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Paper and Ink Workshop page 168 The Future of Small-Press Printing page 169
Huge events like the Sasquatch! music festival would
curate their own version of these series, assigning
a different designer to each band on the bill, from top
to bottom. Taking a cue from this scene, movie houses
would commission many of the same designers to take
a whack at creating a new poster for iconic films they
were showing. The most well known of these is the
Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, which elicited amazing
pieces from the likes of Kleinsmith for The Shining,
The Godfather, Cool Hand Luke, The Trial, The Unholy
Three, and others. Jay Ryan would tackle Sixteen
Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink, to bring
the Chicago/John Hughes connection full circle. The results
were rivaling anything else in the field. The theater then
created its own little industry with art print series around
Star Wars, Star Trek, The Warriors, and others.
Business seemed to be chugging right along on so many
fronts that it was hard to see past the next stack of paper
and tin of ink awaiting your arrival at the studio. But the
U.S. recession hit few things harder than small businesses.
A glut of new people entering the fray, many of them
not holding to the same ethics as the previous generation
of gig-poster designers, combined with a reduction in
available spending for the common music fan, served
to narrow the slice of pie and then used it to fill twice as
many plates. Small-press printing was as viable as ever,
but dealing exclusively in gig posters was looking like
a dangerous bet to place. Other avenues like Etsy and
craft fairs seemed to be calling to fill some of the void,
but a change in places to sell the wares clearly wasn’t
the only answer.
Then creatives did what creatives do best—they solved
a problem in ways unique to them and their situation.
Staying true to their style and mode of working, they
saw other opportunities to spread their inky joy around
the world. Print Mafia created a barrage of art prints
around pop culture icons, all of them amazing as much
for the way they assemble them and lay ink on paper as
for the images on them. Aesthetic Apparatus took their
dark energy and funneled it into a sly series of art prints
around a graphic “doom drip.” They then harnessed their
midwestern humor and created several fun art prints
and products, highlighted by their satirical “Sorry We’re”
series of signs. Admitting that they might well be “com-
mercially useless” to a business, they stress the appeal
of such an Open/Closed sign for those “not really
into categorizing your availability.” Pure genius, and
a product that they can sell endlessly.
Many others ventured into the art-print territory with
vigor, such as Jay Ryan with his charming series of prints
detailing the many adventures his old stand-alone garage
in the backyard had undertaken. In many ways, breaking
down the barriers needed with a client allows the audience
to embrace the designer for every aspect of their personality:
their style of illustration, the way they print, and often their
sense of humor. It leads us down the path toward the
future, where the consumer can connect in a very genuine
way with the creator, something that art and design created
by hand can do like no other.
From the earliest civilizations, we have always needed
to print materials and communications as a way to capture
our thoughts and feelings, and this remains the foundation
for everything that has ever found its way to a press.
Small-press printing has occasionally stepped out of
the fast lane of modernization and reappeared when
we needed it most. In a lot of ways, it feels like we are
smack-dab in the middle of one of those periods now.
Print media in general has come under an unending
assault from various forms of digital communication,
and the victims lie helpless at the roadside. Surely half
the world has given up on the idea of ordering more
stationery anytime soon.
But that is where small-press printing comes to the
rescue. At the very beginning of the mastery of printing,
the first goal was always quantity, with an emphasis on
quality after the fact. The race was on to make as many
editions of something, at the lowest cost and the quickest
turnaround possible. Right from the start, small presses,
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