Apart from a (largely embraced) shift from wood to linoleum during the early half of the twentieth century, the invention of water-soluble inks, as well as the disposal of labor division, the medium of relief printmaking has remained relatively unchanged throughout its twelve hundred year history. This is doubtlessly one of the reasons it seems to compel such a diverse range of artists. Another reason could be the rampant restrictions it imposes upon the carver’s artistic vision: fine artists are restricted by the imprecision of the blade, which make lines imperfect and color inconsistent; while propagandists are restricted by the degradation of the linoleum (being that linoleum presents a bit of a paradox – the softness of the material makes small details possible to carve, but that same softness means that prints slowly wear down and lose their detail). And although these hindrances can breed creativity,  three-D printers present doors begging to opened.

So, Is it possible to blend the oldest form of printmaking with the newest?

I spend my free time running stamps through a printing press. I spend my class time creating digital models to print on a MakerBot. That fantastic juxtaposition glared at me until I noticed it halfway through the first week of class. Suddenly, I had an intention. I would use the fermented cornstarch or some other filament to print computer-calculated stamps that could potentially print with an unprecedented consistency. It was circular, poetic, and it barely followed the rules – all synonymous with impeccability, in my book. The idea of making something two-D out of something three-D, and using  cutting edge technology within a medium that’s been largely stagnant for a millennium, was too enticing to leave anywhere but the forefront of my mind.

This is a recent two-layer stamp I made using traditional methods. Despite laborious calculation, it still does’t line up perfectly, and only about 1 in 5 prints align this well (this depletes expensive ink and paper, and wears down the stamp). Three-D printers could provide a solution to this problem.

My enthusiasm was met by a fellow student and lino-cut artist who shed light on the processes’ potential for evolving the foreboding multi-layer stamp. Before, the project seemed like a cute little interpretation of technology from the viewfinder of a self-assured technophobe, but the idea of working with layers could mean a tangible advancement in not only the medium, but in my personal germination as an aspiring printmaker. For the past couple of months, multi-color prints have been both the prerequisite for, and the bane of, my aspirations. I’ve been largely unsuccessful in my attempts to augment other mediums in order to add much-needed color; my venture into abstraction using only (and far too much) lino was laughable and left me feeling wasteful. In fact, most of it was distressingly un-printable. But Involving computers in the printmaking process could mean the margin for imperfect calculation droping to zero: colors could meet one-another with precision, and their interaction would not detract from the continuity of the print (a phenomenon which so often cripples my efforts). In light of all this, I must say that I haven’t a damn clue how this is all going to turn out, or even if it will turn out at all, but my thoughts are consolidated by an individual I discovered on the internet who has gallantly tread these waters.

The appropriately named Jason Webb, in March 2013, using only a basic knowledge of printmaking, developed an open source “printing plate generator,” and briefly experimented with stenciling, embossing, as well as relief printing. This is a step forward, but it seems to have ended there. I searched the internet to the best of my abilities, and could not find a single print made with his generator (outside of his initial work-prints), and there is certainly nothing that ventures into multi-layer printing. So although two-D printing with three-D printers is a door that has been previously opened, it has remained at a very rudimentary stage in its development for the past year and a half. I would be lying if I said this did not comfort me I way, knowing that whatever I create will be the first of its genus and caliber.

Walking into a situation where your creativity is pressured to bud can be a little counter-intuitive, and frankly, no one knows this better than myself. So, the excitement in finding a place for my passions within such parameters is duly multiplied. Yet I have no idea what to expect. And thus, I walk into this project both skeptical and optimistic, invigorated and terrified – a blind man with a flimsy walking stick.

Works Cited:

Thompson, Wendy. “The Printed Image in the West: Woodcut.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/wdct/hd_wdct.htm (October 2003)

Lecomte, Domonique. “Relief Printmaking Techniques.” http://lecomtedominique.com/techan.html (2014)

Webb, Jason. “Parametric printing plate generator for OpenSCAD.”  http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:32772 (March 2013)