Centre for Fine Print Research University of the West of England Centre for Fine Print Research
  The British Channel Seen from the Dorsetshire Cliffs (detail) 1871

Paul Laidler

Professional Practice

Human Printer Series: Featuring Print is Dead


Digital technology has extended the possibilities to self publish through the POD facility. During the POD facility’s short existence, the rendering potential of digital information has developed from 2D to 3D print. Manufacturers creating models or prototypes have predominantly used this resource for industrial purposes, although facilities such as Shapeways (www.shapeways.com) have adopted the mass customisation approach to enter consumer markets, producing 3D objects such as sculpture and jewellery to order. Digital fabrication is now often referred to by creators as ‘fabbing’.


The democratisation of digital technology and the marketing potential of the POD facility developed the idea of the ‘personal factory, where you can make almost anything – including electronics, homeware, fashion and furniture’. Consumers in search of bespoke designs can now access digital fabrication technologies through companies such as Anyline, A.R.T, imaterialise, Ponoko and 3DDC using a range of Laser cutting, rapid prototyping, 3D rapid printing and surface coating options.


Although the Print is Dead series does not directly use digital fabrication technology, the artwork (order272)completed.jpg and (order541)completed.jpg share similarities with the fabrication process as part of the artist-fabricator approach to making. These associations consider manufacturing as part of a systematic method to making, by employing the technical skills of others to help realise the work and the use of the prototype as an ‘in between state’ that informs an idea.


Unlike most POD facilities that produce printed images for clients, the two facilities selected for The Print is dead series use the hand-rendered methods of painting and drawing as processes to reproduce a digital image. Both The Human Printer and Odsan function in the same manner as a POD Company.


(order272)completed.jpg and (order541)completed.jpg are oil paintings on canvas produced through Odsan Oil Painting Gallery in Dafen, China. The company is one of many in the region that employ academy trained artists within a factory-line approach to reproduce vast numbers of old master oil paintings. The act of copying great masters’ works by artists has been a continued practice throughout the ages. Conventional practices have often required that artists access the original painting to capture the intricacy, scale and presence of the work. Although I do not profess to being a master artist, the idea of having a work reproduced in paint that contains none of the traditional precedents for reproduction was what interested me for the purposes of this research study.


The Odsan Gallery's reproduction process functions in the same manner as the POD facility when offering a client the possibility of ‘self-publishing’, this involves the transfer of a digital image that is rendered to the specifications of the client. Both (order272)completed.jpg and (order541)completed.jpg were created from a digital print made from the low resolution digital file that was requested by the Odsan Gallery to create the artwork.  In this situation, the rendering is by hand, not restricted to the scale of a print device and can be reproduced in a range of different painting styles. The resulting painting for the Print is dead series, is a photo-realistic style reproduction of the digital print that was used as the source image for the work.

Although the process generates a painting I consider the paintings as prints. In this sense the work aligns itself with the curatorial premise behind the Philagrafika Print Exhibition The Graphic Unconscious, with works by 35 artists from 18 countries, held at five consecutive venues in Philadelphia, 2010. The Artistic Director of Philagrafika, José Roca described the curatorial team’s assessment of print within in a broad context: “... we consider a print anything that had three components: a matrix, a transfer medium, and a receiving surface [...] The matrix stores the necessary information to reproduce; the medium transfers the information, and the support receives it. All kinds of contingencies can alter the outcome of the process and often enrich the results.”


For both (order272)completed.jpg and (order541)completed.jpg the matrix that stores the necessary information is a digital file; the medium that transfers the information is oil paint, and the support that receives it is the canvas. The contingency emanates from the printed reproduction of the source image - that contains a magenta hue produced by the printing of the digital file.

The inclusion of the colour cast in the painting should not be seen as a fault with the reproductive artwork but as a reminder of the parameters of the tools and processes we use. In his article The Aesthetics of Failure, the American composer Kim Cascone discusses the positive outcome of imperfection:


Indeed failure has become a prominent aesthetic in many of the arts in the late 20th century, reminding us that our control of technology is an illusion, and revealing digital tools to be only as perfect, precise, and efficient as the humans who build them.


Despite the absence of technological production in the appearance of the completed paintings, the association with the reproductive process aligns itself to the content of the work. The possibility of an indefinite number of copies remains, although the reproductive endeavour is one of human automation or human printers.