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Magic on paper

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Neal P. Corpus

Posted on March 19, 2021

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Meet the two women behind Bad Student, the Risograph studio that’s making waves one printed page at a time.

Header image by Renzo Navarro, courtesy of Bad Student

Despite living in today’s digital world, creating art on a physical medium has always held value. “Print will always have a personal and intimate experience to it,” says Pau Tiu and Dyam Gonzales. They are the founders of Bad Student, the country’s first Risograph printing press and design studio.

Perhaps its value has even increased: the fact that an independent printing press — one that uses a niche technique in itself — stands and flourishes today is a testament to the power of print.

Dyam Gonzales and Pau Tiu at the Bad Student studio in Marikina City. Photo by Renzo Navarro, courtesy of Bad Student

Founded in 2016, Bad Student brings to life a wide range of printed matter. They work with artists to publish their work, including zines, books, posters, and more. Beyond that, they also host workshops and create work as a design studio. Last year, for the opening of Shake Shack in Greenbelt 5, Bad Student created a mural made entirely of Riso prints.

Risographs work in a similar way to screen printing. The Risograph machine, created in the 1980s by the Riso Kagaku Corporation in Japan, works using a print spot method. It prints one color at a time, layering each color to create more with each pass.

Various prints made using Riso. Photo courtesy of Bad Student

The result is a vibrant picture that is decidedly analogue, with grainy textures and occasional misalignments that allow you to appreciate the opacity of each layer of color.

These imperfections are what make Risograph images unique, and in a way, it is like taking a photograph using film. There is an organic sense that simply cannot be digitally reproduced.

Here, we sit down (virtually) with Pau and Dyam and talk about their process, what makes Riso special, and why it’s important to keep print alive.

Tell us about how Bad Student began. What drew you to Risographs?

From the first time we received our first Risograph zine, we were attracted to the vibrant colors, the grainy textures, each little misregistration and inconsistencies and imperfection, and most of all the tactile quality of the print. No, not attracted — obsessed!

We figured we wanted to make tons of books and zines and posters and prints and basically any experimental printed matter that will hopefully also be a source of great inspiration to anyone who wants to create their own art.

What is it like working with different artists to bring their works onto the printed medium? What are the unique challenges to working with Riso?

Because Riso has a totally different process, it was a bit counterintuitive at first for a lot of artists we’ve worked with. For example, Riso uses spot color printing method, so it is required to separate the colors in your artwork per layer, just like screen printing.

Another one is that the machine only reads files in greyscale, so you have to understand layering the densities and opacities instead of the usual hues and tones of colors. Choosing inks and types of paper for your artwork is also deliberately done. Those are some of challenges artists first encounter in working with Riso.

But once they learn its quirks and limitations, each eventually found a way to apply it to their own practice. This is actually one of our favorite moments in working at the studio, the challenge of bringing an artist’s vision into print.

We like working with weird and complex ideas because it gives us a chance to innovate and explore Risograph in a different light. Ultimately, embracing the machine’s imperfection and limitations gives way for the Riso magic to happen!

Apart from being a press and design studio, Bad Student also organizes workshops. How did this begin?

It has always been one of our goals to share the Risograph process to as many people as possible, especially here in the Philippines.

When we first started there were only a few people whom we could exchange ideas about it, so we decided to organize these workshops where we could guide others into creating their first Riso prints.

We’re mostly just excited to share the techniques we learned upon experimenting with our Riso machine and we want more people to investigate and explore the medium further on their own, so more people can make books and art prints, and we’ll have more Risograph prints to add to our collection [laughs].

We also find that workshops provide a space where participants are encouraged to practice different methods in creating which fosters this great energy that we like to be surrounded with: full of inspiration, new insights, and collaboration.

Apart from being a printing press and design studio, Bad Student also aims to share their knowledge of printing with Riso. Photo courtesy of Bad Student

Why do you think it's important to keep print alive, especially in the digital age?

Print will always have a personal and intimate experience tied to it. Now that everything is digital, especially in a pandemic, a lot of people have been experiencing screen fatigue. A physical experience versus a digital one will never be the same.

There’s a difference in browsing a book in person, and flipping through the pages with your hands compared to swiping your fingers on a screen.

The tactile nature of print will always remind us what it feels to be human and it creates a different and more intimate relationship with the reader when they can physically hold and experience a printed matter with their hands.

What is the most rewarding thing about what you guys do, and what is the most challenging?

Publishing works by artists we greatly admire and respect, and being able to showcase these works internationally! Through Riso, we were able to travel the world and met so many artists that we look up to.

It has also allowed us to build relationships with a lot of artists and be fortunate enough  to call them friends and collaborators.

The most challenging part is troubleshooting the machine! When the machine malfunctions and breaks down, we also break down with it! [Laughs] We’re forced to become Riso technicians and this is very challenging and frustrating because most of the time we have no clue why the machine is acting up in the first place.

It’s a constant trial and error process to figure out what’s wrong, and this has tested our patience ever since we started Bad Student.

This time last year, you guys created a Riso mural for the opening of Shake Shack in Greenbelt. What was that process like?

The mural was made out of different materials that we combined together, there were both printed and painted elements. We made over a thousand riso prints and then assembled the pattern on the wall one by one!

It was definitely a unique experience, it was our first time to try using Riso prints on such a massive scale. We also painted these huge, wooden cut outs of plants and flowers so we could have some popping elements to add on the printed wall.

As it was such a large mural, it took us a week to finish everything, printing, pasting, and painting. There were nights that we were working inside the mall during closed hours as well.

We only saw the complete mural on the last night of working (the hoarding was covered entirely and we could only see parts of the mural as we work), and we were pleasantly surprised by how everything fit together in the end.

Your studio in Marikina was greatly affected by Typhoon Ulysses, but has amazingly bounced back and even hosted an open studio at the end of last month. What keeps you guys going?

The community! We wouldn’t be here if not for their overwhelming love and support. Since the Typhoon, we are constantly reminded why we do what we do and why we should keep doing it. The whole art community was there when we needed them the most.

It will be unfair to everyone if we just suddenly quit when everyone is rooting for us to keep going. Somehow, it feels like we’re no longer doing this just for ourselves anymore. And it’s nice to feel like we're part of something bigger and to belong in a community that allowed us to continue dreaming and pursuing our goals.

What are you looking forward to this year?

We’re looking forward to finishing all the prints from our After School Program II: Open Classroom workshops. So many talented artists participated in that workshop and we’re excited to finally print their wonderful works in Riso! We might do another open studio event or a mini exhibit to showcase the artworks so please look forward to it!

Bad Student is located in Marikina City. To schedule a visit to their studio or know more about their upcoming workshops, visit their website and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

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