Shop Talk: A 15-Color Masterpiece

This award-winning poster print leaves us in awe and wondering if the fine art revolution is on its way.

If you took a walk through the Golden Image Awards at the recent SGIA show, you may have noticed the poster for “The Grand Budapest Hotel” – the one with the gold ribbon and voted Best in Show for graphic screen printing.

It caught my eye with deadly detailed illustration and slick separation of color after color, all printed in perfect register. With no halftones or process work, this was 15 layers of custom-colored ink on paper. The photo on the left shows hands holding it, which is an insider sign that it’s a “real” screen print, not a digital version for display purposes. Stupid me, who has yet to see the movie, made the mistake of assuming it must have been printed in Europe – Budapest, right? But when the winners were announced, I was surprised and excited to hear The Half and Half, screen printers from Columbia, South Carolina, had scooped up the top award.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing the owners of this screen shop through the years and watching Creative Director and partner Sara Thomas grow The Half and Half (let’s call them H&H for short) into a national player in the screen-printed poster game. Winning these awards for their printing is a testament to their commitment to quality, as well as recognition from a much wider audience of printing peers than those of us in the gig poster community.

When I asked Sara to share some tech info on the print, she immediately sent me to the production manager, Ben Gunter. The job was his baby from the start. He’s been with H&H for five years, with an associate degree in commercial graphic communications and six years’ previous experience in a large industrial print shop.

“The first time I saw this piece by artist Ise Ananphada, I was pumped,” he says. “It’s not often that you receive a piece of original art that is not only awesome to look at and complex, but still feasible to print. Her artwork is very conducive to the screen-printing process, but we still had to spend a lot of time going back and forth with Ise to get her files print ready. If I am not mistaken, I believe this print was one of her first screen prints ever, so we had to give a little bit of a ‘Print 101’ class as we moved through the process.”

The job came to H&H through a private commission. On top of this being one of the artist’s first screen prints, there was a bit of a language barrier – Ananphada is from Thailand, and English isn’t her first language. But from the results, it looks like art must be a common language because nothing was lost in translation. Gunter ran the job on an M&R Saturn 30x40 using water-based inks.

The job stretched over two months and five days – that’s two months of emails and prepress, and five days of printing. “This was pretty slow for us compared to our normal, deadline-driven pace,” Gunter says, “but at the time this was sort of new territory for us, so we wanted to make sure we took our time to get it right.”

I asked him about his favorite part of the job: “I would say that the challenge of handling art like this can be the worst and the best part of it. Any time you have an artist with a very unique style like hers, you have to change your regular production techniques to fit the needs of the work. Coming up with new processing steps is always exciting and fun, and one of the best parts of the job. It can also be the scariest because no one wants to find out they are wrong about how to handle an earlier layer when they are 14 colors into a print.”

Although the rock poster market seems like a small niche, H&H, along with a growing list of contract printing shops, including DL Screenprinting in Seattle; Seizure Palace in Portland, Oregon; Blunt Graffix in Eugene, Oregon; Monolith Press in the Bay Area; last year’s Golden Image winners Burlesque of North America in Minneapolis; Lady Lazarus in Houston; Industry Print Shop in Austin, Texas; Mama’s Sauce in Orlando, Florida; and many more around the US are taking screen printing in a whole new direction. H&H reports they have increased their volume of business over the last few years and seen less seasonal downtime. Every major and many minor touring bands have jumped on the collector gig poster bandwagon. A stack of posters brings in as much in merch sales from the fans as 20 boxes of T-shirts. Many of the shops listed above are buying newer and bigger equipment to keep pace with the demand. Plus, there are new non-rock print areas opening up as artists and marketing people see the demand for screen prints as opposed to digital or offset reproduction processes.

Gunter explains that “with the current hype of commission work and movie posters, I really feel like we are seeing the gig poster world and the fine art world move a lot closer together. Anything that makes us push our boundaries in expanding our knowledge and technique is a great thing.”

Well said, Ben. I guess I’d better watch “The Grand Budapest Hotel” so I can expand my knowledge and figure out who all the characters on the poster are.

Read more "Shop Talk" from Andy MacDougall or explore the rest of our October/November 2016 issue.

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