Andrew Ashton – Work Art Life

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Published:  December 24, 2012
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Andrew Ashton – Work Art Life

We speak to Andrew Ashton about from Work Art Life about print, print design and printer relationships.

What was it that sparked your love of print design?
When I started out, computers were slow and pokey, and the drawing board, sharp scalpel, hot waxer, and bromide camera ruled. Print was the number one communication media. We were trained to understand, push and explore print. Fine printers and fine printing went hand in hand with good design, and were a visible point of difference for any creative practitioners. It was pretty simple: the good designer made good ink on paper, the inspired designer made inspired ink on paper.

What is your favourite print finish?
I like a chunky special printing. I hanker for a double hit, with a bold foil or emboss.

How do you determine when a particular effect is right for the project?
Today, the client determines what is done. What they can pay determines how we play with print. Back in the day in the absence of digital, print effects were important, two- to six-colour jobs with a foil or emboss applied to a comprehensive set of stationery was not unusual.

Optix Paper sampler

Where do you find inspiration for print finishes and processes?
From the past and my memory of designers who knew print inside out. Designers who could work with mechanical art, film, and plates could twist and turn a press in all type of weather and get a good result. It once required knowledgeable printers and designers to quality control print. Print that comes out of Japan I enjoy.

How do you choose a printer, and how closely do you work with them on a project?
I work with printers who haven’t forgotten about the old days. A lot of clients don’t push the print as much as they used to and nowadays one has to pick their jobs, and put time into investigating the process.

Do printers and designers speak the same language? How do you think we can better communicate with each other to ensure great outcomes?
Many trades are dollar driven. I reckon it is best to work with printers who understand quality and print craft – printers who want to push the boundaries.

Optix Paper sampler

How do you go about making selections for finishes? What qualities are you looking for in speciality stocks and inks?
I like to mix papers, inks and finishes. I love show-through, crunchy papers, screen clashes, odd textures, layered effects, fat colour, and mixing it up. If appropriate, I love to pull back to the fundamentals of the process and emphasise aspects of a particular process for the purpose of happy accidents and effect. Overprint, show-through, screen clash, fat dots and falling back to base colours are signature to my projects.

How do you bring a client to the party in terms of cost?
Selling print ideas to clients is often easier than selling design. I can get any print spec approved, as long as it is appropriate to the project.

As designers, we work largely in the digital environment, so how do you begin to conceptualise a print project?
I have memory of the height of print work that was around before computers and memory
of producing highly complex printing in recent times. I also have a comprehensive understanding of prepress and print production and finishing. I can often call on my digital crew, printers and finishes to explore an approach. Mock-ups, testing and making a project real is critical; however, it is a private process. Often, today’s client doesn’t have the headspace for such things. Many clients have no idea what will happen, so I tend to not make a big deal of the print craft. I mock up the project, describe the effect and make it part of the concept process.

Australian Institute of Architects conference papers

What’s the most memorable mistake you’ve made on a print job, and what have you learned from that mistake?
The wonderful thing about print is that it is permanent and unforgiving – if you have ever been responsible for a mistake and seen several thousand pieces shredded, your attitude towards seeking perfection is heightened, and the time I put into checking, investigating, mocking up and rechecking gives me confidence. It’s a space that allows those great accidents and outcomes to occur. My most memorable mistake was not a mistake per se; it was an understanding of the consequence of my actions as a designer and media specifier.

In the mid-1990s I worked on a national sale-based fashion campaign. Twice a year we would conceive and produce over a million catalogues and roll-out, distributed in Sydney and Melbourne. I will never forget the first day the campaign was rolled out to the public. I was travelling to the studio in morning peak hour on the train. I was making my way out of a packed Town Hall Station where, beyond the barriers, over 20 uniformed girls were handing out copies of my multipage catalogue to thousands of passing commuters. My excitement, and pride, soon shifted to despair. As I moved beyond the barricades, I witnessed piles of my work stacked and overflowing out of bins, blowing down George, Bathurst and Pitt Streets on that five-minute walk to the studio.

Print has an overwhelming opportunity to both communicate and create waste; design
and critical thinking is key in determining this outcome. My creative ego and desire to fatten my folio made a significant shift for the better that day.

Thumbnail: Gunn & Taylor promotional cards with special paper, special inks and foiling.

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