Wednesday, October 3, 2012

From Gutenberg to Silkscreening

In August 1456, Johannes Gutenberg, with ink on his hands and excitement in his eyes, pulled the last sheet of the Gutenberg Bible from his printing press, thus altering book production forever.

In August 2012, 20 men and women, with ink on their hands and excitement in their eyes, pulled their first sheets from their silkscreen presses, thus altering their language’s canon of books forever.

We were in the third week of a four-week literacy course in Saidor town, Madang province (read its summary here), and the participants from eight different local languages around the Rai Coast were getting ready to produce their own books of stories written in each of their tok ples (local language). I had fun documenting the whole process—come on a tour of book production without computers, printers, slick photoshop or word processing programs!

First, each of the students had to create and write a story or two in their own languages. They loved the oral storytelling part!

Putting it down on paper was a bit harder, but we took them step-by-step through the editing and refining process (write, read, edit...write, read, edit...write, read, edit) until the story they drafted was clear, accurate, and natural.

Then, they very carefully wrote their story on an A4 sheet of paper. This was to determine spacing, line breaks, and the final length of the story, as well as to help them practice their letter formation and finalize spelling.

I might be biased... but next step was my favourite part! Following a discussion of PNG art and culture, I helped them create their stories’ various illustrations. What shapes do you  think are inside a rooster?

Afterwards, they created their table of contents, verso page, title page, and cover. They also made tiny mock-up book to figure out the page numbers and see how the book would fit together.

Now they are all set to start writing (or cutting) their stencils. With dead pens in hand, they began the meticulous and hand-cramping process of scribing their stories onto the stencil paper. The key was to press hard enough such that when you held it up to the light, you could see pinpricks glowing through the letters... but not press so hard that you broke all the way through.

Hello! Welcome to my store—can I help you find something? In order to help them practice writing receipts, recording financial transactions, and working within their budget, we had them “shop” at our store to buy all the supplies for their silkscreening... and I was Madame Storekeeper!

In groups of four, the teams set up their workstation and began book production: 15 copies each. This is where silkscreening gets its name. See the fine-mesh screen? Tape your stencil to the backside of the screen and your clean paper below that. Now, when you slather ink across the front of the screen and pull your squeegee toward you in even, pressured strokes, the ink seeps through the holes of the stencil, onto your paper...hopefully forming letters. Watch out—don’t get ink on your clothes! Now, peel your paper off the board—and voila! A page from your book is complete!

What’s book production without some mess? Afterwards, everyone trekked out to the hose to scrub down their screens with good ole’ Klina soap.

But, the books still need to be bound! After they dried, the students quickly collated and bound their books.

Now it’s time to read!

I think Gutenberg would be proud, don't you?