By Lee Reinch
GREEN BAY – The bright yellow steam roller’s keys have been figuratively hung up for another year, but the Really Big Prints the contraption has helped breathe life to will remain on display in Northeast Wisconsin through October.
Really Big Prints are oversized relief prints made with the aid of a heavy double-drum street roller, sometimes called a steam roller due to its origins.
“It’s such an undertaking that we only do it every two years,” said Berel Lutsky, professor of art for UW-Green Bay and one of the three organizers of the Friday, Sept. 27 event.
The other organizers are Katie Ries, assistant professor of art at St. Norbert College, and Ben Rinehart, associate professor of art at Lawrence University in Appleton.
This year, UWGB loaned the roller to the program.
The limited-edition Really Big Prints the roller helps create measure roughly one yard wide by five feet long.
Lutsky said even the most practiced of printers can make just five to seven prints in a four-hour period.
It’s slow going and takes lots of patience, Ries said.
Really Big Prints are achieved by using the roller, weighing about 1.2 tons, as the ink transferral device and a large, hand-carved sheet of plywood as the stamp.
Think of rubber stamping, only upside-down.
Instead of pressing a rubber stamp into an ink pad, the wooden stamp also serves as the ink pad.
It’s slathered with ink and lies face-up.
As the roller rolls, it grabs the inky design from the plywood stamp and deposits it onto another surface, such as a huge sheet of paper or segment of pavement.
Creating the stamp
The designs for the wooden relief stamps have to be sketched in reverse so that when they’re transferred onto the roller and printed, they turn out the right way.
“Some people use a projector to project their design onto the wood, and some people draw it on tracing paper and flip it over,” Lutsky said. “But other people are just good at drawing backwards.”
Ries admitted after she sketched her environmental-themed image, “Plantain,” which celebrates native plants, she got some help from a team of students in carving the design into the plywood.
“There’s a lot of work involved,” she said.
One might think, with a creation this size, large tools would be used to carve the design into the sheet of plywood.
Lutsky reaches into his carryall and extracts a wood handle with a set of small, interchangeable chisel blades that are each not much larger in circumference than the point of a pencil.
“It’s all time,” Lutsky said. “You’re making a commitment.”
Sometimes, people use a tool such as a Dremel to hustle the process along a bit, Ries said.
The Really Big Prints event started in 2014 at the Manitowoc campus of UWGB and takes place every other year.
This year’s demonstration-only event helped celebrate the new exhibit space in the Weidner Center’s third-floor balcony lobby, where prints from 2014 and 2016 are on display through the end of October.
They can be seen before Weidner Center performances.
Prints from 2018 are on display at the Aylward Gallery at the Fox Cities campus of UW-Oshkosh, where a public closing reception will be held from 5-8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18.
The next Really Big Prints printmaking event will be in July 2020 at the Manitowoc campus.
UWGB is accepting design submissions from artists this month.