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Risograph Geeks Dizzy Ink Say Print Ain't Dead

1 April 16 words: Bridie Squires
"I'm really interested in pushing print methods forward, doing things that have never been done before. Only a few studios in the UK offered [Risograph], and it seemed kind of elitist, which annoyed me because it's so incredible"
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Dizzy Ink: Benjamin Kay and Craig Proud. image: Raphael Achache and Joe Dixey

When I took a publishing internship with Mouthy Poets, I had no idea what to do when it came to creating zines for our poetry show. After some nail biting, someone whispered in my ear about a magical ‘Made in a Day Zine Workshop’ in Cobden Chambers. Awesome. When I got to the top of the winding stairs in Cobden Place, I wasn’t sure whether I was out of breath because I’m unfit, or because I’d fallen in love with the Dizzy Ink studio.

Views over Nottingham rooftops, sunlight glinting on the windows, glittery hip hop pressing its way through the speakers. Yes. About fifteen of us sat around tables, surrounded by drying racks and bright artwork on the walls. Then, the two lads running the workshop dumped a load of biscuits, magazines, scissors, paints and pens in front of us and said, “Go nuts.”

Those two young men were Benjamin Kay and Craig Proud. After moving to Nottingham for a photography course at NTU, they decided to stay here and start up a business together when they graduated in 2014. “There’s a good quality of life here, and a real buzz attached to the creative industry,” says Craig. “You can really become invested in the city with the amount of creative relationships you can establish. There’s a big return factor in Nottingham.”

They started their journey side by side in Backlit Studios, eventually moving to Cobden Place in the summer of 2015. “The location is fantastic – obviously with the courtyard and the beautiful studio, but it’s about the atmosphere too,” says Ben. “It’s the start of something new, an open book. Me and Craig both had different ideas of what we wanted to do, but they were kind of parallel. Craig wanted to open a printers, I wanted to create a publishing house and make books. It was all about that DIY aspect. Craig could use Risograph and there wasn’t anybody else doing it in Nottingham.”

Risograph is a self-contained machine that was designed in the eighties, producing stencil-based prints, a bit like a photocopier but with colourful inks. “It bridges the gap between small and medium print runs,” says Craig. “Historically, a lot of schools, churches and hospitals used them, and more interestingly, political parties. When you buy a machine, you get a black and a colour, so the one colour you got became part of your identity. That’s why Conservatives were black and blue; Labour, black and red. People started realising how wonderful the inks were, how warm and vibrant, so they started collecting the different drums.”

Dizzy Ink have got twelve colours, but they’re translucent inks, so when you print them on top of each other you can create loads more shades and tones. “We’re constantly investigating,” says Ben. And it’s that curiosity that makes Dizzy Ink unique as a business. As well as doing print jobs like a multiple method-stuffed Raw Print metazine (two books in one, with letterpressed text and thermography) they have a huge focus on spreading out into the community to educate.

“I wanted people to be excited by the process,” says Craig. “I’m really interested in pushing print methods forward, doing things that have never been done before. Only a few studios in the UK offered [Risograph], and it seemed kind of elitist, which annoyed me because it’s so incredible. It’s not an intuitive form of design, so it takes a bit of getting your head around. It’s nice to teach people who haven’t been involved in the creative process for ages, as well as people that’ve been designing for years.”

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The pair started running workshops and went from strength to strength, mostly through word of mouth, eventually launching a Kickstarter campaign for School of Print alongside illustrator and screen print technician Tom Camp and the creative business centre Cobden Place. Within three days, they’d raised 30% of their £8,000 target, eventually securing £10,201 in one month from 248 pledgers coming from as far as Singapore and Mexico. “The person in Mexico got a Jon Burgerman as a Kickstarter reward,” says Craig. “The vast majority were people in Nottingham, though.”

“We wanted the money for equipment for Nottingham people to use,” says Ben. “We’ve got the basement downstairs, so we’re gonna make that beautiful and comfortable, really open everything up so people can get involved.” School of Print will work on a membership basis, a bit like a gym, so the public can get technical advice from professionals as well as access to workshops and equipment. Risograph and screen printing will be at the forefront of the school, with assistance on hand for individual projects, to progress learning and ultimately make artists more independent.

Dizzy Ink are no strangers to this kind of stuff, but in a way it’s a huge step up. “It’s gonna strengthen us,” says Ben. The first Made in a Day workshop I went to was a ridiculous amount of fun. Just last month I attended another, where a group of us went out into Nottingham to create poetry, illustrations, photographs and rubbings, bringing it all back to the studio to fuse together with the Risograph machine. You’d be surprised at the art to be made from swanning around Broadmarsh.

The lads really are bleddy busy bees. They got legendary Dutch artist Erwin Blok over in February for a mimeograph workshop, and worked with the Collabor-8 collective at Nottingham Contemporary to create a huge mural, all based on the exhibition that was on at the time. They’re even applying to feature Risograph workshops at festivals, have got a session coming up with The Dilettante Society, and are starting a Saturday Print Club.

“It’s nice when people get to walk away with something they’ve made,” says Ben. “It’s all about meeting and making – it’s such a natural way of working together and really encourages collaboration. We all spend a lot of time on the computer. I think it’s nice to have the option of being creative where the computer is still involved, but not completely. It’s tangible, which is refreshing.”

“We’ve worked with some amazing artists, and you never just meet people like that on the end of an email,” says Craig. I asked the pair if they think there’s been a resurgence in print, like there has been in vinyl sales, and whether they think future society will look the like floating, computer-dominated humans off Wall-E. “Print isn’t dead. It never was, and it probably never will be,” says Craig. “It’s the same thing with vinyl – you get a better grasp, it’s warmer and more intrinsic to a human to hold and feel something rather than stare blankly at pixels.”

“It’s like seeing live poetry,” says Ben. “That’s what it was there for initially. Printwork should be made for walls, for people to be able to look at and share with each other physically. People are always gonna wanna hold things and work with things in that way. We can spend hours designing on the computer, but the real magic is what comes out of that [Risograph] machine. Social media can be a bit saturated – you gotta slow everything down and take time to look at things.”

Word Play Workshop with The Dilettante Society and Dizzy Ink, Sunday 3 April, 11am - 5pm, £40.

Keep an eye out for updates on the School of Print launch event on the Dizzy Ink website.

Dizzy Ink website

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