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 Print Media instruction. The reasoning for this overall re-visioning of Print Media (formerly “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 four 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.
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.
Digital The Digital aspect of the Print Media studios is humble, but entirely new to the area as well. Through cooperation and partnership with the Intermedia area within the Department of Visual Arts, Print students have access to the "Pr/Intermedia Lab" with excellent iMac computers, scanners, and appropriate imaging software. In addition, I am able to offer students the possibility of working on a medium-format professional inkjet printer as a means to creating printing “transparencies”, image transfers, and increasingly, unique photo/digital works in themselves. The Digital area is particularly popular due to how I integrate the use of this media into the more conventional aspects of the Print studio.
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.
To see pictures of the Print studios, click here.