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Steamroller Printing Event

It has been just over a week since the steamroller printing event took place in Michigan City. I have been reminiscing about the day’s events again because the post show opening is this Friday at Walnut Ink Projects (details at bottom of post). I mentioned before that it was my first time participating in this kind of event despite hearing about them taking place just about everywhere. The scale of the pieces alone is what really got me interested. Pretty much all of my work thus far has been smaller than two square feet, however, many ideas for new work are much much bigger lately.

blocks at the ready for ink
blocks at the ready for ink

With the event four hours away from where I lived, I decided to stay all of Saturday helping set up in the morning and staying until clean up at the end. This was not a requirement of the event, but as I found out to be true later, there is no way an event like this can run without a lot of people giving their time. When I arrived at 9:00am Saturday morning at Walnut Ink Gallery, there was already a group of people in the midst of setting up. I met the ambitious people responsible for arranging this day and then set to work hanging lines that would hold the wet prints as they came off the “press”. By 10:00am tents were up, inking tables were prepped, the steamroller was in place, and food trucks started to arrive.

block getting rolled with ink
block getting rolled with ink

But there wasn’t time to admire all the progress. We had eleven 3ft by 7 ft blocks to print throughout the day and each block would be printed at least three times. Luckily we had two art students on hand who pretty much took care of inking all day long. This is a big job (excuse the pun) because these blocks required a LOT of ink and a keen eye to be sure there was enough deposited on the entire image. So once the first block was sufficiently covered with ink, the excitement of seeing the heavy machinery roll over it was almost too much to bear.

in place and ready to print
in place and ready to print

In order for the printing to succeed, two boards of equal depth and size were laid on either side of the block. Each board was big enough to accommodate the length of the steamroller so that it didn’t have to mount and dismount the set up between prints. (The following images may help understand this idea better.)  So the inked block was laid down on the pavement between the two  boards. Next, a piece of muslin cloth had to be laid on the inked surface, in alignment, without allowing any creases across the whole surface. This operation required six people to accomplish, another instance where volunteers were certainly necessary. Finally, a thick mat was rolled out on top of the muslin to keep the cloth in place as well as to distribute the pressure evenly across the block. Once complete, everyone stepped back. Time for steamrolling.

ready, set, go!
ready, set, go!

After the cheering stopped, the mat was rolled away and the cloth print was carefully lifted. There is nothing like pulling a print, especially one that requires many people to move it. This excitement got artists and spectators really into the process. People who came to just watch ended up jumping in to help put down a piece of cloth or  carry away a freshly pulled print. The enthusiasm was infectious and I could see many people going away with an excited insight into this strange event.

muslin above block
artists and volunteers holding cloth at the ready
muslin placement
laying the cloth down
smooth down muslin
keeping it smooth
hanging a print
hanging the finished piece

The block Andrea and I had collaborated on was due to print around 1:00pm. So when the time came, I was ready to see how our block would turn out. I even helped ink up our block myself! The successful inking is still something I am working on in my own studio so I was eager to get some guidance from the folks who had more printing experience under their belts.

inking our block
inking the block
our block in place
block ready to roll
muslin on our block 2
muslin on the block
steamrolling our block
padded and ready
steamrolling our block
our printed cloth
its a print!

Finally, our block was printed a total of four times. Three of the prints were on the muslin supplied by the gallery and one was on some handmade paper Andrea made specially for the project. The prints themselves came out in a variety of ways. The first was inked a little light, so the solution to that was obvious. The second print, on paper, had some spots that appeared to have printed twice. This most likely was due to the nature of the paper moving a but during the roll and it turns out it should have been dampened before printing. The last two prints on muslin were a little better but still there was some ghosting or double printing.

printing with paper
lining up the paper
printing with paper 2
laying it down
steamrolling paper print
can’t get enough steamrolling
paper print
a print on beautiful handmade paper!

It was great to see the block finally printed, however I found myself wondering why some of these things happened the way they did. Due to the nature of the event, there wasn’t time to have a conference about the issues each print had. But all of these unknowns emphasized the areas in printmaking that I need to strengthen. I have much more experience making blocks than I do printing them. It is still difficult for me to identify which parts of the printing process to alter in order to fix certain problems with each print. This of course can only be solved by doing more printing and ideally while working with people who have that knowledge. All of this makes me eager to continue learning about this medium because it has certainly become a big part of my work.

After the prints were pulled for our block, I took a break for lunch. After I came back and the rest of the day continued like the first half. People continued to come and see the steamroller seemingly squash the contents below only to have a printed piece as the result. Kids were absolutely fascinated as much as the adults they were with. And to top it all off, we were able to print all but one print before the impending rain storm visited the event. Luckily printing in oil means that the prints were safe and sound.

Opening for the show full of these prints is:
Friday, September 5, 5:00-9:00pm.
Walnut Ink Projects
607 Franklin St, Michigan City, IN