There are some things in the design world—objects, processes, modes of thinking—that have been around for so long it’s hard to imagine them any other way. Take printing, for example. Not that printing as a whole hasn’t evolved since the dawn of woodblocks in the year 200, but certain kinds of printing have actually changed very little since their inception. Case in point: screen printing (or silk-screening). After its introduction to the Western world in 1910 and subsequent popularization during the fast and loose DIY arts movement in the ’60s, the mechanisms and machines used to create screen prints—a mesh stencil, a squeegee, and a flatbed press—have pretty much stayed the same.
The very basic nature and modest equipment requirements remains one of the primary attractions of screen-printing. It’s why it took off in the ‘60s to begin with. But as with any art form, the results are important, yes, but for makers who spend long hours consumed in the actual stages of making, the process becomes equally (if not sometimes more) important.
That’s what designer François Chambard of UM Project was chiefly concerned with when the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) asked him to create something for their sixth floor Open Studios. With little screen-printing experience himself, Chambard dove into research with two master printmakers (Karl LaRocca a.k.a. Kayrock in Brooklyn and Michael and Eli Jager in Burlington, VT) who showed him the ropes. Neither of them expected him to come back mere weeks later with a fully functional—and incredibly beautiful—screen-printing press of his own for the opening of The Print Shop at MAD in May. The debut was so successful that the museum is extending the monthly printing workshops through February 2016.
UM Project stands for Users and Makers, and fans of Chambard’s work, which includes the Listening Table for the New York Times Lab, gorgeous sound engineering consoles, chummy looking theremins, a friendly family of lighting, and his mainstay furniture collection, will immediately recognize his “technocraft” approach of paying equal attention to the technology involved and to the craft, the making part of it.
For The Print Shop, those two worlds have beautifully collided in a piece of equipment that’s as functional as it is formally elegant (Fast Company compared it to a Bauhaus poster), a combination of grids and dots, a range of textures and materials (wood, powder-coated metal, Corian), and bold colors that take cues from industrial equipment. Chambard takes my description one step geekier, naturally, bidding me to to “look, for example, at the way the front legs are attached to the printing press: a very simple connection, very much in the Constructivist style (a layering of simple geometric forms) that’s structural and functional (it supports the table), and graphic (the combination of colors and shapes). The same can be said for the ‘parallel lift’ frame: the linear arms and round counterweights are graphic, the support for the screen frame is structural, and it function by making printing easy.”
But perhaps the most exciting part of Chambard’s lovely machine is actually using it. There are no guarantees that what you create will be quite as formally appealing as the press itself, but that certainly shouldn’t stop you from getting your hands dirty at one of MAD’s fun workshops. They run monthly for now, though more will be added through the year.