It’s still in a nascent phase, but new people are adding themselves to the map and information about machines all the time. I am really hoping that people get engaged with the wiki, adding themselves to the map and sharing their knowledge with the rest of the risograph community.
With the Atlas, wiki, mailing lists, and forums its definitely become a lot easier to share information about these weird machines. It feels so much better now than it was in 2010, where I was just a guy in the Midwestern United States with a Riso sitting at the foot of his bed.
4. What’s one memorable project you’ve worked on?
I really love all of the projects Issue Press has released, but one recent publication that sticks out is Anna Campbell’s Ever Your Friend. Anna is an artist and professor based in Michigan and Wisconsin, and spent a month at a sort of self-initiated “residency” at the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn. She was there researching other work, but in her time at the archive she found an incredible photo archive with images dating from the beginning of photography to now.
In Ever Your Friend, Anna modified select images from the archive, isolating bare arms, hands, and held objects. Her edits force you into imagining the scenarios they are cut from, using the position of the arms and props as context clues. I think this was a really effective and interesting way of considering the narrative of images, but also of working with potentially sensitive historical documents.
5. Could you describe the process of how a graphic or idea is submitted to you by an artist and how that gets translated into a Risograph print or publication?
Thus far, most of the projects that Issue Press has released have started by me asking an artist if they were interested in doing a project with me. Then it’s a process of working out the idea with the artist and how best to present it as a publication or print edition with the limitations of the Risograph.
How it all plays out depends on the artist’s way of working. Some projects come totally designed and ready to print, many do not. There is not a particular way that I work with artists, other than as closely as possible. Every project is different with its own unique circumstances.
6. As someone who has been involved in the Risograph creative community for several years and who initiated the Atlas, have you noticed any trends or developments over the years or globally?
While there has definitely been an upswing of people using the Risograph for creative purposes generally, part of what remains exciting about it as a technology is seeing how differently people approach the same challenges. I think it’s easy to forget that Risograph is just a tool, though, like any other method of printing. The trends are within the realm of design culture itself, and not the specific tool. Trends as it pertains to Risograph, the tool, are more nuts and boltsy, like availability of ink colors.
As a country, I think the United States has the most Risograph artist printers per capita, but Europe as a continent has so many more than North America. The color options there tend to be more artist-friendly as well, White as a base color ink and fluorescent ink is more readily available in Europe and Asia, for example. We can get some of these colors in North America, but it’s pretty costly to do a custom order. In Europe, they just seem to be available. I think this is in large part due to the efforts of pioneering artist printers, like Knust, who have been working with the Riso company in Europe for decades.
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? Do you have any worries about the Risograph being faddish or fetishized?
I think the Risograph is attractive to designers both because of its technical attributes (flat color, monochrome, etc.) and its relatively cheap price. It really can be the perfect way to run off a couple hundred publications that would have been too expensive to do as offset or even digital.
That said, not every project is really right for the Risograph. I don’t think about Risograph becoming a fad too much, but I do worry that people will think of it as a like a Photoshop filter or something – one weird trick that automatically makes your publication a little more cool.
Things printed on the Risograph require a certain amount of consideration to the process itself and just trying to shoehorn something in can really produce some terrible results. So while definitely not perfect for every project, I think the Risograph is the most effective way to do a certain type of thing and will always have a place in the designer print world. Or at least it will always have a place in my personal practice.
One area where this new found popularity in the art world can be very useful, I think, is by demonstrating to the Riso company that there is a market in North America for more exotic inks – like there is in Europe and Asia. The recent introduction of metallic gold is a great sign, I think, but there is significant demand for so much more!
In general, the more people using Risographs as part of their practice the better. One of my greatest fears is that the Risograph will go the way of the Print Gocco [and become obsolete]. While the Risograph is closer to the heart of Riso as a corporation, [what happened to the] Gocco shows that Riso is willing to kill off a beloved product that is no longer meeting market expectations.
As the company is moving towards ink jet technology with their ComColor series, having a robust community of people using duplicators and buying ink is important.
8. Where do you see Risograph printing headed in the next 30 years?
I think [using] the Risograph is already a recognized method of printing in the art/design world. Art book stores like Printed Matter [in New York City] and Art Metropole [in Toronto] even have tags to browse by the process, as does the online sample room for my local paper mill, French Paper [in Michigan].
It will always be a niche thing, but so are artist publications and independent comics. It’s definitely out of the church office and more and more in the common vernacular of the art world.