Curricular and studio innovations
Since coming to the University of Regina in Fall 2007, I have developed a completely new curriculum at all levels of Printmaking instruction. The reasoning for this overall re-visioning of Printmaking at the University of Regina is threefold: The development of a studio area that is forward-looking, with a trajectory that focuses on new technologies and professional/industrial avenues of technological integration; the maintenance of the “traditional” manners of printmaking, where appropriate, and; the growth of a studio discipline that favours the use of environmentally “better” choices for materials, methods, and equipment, ultimately leading to healthier (and more health and safety conscious) students.
I have divided the innovations and implementations via the main Print Media studio areas:
Intaglio (aka “etching”) The Intaglio area has undergone a complete transformation in terms of health and safety, equipment holdings, and curriculum. Photo-etching is now being offered at the introductory level and beyond. I have acquired a professional photo-exposure unit capable of producing exceptionally detailed photographic etching plates. This capacity has led to a tremendous outpouring of student work which truly integrates traditional and contemporary processes; they are using the same tools and kinds of marks that Rembrandt or Goya once did, but are now incorporating photo-digital imagery taken from camera phones, internet grabs, and digital and film cameras. In terms of additional enhancements to the the intaglio studio, the Charles Brand motorized etching press which had laid dormant for several years was refurbished and reintroduced to the curriculum at the advanced level, as well as a brand-new intaglio press was acquired in April 2011, built by a local craftsman (and former University of Regina printmaking student).
Perhaps the biggest impact on student well-being specific to the Intaglio area comes from the introduction of Ferric Chloride for etching copper plates. Primarily water in nature, Ferric Chloride is a “corrosive salt” that is much easier to use, safer to handle and to dispose, and ultimately better to have in any studio environment (student or professional). This new system for etching uses a vertically-oriented tank for "dipping plates", replacing the use of particularly nasty Nitric Acid, and its dangerous need to be poured in and out of trays and storage containers in large quantities, on a daily basis.
Lithography Lithography has also been re-invigorated at all levels. Most excitingly, photo-digital plate lithography has been developed by way of expanding Print Media’s equipment holdings to include an oversize laser plate printer capable of producing printing plates, in-house. Students who have never heard of lithography prior to the introductory class are producing three-colour (three plate) lithographs in their very first lithography assignment. This is almost unheard-of in most general introductory printmaking classes (in a non Lithography-specific course)! Students not only learn to physically print their plates in the litho studio, but they are involved in every facet of the preparation work, from an introductory experience in photo-digital imaging (Adobe Photoshop and/or Illustrator), to outputting imagery for polyester litho plates, to setting up registration and mixing ink colours. By the intermediate course, students are given the skills necessary to print very demanding “colour separations” on plates, as well as they are introduced to stone lithography (the labour-intensive, historical process of printing imagery from heavy slabs of limestone). Lithography was defunct upon my arrival at the University of Regina in Fall 2007, but it is now an extremely popular studio area within Print Media.
Silkscreen Silkscreen was introduced in the Fall 2009 semester. As silkscreen had not been taught at the University of Regina, assembling all the necessary equipment with minimal resources, and re-visioning limited physical space was a particularly challenging element of this implementation. The fact that I am teaching/doing water-based, ultra-violet cured silkscreen makes this even more extraordinary. UV Silkscreen requires equipment well beyond the “average” studio set-up. Using a combination of the President’s Fund, research start-up funding, the Fine Arts Research Fund, APEA, and Capital Requests, I have put together a studio that can boast being one of only 4 university institutions in Canada capable of this kind of printing, and the first and only in Saskatchewan. UV silkscreen printing allows the integration of high-resolution, photo-digital images, and sharp-focussed and detailed drawing and painting techniques with conventional screen mark-making. The water-based ink system and acrylic-based aqueous pigments that I have assembled for use in the studio are both of the highest aesthetic standard, as well as much safer than solvent-based inks. UV Silkscreen is the new “buzz” in U of R’s Print Media area.
Letterpress (and bindery) In 2013, I received an email from a gentleman in Saskatoon, named James Hominuke. He said that he saw an article in the local paper about Articulate Ink – the first and only artist-run Printmaking studio in Regina – where the artists mentioned that they had all trained nearby, at the University of Regina. He was surprised and excited, he said, to think that his own dusty collection of printing equipment, once the glorious foundation of Arrow Printing Inc., just might find a home. I had barely pressed reply on that email to say “Yes! We’d love your equipment!” before I was arranging to rent a U-Haul truck and enlisting the help of my friend and colleague, Sean Whalley, to take a roadtrip to Saskatoon. We spent a long, heavy, dirty day hauling almost 100 cases of lead type, along with their cabinets, leading and spacing materials, rolls of old tympan, galleys by the dozen, and a small-but-charming Model #00 Vandercook proofing press.
A year or so later, I stumbled across a 1908 “Old Style” Chandler & Price 8x12 platen press in the local online classifieds. Somehow, it was listed in the Antique Furniture section, and my heart nearly stopped when I saw it. For years, this was the press I had been hoping for, and here it was! I messaged the seller, and explained that I was looking to rescue machines like this, clean and repair them, and give them a new home, and indeed, a new life at the university. “Would you be interested in donating it?” I asked. Three more emails, back and forth, and we had a deal. So once again, with the U-Haul truck, and a couple of friends, I struck off for Nokomis, Saskatchewan. I was met there by Dave Degenstein, the owner of the Last Mountain Times newspaper, and a forklift. We spent about ½ an hour talking, and then we were back on the road with our beautiful, though dirty new press, more type, and, according to Dave, several boxes of “stuff that’s been sitting beside the press since about 1990 when we stopped using it, and threw this white sheet over it!”
That was just the start of what is now a very functional, very busy, and very popular element of the Printmaking Studio at the University of Regina. But even as recently as September (2019), I was contacted by a former student whose small town is tearing down the old printing office. “What about this, Rob? Would you like this one?”, she texts, as a stream of dingy, dusty photos ping repeatedly onto my phone. I’m happy to say that a Vandercook #05 proofing press will soon make the trip from Leader, Saskatchewan, to join the expanding list of old-but-new equipment that my students and I will put to good use.
Common to both the Intaglio and Lithography studio is the introduction of the use of generic, grocery-store vegetable oil and vinegar as a replacement for 75% of the Varsol and related petro-chemicals used in Print Media for clean-up of inks, glass working surfaces, and printing plates, presses, and rollers. It is difficult to emphasize strongly enough how important this change has been for the health of my students, that of the janitorial staff who service our area, as well as my own. By the Fall of 2010, I had introduced the use of locally produced, non-toxic, Canola-based B100 Biodiesel as a substitute for all remaining Varsol in the studio. Health and safety plays a major part in my teaching, and how the studios at the U of R work.
To see pictures of the Print studios, click here.