Four Montreal-based creators share the impact of COVID-19 on their analog media practice
The hashtag #printisnotdead on Instagram has accumulated over 395 thousand posts as of April 2021. Not too bad for a medium that has been accused of irrelevance for the entirety of Gen Z’s existence.
Yet, it still manages to stick around. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of physical touch, with some feeling negatively impacted by the lack of it. Print, or analog media, is often more labour intensive, hands-on, and time-consuming than digital equivalents, usually yielding less predictable results.
So… why would anyone painstakingly hand print a poster when you could design it in Photoshop, and have it printed in a matter of hours? Has the pandemic had any effect on print? What even is paper art?
Four Montreal-based creators who have adapted, reworked, or dove head-first into an analog practice during the lockdown explain the connection to The Concordian.
Caitlin Yardley / Disposable Film
Caitlin Yardley, a Journalism graduate, is experienced in digital media production. For a recent birthday, she was gifted a disposable camera to experiment with.
Like many ‘90s kids, she used a one-use film camera as a child, explaining that her family has albums upon albums of old photographs. But it wasn’t until the lockdown that she fell for film.
“I really want to preserve every moment now,” said Yardley. “I love the permanence of getting my film developed and holding onto a photo, or when I hand a photo to a friend I’ve had printed it feels really special. So that’s been what has led me to continue with the medium.”
Because of the pandemic, some of Yardley’s friends have moved away and she sees less of the ones that are around, naturally. She explained that the experience has led her to cherish the time she spends with loved ones even more and that film photography is an enjoyable way of making the moments “concrete.”
“I always lose the photos on my phone, or even on my [digital] camera, I’ll upload them somewhere and forget about it,” explained Yardley. “But I’ve been printing off these photos and sticking them on my wall.”
Something that Yardley likes about disposable film cameras is how accessible they make photography, especially compared to high-tech DSLR cameras or finicky 35mm film, which require the user to have experience and skills the former doesn’t.
“With some analog film it’s different, but if you just have a disposable camera anyone can get a super cool photo,” said Yardley. “If I’ve had a bit too much to drink I can snap a photo and as long as the flash is on I know it’s going to be good.”
Yardley explained that disposable cameras are very user friendly, requiring only two controls to function, meaning it’s also easy and quick to instruct others interested in learning about the medium. “As long as your finger isn’t over the lens that’s all that matters,” she said.
“With digital, you can take 100 photos to make sure you get the right one. With film, you have one moment realistically, maybe two, to line up the perfect shot and that’s it,” said Yardley. “You don’t know what you captured, you don’t know if it was just your fingerprint. Three weeks later when you hand the film in and it gets developed — then you know … It’s just not an experience you get with digital.”
Yardley explained that this is exactly what makes disposable film unsuitable as a tool for fast-paced, precise photojournalism required at a protest, but that she will continue to make sure she has a disposable camera ready for capturing special events creatively.
She encourages anyone interested but hesitant of the medium to try it out.
“Pick up a disposable camera and if you do have the pleasure of being around people you love, go out and try to shoot something,” said Yardley. “It’s going to be beautiful no matter what.”
@gorelickart / Linocut Printmaking
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@gorelickart* is a Montreal-based artist, in her first year of Studio Arts at Concordia University. At the start of the pandemic, the multi-disciplinary creative found themself living in a small studio, shared with a now-ex partner and a cat. Painting, also a part of their artistic work, proved a good way to collect cat hair in a small space.
They took a printmaking course at Concordia during the fall term and started to learn more about the many distinct forms that fall under the umbrella term of printmaking.
“I didn’t use to draw or do any realistic work, but in printmaking, I’ve started to explore that with linocut and intaglio,” they explained.
Compared to linocut printmaking, which developed in the 19th century, intaglio is a grandmother, originating in the 15th century. Intaglio could be described as chemical engraving — the design is etched onto the plate and then acid is poured over it. Intaglio and linocut are on opposite ends of the printmaking spectrum because the former is an example of incision printing, where the design is essentially inside the plate. Linocut and woodcut, require the artist to carve away everything but the design, making it stand out from the cut-away parts in an almost 3-dimensional manner. They are examples of relief printing.
She was initially drawn to lino, which is short for linoleum, the same material also used as flooring, to create a @gorelickart 2020 stamp for her paintings.
“I bought a 4 by 6-inch piece of rubber, and obviously my stamp was tiny so I just started experimenting more with that,” said @gorelickart.
YouTube videos and a can-do attitude proved helpful.
“I just got the tools and started doing it. I was just carving on my couch, with the block in my hand. So whenever I would miss or [the block] would slide a bit I would stab myself and be like ‘Ahh!’ As I was presenting my piece someone in my class was like ‘You know you’re meant to use this thing to keep the block in place … That would have been good to know, but I guess that’s part of the process of teaching yourself.”
Like many analog methods, linocut printmaking involves several labour intensive steps. Carving a block and printing it are two separate tasks, and @gorelickart prefers the former. They use intaglio inks, which can be hard to clean up and stain easily. She chose a composition of a fish created earlier in the year as one of her favourites, as it is one of the pieces she has cared enough about to go through the process of printing and not just carving.
“I really love carving, I find it’s such a relaxing process. I can do it very absentmindedly, almost like knitting,” she said. “I just sit on the couch, [carving] my block and watch TV and it’s really relaxing. Versus printing that’s more technical, and I’m more stressed about not getting ink everywhere.” They use intaglio inks which can be hard to clean up.
@gorelickart explained they live alone and don’t see friends often with respect to the pandemic regulations. Tactile parts of their artistic practice, such as carving, working with stained glass, and clay have proved deeply helpful in terms of dealing with the difficulties that can lead to.
@gorelickart was inspired by another artist on Instagram using small scraps to make recycled stamps. It prompted them to start reusing their wine corks and linoleum scraps to make custom stamp-sized designs.
“When I was doing bigger blocks I would have so much waste from my carvings and I was like ‘Oh my God I need to do something with this’ … So I just started making tiny little carvings and putting them on the corks. They’re so cute and I love them, but now I have so many I’m like, ‘What do I do with these?!’”
In the future — commissioned stamps, or ones with letter grades for teachers are a possibility but, “Right now I’m just making them for fun when I have extras,” they said. “Printmaking is a pretty low-waste art form compared to painting but it’s important to use everything. Before I was just throwing my wine caps out, so I was like this is pretty perfect.”
Silvana Toma / Papermaking
Some might assume the term “paper arts” means art drawn or painted on a piece of paper. Not Silvana Toma, a lifelong paper collector who likes to leave journals and notepads empty, finding them prettier that way.
Toma visited Japan a couple of times and was fascinated by the process of washi papermaking, a thin yet super-strong paper handmade locally, using ancient methods.
“Even though I enjoy both, I’m more drawn to analog [than digital]. It’s so tactile and hands-on that it helps me disconnect from the world for a little while and only focus on what I am doing in the present moment. Because of this, it’s been super beneficial to my mental health too. It’s also as close to a form of meditation as it gets since I can never sit still for too long,” explained Toma.
She turned her affection for stationary into concrete action, launching NoteStorii, a handmade paper shop, in early 2021.
“In some aspects, lockdown helped since I probably wouldn’t have launched so soon if I wasn’t forced to stay in the house and actually work on this. In general, there’s no easy part about starting a business, especially when you’re a one [person] show,” said Toma, detailing the specific challenges the pandemic has imposed on her fledgling business. The physical store closures made it difficult to source materials, the increased use of Canada Post caused shipping delays and on top of everything, lost packages “didn’t help.”
Papermaking is a highly tactile art, requiring multiple technical steps to get to the final product. A benefit to small-batch paper is that it has a significantly lower eco-footprint than coated, commercially produced paper.
Scraps can be recycled into new paper, but it’s important to understand what its texture is before committing to making it into sheets. This wasn’t always possible with online shopping, sometimes leading to unusable supplies, paired with high shipping costs for Toma.
“I think I’m not the only one who’s been living through the lens of social media pre-pandemic, always plugged in, always going somewhere and checking items off of my endless to-do list. The lockdown forced us to face who we really are beneath the filter we put up for the world, and we either weren’t ready for the reveal, or we didn’t like what we saw. It can cause a lot of anxiety and unrest you know — realizing you don’t really know yourself? I think analog mediums help us tap into a creative side that we’ve perhaps forgotten about; we can take time to think clearly, instead of frantically searching for answers even though we’re too distracted to ask the right questions,” she continued.
“At first I saw papermaking as something only professionals with huge studio spaces could do. I’ve learned that a small workspace doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the process. It’s also an inexpensive hobby. You don’t need fancy equipment, big machinery or grade A pulp to start off. I began with a kitchen blender and still use the same one, recycled newspaper and a DIY frame from the dollar store. With a bit of patience and willpower it’s a rewarding process,” she said.
“My favourite part is peeling off the dried sheet and stacking them for the final press. The peeling sound and motion feel incredibly satisfying, and so is seeing the final product,” continued Toma. Making paper is physically intense and messy — but it’s a labour of love for the creative entrepreneur.
“I remind myself that cleaning up means I get to come in to a fresh start tomorrow.”
Le Lin / Book Arts + Print Media
Le Lin is a prolific presence in the print world. In their final year of Graphic Design at Concordia University, Lin has shown art books in several exhibitions, produced multiple zines, and co-founded the Queer Print Club (QPC) two years ago — to name just a few of their analog accomplishments. However, he’s also seen aspects of his communal practice, like participating in Expozine, or a print swap the QPC co-organized with Yiara Magazine, become impossible due to the pandemic.
Lin has approached book arts from multiple angles, studying binding and conservation methods that the average person has likely never heard of, seeing a book as a unique 3D artistic creation, as opposed to just a vehicle for other people’s words and images. The distinction is important.
“I always design for print … I use very specific papers. I really care about the transparency and the papers and the materiality of the book itself … A lot of my books you can fold stuff out or it’s bound in a particular way,” he explained.
Lin combines their skills as an artist and graphic designer to create art books. A set two, handmade by Lin, were recently displayed in Dear Family: twenty years ago was just yesterday, at the Pierre-François Ouellette gallery, from March 17 to April 3, as a part of the annual Art Matters festival.
“When [people] open [one of my books] and see that I’ve done the whole cover, embossed the cover, and screen printed most of the transparent pages and then digitally printed all of the other pages and sewed stuff in and they’re like ‘Woah you can do that!?’ and I’m like yeah, you can do anything!”
Lin is in Design, but they have made the effort to pursue printmaking classes throughout their undergrad career, emailing teachers tirelessly to get into the courses needed to further their practice.
“This year shifted a lot. I really wanted to take papermaking and 400-level screen [printing] classes and other hands-on classes like bronze casting but because of COVID, I can’t go in, so I’ve been taking more coding and web design classes. I have made three zines this year but they’re not printed by me,” said Lin.
“One of the projects I’m working on is making a web platform for zines, so you can upload PDFs and it turns into flipbooks online, so it’s kind of bridging that gap. I haven’t partaken in much printing at home but it’s more like translating my practice onto an online skillset,” he continued.
The site features zines by Lin, as well as some that others have uploaded. Taken from the word “magazine,” what makes a zine distinct from traditional media is that they’re self-published and have a long history related to activism or the dissemination of information that is helpful to marginalized communities. They’re known for their blend of educational, personal, artistic, and affordable content.
“I like making things that are accessible … With my work I try to make it super precise. If you can read it, you can understand it.”
*Identity has been withheld for safety/privacy reasons.
Feature graphic by @the.beta.lab