I’ll never forget holding the first roll of my wallpaper that came off the printing press.
I’d thought long and hard about the design, spent weeks sketching, pondering the balance of realistic versus cute dinosaurs, agonizing over shades and colour combinations, researching the relative benefits of different weights of paper, imagining how the finished product would look…
Yet when I held the first roll off the press in my hot little hands that morning in September 2009 I was filled with a sort of joyful surprise that I couldn’t have imagined.
Here, finally was a thing.
Yesterday it was just a thought, a dream, an idea. Now I held a real, colourful, cylinder of paper which weighed heavy in my hands and tickled my nostrils with the bitter smell of ink. If you’re someone who makes things you’ll know what I mean. But in the modern digital world so many of us never get to feel the thrill of accomplishment that comes from turning imagination into tangible reality.
It’s like magic actually exists.
This month I’ve been up North to visit my new printers with romantic visions of the industrial ‘dark satanic mills’ of William Blake’s famous hymn, Jerusalem.
I didn’t encounter soot-encrusted, smoke-belching chimneys, but was delighted with that other cliché of Northern life, the warm welcome. Surface Print, in Bolton, not only greeted me and my colleague with this:
They also gave us the tour of their printing floor.
They do all the modern methods of digital printing and could no doubt transfer your painterly masterpiece onto fine linen, like they do for Timorous Beasties or your cat onto a cushion cover.
But what took me back to the happy miracle of holding an actual thing created from my butterfly imagination was the venerable 140 year old iron printing presses they use on a daily basis.
Did you know that in the 1990s there were twenty-five wallpaper printing companies in England and today there are only four? Four! The rest are outsourced to places like Turkey and China mostly because it’s cheaper.
But Surface Print uses technology built in 1883 and still in perfect working order.
Like most of us I spend a lot of my life staring at screens so I was amazed all over again by the wonder of actually making actual stuff with real, solid, heavy, in-the-world machines.
And once again seeing those insubstantial pixels transmogrified into solid material form. Magic.
Making stuff. There’s nowt like it.