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Andy MacDougall

Live Screen Printing Is the Best Kind of Screen Printing

In our ubiquitous digital reality, AndyMac explains how to go “anti-metaverse.”

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IF I HAD to choose, my favorite type of screen printing is… live printing. To be precise, we’re talking about taking a temporary screen printing set-up into a totally random place, like a bar, a club, a convention center, a festival, a lecture hall, or a classroom, and then starting a print run on a poster or shirt, with limited supplies and cleanup facilities, while people pass by, sometimes with drinks, asking questions, making comments, and occasionally buying merch, depending on the gig.

My experiences? Hilarity, good times, and great memories usually ensue. Bonus: Sometimes you get paid. Nothing wrong with any of those things. Plus, you get to meet old friends or people from your internet life who finally manifest themselves in human form: You know, “Live.” The anti-metaverse. We always need more of that as we are crushed under the weight of our collective digital reality.

When the printing is going well, passersby are momentarily enthralled and engaged, the crew is hopping and bopping, and, at many events, people congregate to the booth, ask questions, and watch the magic happen. And I am always, always, amazed at the length of line people will form to get a free bag with a logo. Conversations are what I like most, and meeting people. Seems like everyone has a screen printing story.

The live mixing of art and the alchemy of screen printing does that. It’s a bit like a close-up magic trick, making the image appear with a wave of the hand, holding magic wand – in this case, a squeegee. It draws people in.

And depending on what you’re printing – a cool poster, a souvenir shirt, a bag, or an arm – it’s an ad, too. So live printing hits the Screen Printing AAA trifecta. I’ve worked for Toyota and HGTV, or to be more precise, their advertising agencies. Client activation they call it. Whatever. I call it fun, and it got us into great parties and events.

We’re going to drag up some “real live” printing tales from the crypt in this episode of “Art, Ad, or Alchemy?”

live-printing-at-impressions-2020

Printing posters at Impressions Long Beach 2020. Sacrilege or just a lot of fun? When you turn any screen printer over, they all have a flexible blade embedded in their back.

live-printing-in-mexico-city

Printing live in a museum in Mexico City was a lot of fun. This young poster fan asked me for an autograph. Maybe watching the demo inspired her to get into graphics and screen printing.

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When you set yourself up to print live it reminds me a bit of climbing on stage, strapping on a guitar or picking up microphone, and launching into a song in front of an audience. One, Two, Three, GO. No do-overs (unless you print on the table in front of Mark Coudray… doh). It ain’t karaoke and you better not forget the words. Or your squeegee. Or ink. Or 20 other things you might need that you can’t get at 9 p.m. 20 miles away from your shop.

Stressful? A bit, but it’s also a good challenge and always holds out the promise of a connection made, a potential new job or two, or the inspiration for some kid to go home and become a screen printer or an artist, or both.

One of the first times I tried live printing was at Flatstock #8 in 2006. (#77 is scheduled for this March!) It took place at – where else if we want to drag the music analogy through the Texas mud – Austin’s SXSW, the largest live music party in the world.

Watch a mini-movie doc from SXSW in Austin. You might recognize a few familiar faces. The segment with yours truly starts at 10:52.

The American Poster Institute started the Flatstock gig poster shows in 2002 to showcase the art and artists working in the world of music posters and spread interest in the process by which most of them are made. The show inside the convention center in 2006 was the largest to date, with well over 100 artists from around the world exhibiting. Our onsite printing was in a nice, big area. That year we produced a three-color T-shirt, a four-color gig poster, and a temporary tattoo. Bobby Dixon, the art director at Austin’s Industry Print Shop, provided the shirt art and I printed it on a borrowed 4/1 of indeterminate origin, on loan from Coronado Studio complete with hammer registration tool and homebuilt flash cure. The poster, by Michael Michael Motorcycle, was an art print of a larger poster he had done for SXSW. That one we dried on the floor. The tattoo was probably the most fun.

Johnny Thief, who runs Seppuku Tattoo in New Jersey, made a classic hula dancer with a squeegee I burned on a little CD screen. Equipped with a baby squeegee and some WB ink, one afternoon I walked around the show and printed arms, legs, and some other body parts. I tell that story in the podcast…

Speaking of printing on the body, I know some printers in Greece, Christopher and Manolis Angelakis. They’re a father and son team who run Tind, a long-running Athens screen printing shop that does graphic and textile printing, as well as experimental graphics with exotic inks, art prints, and displays for a range of clients in Europe. But it’s their unique live screen printing adventures we explore in this episode. Formulating special skin-friendly inks, and printing, yes printing, food at an annual charity event. Check out the links below for more photos and listen to the podcast to learn how the Greeks bring squeegees – and chocolate covered crepes – to the people.

If live printing interests you, I’m trying to come out of COVID hibernation and may be (depending on travel restrictions) printing posters at Impressions Long Beach later this month (January 21 to 23) and Flatstock #77 in Austin March 17 to 19. Drop by and say hi. Even better, try it yourself this year! Find a local art, craft, or music event in your area and see if live screen printing is a fit.

More Images

Silkscreen printing with cocoa spread on crepes
Live silkscreen on humans
Silkscreen printing with honey

PHOTO GALLERY (9 IMAGES)

Andy MacDougall is a screen printing trainer and consultant based on Vancouver Island in Canada, and a member of the Academy of Screen & Digital Printing Technology. If you have production problems you’d like to see him address in “Shop Talk,” email your comments and questions to [email protected]

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