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Friday, June 9 • 5:00pm - 5:20pm
Chromatic Borders for a Cause; Explorations in Critical Making with New and Old Technologies

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We find ourselves in an era where mainstream culture has an obsession with digital technologies and social platforms. Yet, in spite of this, there is a resurgence—a return to, of sorts—to the processes and grounding nature of "making" by hand. My project focuses on this idea, how the revival of old methods merged with new technologies can influence the sphere of making and authorship in this new era. Specifically, how do digital fabrication technologies, merged with antiquated printing methods like letterpress, lend themselves to rhetoric and speech in the digital design era? Lastly, how can critical making with these various printing and fabrication technologies change the voice and tone of what is being said?

This merging of making techniques was explored in the project, "Chromatic Borders for a Cause" which I teach in GDSN 375; Letterpress at Montana State University. As such, this project asked students to design and print a poster based on a social justice cause. By using antiquated letterpress printing technologies it encouraged students to evaluate their design's value and worth—the process and steps that go into making their posters encourage a critical analysis of what needs to be said and how to say it. Each poster also explored and engaged with social justice across disciplines. Through critical making, students were able to present injustices in a meaningful way that critically explored how concepts are made and presented and through which mediums prints are produced with. Students explored economic and environmental justice as well as activism focused on capitalism, censorship, gender bias, and mental health. The student's posters highlight urgent concerns about today's great social issues. In times of uncertain futures, each unique voice conveys a powerful message in print—to raise awareness and inspire action—serving more than just aesthetic pleasure. Each print may answer print as activism differently, but their passion connects with viewers on a human level.

All posters were letterpress printed, but used a historic chromatic border from Specimens of Chromatic Wood Type Borders & C. by Esther K. Smith. Letterpress printing requires each color layer and form to be locked up individually in the bed of a press and then printed. Prints are created by layering color to create a chromatic effect—where two colors create a third. Most letterpress materials include metal and wood type, however, through new technologies like laser cutters, the exploration of printed imagery is expanding rapidly. In order to physically letterpress print a historic border, students were tasked with updating, vectorizing, and laser cutting their border in plexiglass. Once cut, students mounted the plexiglass cutouts on MDF and chipboard to create a type-high form at .918" tall. Without the build-up of materials with specific thicknesses, forms would not be able to be printed. This process epitomizes critical making as it required students to reflect on the values of interdisciplinary making across mediums. By integrating new technologies with historic print mediums, students reconsidered the value of design through both content and the meditative process of making by hand.


Ashley Fuchs

Assistant Professor, Montana State University

Friday June 9, 2023 5:00pm - 5:20pm EDT
PS 401 (Design Center)