MAKING MUSIC WITH PRINT
Nick Loaring explains how he fused the sound of 74 bands into one festival poster
How Nick Loaring fused 74 bands into just one festival poster
Nick Loaring Having worked with them numerous times over the last five years, I was more than happy to help Leeds-based design agency Split Design with their These Northern Types exhibition. Explicitly looking at what it is to be ‘Northern’, my brief was to produce a fictitious gig poster that was ‘a big fat love letter to the North’ – showcasing a wide variety of bands that are from… well you know where.
After the initial buzz of a new job subsides, panic usually sets in. Needing to produce something is always a good motivator to start pulling stuff together, and there’s nothing quite like a deadline to whip you into shape. On this project I was asked to respond to an article by [The Guardian’s music blogger] Benjamin Myers and a list of 74 bands, with a poster intended to represent the North’s contribution to British music. All 74 of these bands needed to be on the poster, and the rest was up to me. Some initial scribbles were made in my notebook, eventually worked up in Illustrator on my ancient computer to see if anything started to stick. I can mock up a poster much quicker this way and it helps me exhaust a range of possibilities that working entirely by hand doesn’t often afford me.
SIZING AND COLOUR
Designing through a printing process might sound like a weird way to make a print, but that’s what I do – the machines that I use all influence (and sometimes dictate) what I can and can’t do. Likewise, the type that I use is entirely based around what I have, which might seem like an odd concept in 2018, but that’s the way it is for me. Split Design’s creative director Oli Bentley had agreed on the size of the print before I began, as he liked the uniqueness of the long narrow format I’d used for the posters designed for my gig collective Golden Cabinet (365mm x 700mm). This size was achieved by ‘tricking’ my 1972 Korrex proofing press into printing a bigger sheet than it should.
Colour choices are worked out early on as most of my prints are anywhere between two and five colours, and limitations again play a part as letterpress printing presses are all single colour machines – the more ink colours I use the more it has to go through the press. I opted for five colours: two oranges, two pinks, a dark navy and black. This will end up being a total of eight runs once the print is finished. The ink I use is oil-based and transparent – meaning that if you overprint blue with yellow, the areas that overlap will go green. This effect is always a part of my posters and can be either accentuated or reduced by adding transparent or opaque white ink. I wanted many ‘noises’ on this poster that overlapped, wiggled and wobbled all over to build up layers like the best types of music.
CUTTING BY HAND
I’ve now played around with various elements in Illustrator, happy with how everything looks. The design is intended to look floaty – like sounds that float through the air at festivals – overlapping onto each other and making new sounds. My previous posters generally use either laser-cut MDF or acrylic to print from, which is very exacting and clean. But here I
felt that hand-cut lino was more suitable. I print out the final design on a laser writer as tiles and stick them back together with masking tape. Colour separations are also printed out at this point. Tracing paper is then put over the printouts, and traced using a pencil, this sheet is then flipped and placed onto a sheet of lino and traced onto it so that the design is back to front. I cut the lines with a lino cutting tool and then use a Stanley knife to cut the shapes out. Each time I trace and cut these shapes they change.
The cut pieces of lino are stuck onto a piece of MDF board with double sided tape and raised to type high (the height of movable type), which is the standard that British printing presses are set at. I then use MDF board as the forme (to lock loose type letters together), transferring it into the bed of the press and locking it in place so not to move during the print run. The first run is the light orange, so I mix some ink according to my Pantone swatch book and then ink up the press. I open the cylinder head’s grippers and feed in a sheet by hand, keeping it aligned using the lays. I then turn the handle so the cylinder travels across the forme, inking and printing the sheet in one go. Once the sheet is released at the end of the press I take this out, returning the cylinder to the feed position. Oranges are printed first, then the pinks, blues and blacks.
LAYERING AND TYPESETTING
With two colours down, the print always looks a bit thin. However, after layering up contrasting colours it all starts to come alive and the difference between what’s on screen and an actual print begins to shine. Everything is much bigger, brighter and sharper. The overlaying of the inks starts to work its magic and more layers become visible which adds to the overall ‘music feel’. Once these two colours are down I switch over to a bigger press (a Vandercook SP20) to print a large pink section as the Korrex is too small. As the Vandercook is missing its inking rollers I ink 40 prints by hand.
Assembling the brass matrices (each engraved with a unique letter) on my hot metal Ludlow typecasting machine, the band names are set into words as they’re inserted. Molten lead is then fired into them to instantly solidify, casting the words set on a 12pt slug. This process is continued until all 74 names are produced. I chose Square Gothic type for
“…more layers become visible which adds to the overall ‘music feel’.”
its boldness and crispness. Once the type is proofed, it’s locked up and printed before melting the type back down again so it can be used for future projects.
You may remember earlier I mentioned that each time I trace and cut anything it changes, and that’s what I wanted to do for the text at the top of the poster. Small text, however, doesn’t trace very well. So into my laser-cutter went two pieces of lino that let me cut a faint outline of Beautiful Wild Noises from The North using an unidentified 12 pica Grotesque in my collection
– these had been scanned in and distorted in Illustrator. I then take my lino cutting tool and cut out the type, stick it on an MDF board and proof it. Any adjustments needed are made and then the last black section is printed. Black turned out to be more challenging than I expected, so I opted to put the previous colour (blue) on last. Prints sometimes change on press and this was a good example – I added in another ‘blob’ as I felt it needed it.
Once the print is dry, I trim the ends of the sheet, and sign and number them. Finally, it’s ready to display at These Northern Types.
xx 0101 “The first thing I do is sketch out ideas and words that immediately spring to mind.”02 Mixing ink – orange is mixed with either transparent or opaque white to emphasise or reduce layering.03 “I trace the shapes onto a large sheet of lino, ready for cutting later on.”
0904 Things are starting to liven up on press after four passes – two shades of both orange and pink.05 05 “Rolling up the ink with a brayer, which I then use to distribute ink onto the press while it’s running.”06 This is the freshly cast (inked) type off the typecaster, which is locked into the press.07 After the type has been printed and checked, it’s left on the drying rack to air.08 The outline of the piece is far too fine to cut by hand. So instead, it’s laser-cut.09 09 09 09 “Proofing the type – – – – here I can cut away the parts I’m unhappy with.” 10 The final print run on the press. 11 The finished framed poster.