skip to main content
Big Print

The Big Print – European Cultural Foundation travel grant

Written by
Published date 31 May 2018
By Caitlin Akers, MA Book Arts, Camberwell College of Arts

Last week I travelled all the way to Nijmegen in The Netherlands from Manchester in the UK by train to visit Extrapool and Knust Press – an arts space and print shop in Nijmegen that specialises in the environmentally friendly printing technique known as Risograph printing. I was keen to visit Extrapool and learn from the artists who live there as they have been experts in this type of printing since the 1980s and they also have a very rare and very large A2 Risograph Printer.

I am an artist and my practice explores poetry and unusual aspects of language in the everyday and mundane. I have been creating prints on an A3 Risograph printer here in the UK and I applied for the Step Travel Grant to develop the project further by making these prints large scale and printing them on the A2 Risograph printer at Extrapool.

I am particularly fascinated with printing using Risograph as it is an incredibly environmentally sustainable printing process. The technology originated in Japan and was originally used by church groups and political parties as a way of printing in colour cheaply, but now artists and designers are starting to make use of it too. It costs 80% less energy to run than a regular digital colour printer and the inks are even made with soya beans!

I am passionate about the quality of the prints that can be achieved through this printing method. As my project is concerned with the poetry of the everyday – the colours found in a risograph print are extremely vivid, akin to commercial printing you might see for advertisements and billboards.

After a very smooth journey entirely by train (that included the new direct Eurostar to Amsterdam) I eventually arrived in Nijmegen. I was struck by how spacious and quiet it seemed compared to Amsterdam! It is the oldest town in The Netherlands and is famous for violent political riots that happened there in 1980’s involving the people and students of the town against the local government over affordable housing, amongst other issues.

I learnt from two of the residents, Joyce Guley and Jan Dirk de Wild that Extrapool and Knust Press were born out of the squat movement that was happening in Nijmegen in the 1980’s. The art space is in an old warehouse in the centre of the town. Since the 80’s it has developed into a venue for sound, art and printing. The music venue was on the ground floor, then the graphic studio, office space, and the residents living quarters on the floors above. The accommodation for guests was on the roof – a cosy little space with everything you need, including a deck with a spectacular view over the city. They regularly host international artists and invite them to collaborate on books, zines and other projects. I certainly felt that this experimental approach to living and working was key to the relaxed, creative and vibrant place that I experienced in my short time there.

After a slight adjustment of my designs we got to work testing out the prints. The printers are housed in a printshop a couple of doors down from the Extrapool space. The A2 machine looks very similar to the regular machines-that is until you experience the colour ink drums! They are obscenely long and tricky to fit into the machine! The machine also takes a lot longer to ‘ink up’ than smaller machines, but after 5 minutes of waiting and listening to the machine make lots of strange noises- my prints finally started to emerge! I was surprised at how quick the machine was, it had soon printed out all of my prints and the results looked brilliant! Joyce was extremely knowledgeable about the process and guided me through it.

In-between my prints drying, I was invited by Jan and Joyce to cycle with them up to an old bookbinders on the outskirts of the town where they were picking up some books. I gladly accepted the offer and before I knew it I was whizzing through the wide, tree lined cycle lanes of Nijmegen. Jan told me that Nijmegen is making a bid to be the greenest city in The Netherlands. It was interesting to see how the city was carrying this out, wide cycle lanes on both sides of the road, pedestrianised city centre and trees and plants everywhere. It is very different to the busy streets and heavy traffic of my home town, Manchester!

The bookbinders we visited had some fantastic old machines and sample after sample of the different types of books they could make there. They made many books for artists and galleries, I spied the latest edition of Foam magazine (The international photography publication) stacked up on a table-ready to go.

After a day and half of printing I had a bit of time to explore Nijmegen. The city is situated on the river Waal, a wide river with huge barges laden with goods going back and forth. On the other side of the river from the town is a nature reserve and beach. I also managed to visit Velorama, the tiny (and immaculate!) bicycle museum as well as some of the Roman ruins that are scattered around the town.

On my last evening at Extrapool I cooked dinner for the residents and we had some great conversation about art, environmental issues and political situations in our respective countries. Being awarded the Step Travel Grant allowed me to have this amazing experience-without it I wouldn’t have met the wonderful people of Extrapool, learnt lots about Risograph printing or experienced first-hand how a ‘green’ city like Nijmegen looks and works. This project has opened up new connections for both me and Extrapool and we plan on working together on something new in the future.

See more of Caitlin’s work