Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Hectography and the Russian Futurists

A page from Kruchonykh's Myatezh I (Mutiny I) 1920
created with hectography.
I am currently reading Joanna Drucker's The Century of Artists' Books to better ground myself in the theory and history of book arts. As I was reading about the books produced by the Russian Futurists, I stumbled upon a form of printmaking I had never heard of before. Hectography. These books, produced in the early 1900s, are some of the earliest artists' books. They were often produced as a collaboration of visual artist and poet- free to do as they wished with no editor or publisher breathing down their necks. For the most part they were produced by hand by the artist or poet through "lithography, linoleum cutting, potato print, stencil cut, and a now obsolete duplicating form called hectography" (Drucker 49). I immediately had to know what was up with this duplication process that had eluded my detection for so long.

I found a very helpful youtube video outlining the process. I would call it a marriage of carbon paper and Jell-o with a process similar to lithography minus the gum arabic. Since the materials needed are fairly household and the process fairly easy it became the print method of choice for the underground, not to mention it was also easy to destroy without leaving any evidence of insurrection. Besides Prisoners-of-War, it was also well suited for the classroom and many test papers or school newsletters were printed using hectography. All a school teacher needed was a pan of gelatin beside her desk and her classroom was instantly fitted with a copy machine before copy machines were invented.

Hectography may be obsolete, but it is not gone from this world. Tattoo parlors still use hectographic pencils to sketch their designs and then transfer it onto skin. One of the most exciting uses of modern hectography I found are printmakers using the gelatin plate to make monoprints. Linda Germain has a wonderful youtube video showing how easily the ink is released from the gelatin to the paper with just the gentle pressure of ones hands. She also has extensive gelatin printing tips on her website.

Well, I know what I'm doing the next time I'm in the mood for Jell-o.

Photo of Shelly Thorstensen's hectograph printing demonstration from Theresa Haberkorn's blog.