Stay up to Date
Voice of San Diego's weekly arts and culture roundup (Tuesdays)
Fewer print-based artists will leave San Diego for Los Angeles if Burn All Books has its way.
Can the risograph save the art scene in San Diego? It’s a lofty goal, but at least fewer print-based artists will leave for Los Angeles if Burn All Books has its way. In January, founders Amanda and Nick Bernal will celebrate their first anniversary of running the only risograph-based printing press in town.
A risograph, or a riso, was nearly made obsolete by the ubiquity and affordability of laser printers. For many years, risos were hidden away in basements and storage rooms with few people able or willing to repair them.
“So places like churches and schools that had them got rid of them in favor of just your regular laser jet printer, and then they kind of like, languished in the backrooms of these places until people figured out that they could use them for art,” Amanda Bernal said.
Invented in Japan in 1986, the riso is a digital duplicator that prints each color separately (a digital image is segmented into its individual color channels or layers first), burning masters like stencils using a thermal plate onto a thin sheet of banana fiber. These masters can print thousands of prints incredibly quickly, at a low cost.
“What I should say is that each layer needs to rest for a week,” said Nick Bernal. “But sometimes I run them faster.” In a rush to print posters or books, riso users will sometimes embrace roller marks or other flaws produced by applying a new color layer when the first one hasn’t rested long enough. But, Nick Bernal said, “this is why we like this, because it looks the way it does.”
“It’s very ephemeral,” Amanda Bernal added of the soy-based, non-archival prints. “It doesn’t last forever. It looks pretty lo-fi. And it’s not great for every style of art or every artist, but it’s definitely a style in and of itself.”
Burn All Books published over a dozen books in its first year, plus many prints, posters, cards, calendars and other projects, and is looking to expand in 2019. More machines, books, art book fests, workshops and collaborations with schools. The Bernals also want to print more for activists and underserved groups, at low or no cost.
“We’re probably not gonna make much money, but we can use this to help our friends produce some art. And that’s kind of how it started,” Amanda Bernal said. “We wanted to help people stay here and produce work, rather than sometimes moving [to Los Angeles] so that they could be closer to a printer or press.”