Risotto Studio

There’s one oxymoron we keep coming back to: the fact that designers crave freedom, but, more often than not, love to work within limitations. Whether it’s a tricky brief, tight budget, or a lack of access to tools, time and again we find that strict boundaries bear the sweetest, most creative fruit.

One of the unlikeliest design success stories is that of the Risograph machine, invented in Japan in the 1980s as a quick, cheap, and easy way to make multiple copies, and since adopted by the art and design community for its low cost, speed, and versatility. Creating Riso images is similar to screen printing in terms of color separation and ink transfer, but with the rough-and-ready results of an office photocopier.

In recent years Riso’s growing international popularity can only be described as explosive, with new Riso projects and specialty studios cropping up every place we look. Now there’s Risorama, a new day-long exhibition and fair in London (the first of its kind in the UK), put on by Manchester print studio, gallery, and publishers Yuck Print House.

“People love the quality and graininess of the aesthetic of Risograph,” says Yuck’s Mark Brennan. “Initially it attracted people as it’s relatively inexpensive, so a lot of young people and students have taken to it. It seems that every art school has one now, but when I was studying it wasn’t that way.”

Among the printers and studios showcasing their wares at Risorama are Chicago’s Tan & Loose Press, Glasgow’s Risotto Studio, We Make It from Berlin and Bananafish Books, arriving all the way from Shanghai. Alongside the shows from established studios, Risorama will also present an exhibition of Risographed work from artists including Palefroi, WAOOO (We Are Out of Office), Rose Blake, Atelier Bingo, Rob Lowe (Supermundane), Merijn Hos and Nous Vous’ William Edmonds. There will also be drop-in workshops throughout the day for visitors to learn more about Riso printing and take home their own creations, aiming to bring the process to even more people.

“There’s still a number of people who aren’t quite sure what Riso is,” says Brennan, “but people really like the DIY aspect of it. It’s still a low budget artwork machine that wasn’t made for this process—it was made for newsletters and high volume copying—so it’s a fun, inexpensive way of making things.”

So why the recent rush on Riso? “It all comes down to affordability and accessibility,” says Brennan. “Riso machines were fairly obscure for years, then it came from that DIY culture of using collage and Xerox machines to make work, so it was a step up from that. The work you can make is really different in terms of the color scheme and finish. The aesthetic really works well with what people are making just now, and they’re environmentally friendly too, as it’s soy-based ink.

“A lot of artists haven’t worked in Riso before, so what’s important is showing people how the prints are made and what you can achieve. It’s fun because as a process you don’t know what you’re in for—it’s unpredictable and unpretentious.”

Risorama takes place on Saturday, September 3, 2016 at Protein Studios, London EC2A 3EY. Entry is free.