June 28, 2012

Sister Raye

Steamroller Smackdown

Author: Robynne Raye

Topics: Handmade, Random, Self-Promotion, Studio Secrets

Designed by Jenny Wilkson and printed by Evolution Press in Seattle.

Designed by Jenny Wilkson and printed by Evolution Press in Seattle.

Located in a building that was once a hat factory, Seattle's School of Visual Concepts has had thousands of students pass through its doors since its inception 40 years ago. The school provides supplemental training in marketing, graphic design, advertising, art direction, copywriting, and letterpress printing.

And it was at School of Visual Concepts – some 18 years ago – that I was hired to teach my first design class. So I have a warm, fuzzy place in my heart for this school. (And I will always remember the odor permeating my classroom from the Hostess Cake factory next door, and how it drove me to buy some Ding Dongs after every class. Not really. But almost.)

One of the most popular classes at SVC is taught by graphic designer Jenny Wilkson, who introduced the school to letterpress more than 10 years ago. Jenny's classes typically fill up fast, and it's the first place SVC Co-Directors Larry Asher and Linda Hunt bring potential students to tour. Larry says of Jenny's space, "At Seattle's School of Visual Concepts, a large, neatly arranged room full of vintage flatbed and platen presses is just down the hall from the school's Mac labs, providing some sort of karmic equilibrium."

History of SVC's Wayzgoose

Jenny Wilkson hatched the first Wayzgoose in 2002, the inaugural community-building event of the SVC letterpress studio. The event set out to unite local letterpress printers, and sent a message to the local design community that letterpress is all around them.

Subsequent "Wayzgeese" got more involved, with the addition of a letterpress equipment swap, then a marketplace where printers could sell their work, and finally, a steamroller to entice the enthusiastic participation of printers and graphic designers alike.

Taking place in the parking lot in front of the school, the "Steamroller Smackdown" is an annual event that pits local design firms against one another in a friendly competition to print the coolest colossal poster ever. The thick ink can take days to dry, so each team designates a runner who hangs the poster from one of the breezeways, turning the entire building into a drying rack.

What makes the letterpress program really stand out is their community outreach. They've printed posters for the Seattle Public Library and published poetry broadsides written by terminally ill pediatric patients at Seattle Children's Hospital. Furthermore, they host gallery shows and workshops featuring nationally famous letterpress printers such as Jim Sherraden of Hatch Show Print, and Jim & Bill Moran of Hamilton Wood Type Museum.

I can imagine Seattle without the Space Needle, but I can't imagine living here without the School of Visual Concepts.

World's tallest drying rack, 2010 | Photo by Ryan Burlinson

Annabelle AKA Bitchin' Steamroller Barbie | Photo by David Todd

L: Free print-your-own keepsakes on a 19th-century letterpress, 2011 | Photo by Franklin Burton; R: Kate wielding bitchin' steamroller power in 2010 | Photo by Ryan Burlinson

L: Modern Dog's entry 2011. Art by Shogo Ota | Photo by Robin Kessler; Top R: Michelle carving a 3' x 4' sheet of linoleum for 2009 Wayzgoose | Photo by Ryan Burlinson; Bottom R: David documents his blood sacrifice for SVC's Steamroller Smackdown entry, 2011 | Photo by David Wesley Black

Inky Paws | Photo by Matt Fordham

Top L: Michelle carving a 3' x 4' sheet of linoleum for 2009 Wayzgoose | Photo by Ryan Burlinson; Bottom L: Fun for all ages. | Photo by James Callan. R: Turnstyle poster coming off the steamroller in 2009 | Photo by Ryan Burlinson

Starbucks Creative showing highlander spirit, 2011 | Photo by Jake Watrous/Tangible Images

History of SVC

While most portfolio schools are relatively new inventions, SVC dates back to the days before Photoshop, the web, and recycled paper; 1971, to be exact. That year, two gifted and highly successful illustrators, Dick and Cherry Brown, decided to open an art school where working professionals would do the teaching. Since computers hadn't been invented yet, they stressed hand skills and conceptual thinking. Nearly 40 years later, their underlying philosophy is still quite intact. Today, SVC still believes you should learn to draw and think, before you start to point and click. We're not opposed to technology. Hardly. What we're opposed to is people who think learning to pound a hammer qualifies you to be an architect. From the SVC website.

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