The Art of Risograph printing @ Brick Lane’s Libreria bookshop


Libreria is a vision of book bliss. Inspired by The Library of Babel, the 1940s tale by Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges, it’s a space that is boundless in form, with mirrors extending the space, and shelves organised by theme in order to expand reading horizons and allow browsers to discover new works. Looking at shelves labelled ‘Enchantment for the Disenchanted’,  ‘Wanderlust’ , ‘Despair and Redemption’ and ‘Mothers, Madonnas and Whores’ is certainly one way of shifting the lenses of enquiry and unearthing some new ideas.

They evidently believe in the power of exploration and the importance of creativity, so, if you can tear yourself away from the bright walls and endless reading opportunities, you’ll discover a variety of workshops that celebrate physicality and ingenuity through artistic enquiry. So it was that on a Saturday afternoon in December, five of us gathered with artist Jess Rose to get inky and experimental with the rather unassuming looking technique of risograph printing.

Jess studied Graphic Design at Nottingham Trent University and Illustration at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam. Inspired by the work of practioners such as Rose Pilkington (‘her use of colour totally mesmerises me’), Kyle Patts, and Ana Benaroyas (‘wonderfully obscene’), her practice is rooted in finding creative ways to solve a problem, and she says that she “enjoys making work which playfully responds to absurdities and mundanities.”


The risograph is an excellent tool with which to do this. Developed in the 80s to bridge the gap between the photocopier offering small print runs and high-volume offset printing large print runs, it looks exactly like a photocopier, but instead takes large ink drums, and prints in a different manner, through tiny dots.

As Jess explains, it does have some limitations, but “the totally unique aesthetic has these exact limitations to thank.” Not for anyone obsessive about accuracy, the translucent inks can be overlaid on top of one another “to create a boundless variety of different hues—one of the many things I love about the process. Due to the nature of this process each print is ever so slightly different to the last. Misregistration when feeding the paper back through can create some truly marvellous accidents, I never tire of the idiosyncratic manner of the machine.”

But these happy accidents are part of what makes Libreria. It’s about sparking creativity and serendipity, and Jess says that ‘they understand creativity comes at the intersect of different fields…we want to break down silos and traditional categorisation of thought.’

Experimentation is very much encouraged in the workshops, and questions often met with the response ‘Let’s give it a go.’ There’s enough time for everyone to explore and invent new forms, shapes and patterns, and sprawling artistic investigation of colour, words and ideas results in some brilliant output from the five us gathered around. Using two colours and fifteen pieces of card, as well as a pile of magazines, books, expertise, and encouragement, we create and risograph print greetings cards, wrapping paper, book covers, and posters, each unique and individual, and are inspired by the work of limited edition publications and prints on offer on the shelves upstairs, created in collaboration with artists, poets, and authors such as Marie Jacotey, Rachael Allen, Julien Bismuth, and Geoff Manaugh. From the blank faces and blank pages comes a real vitality of production and excitement as we see new things created not only before our very eyes but by our very hands. Having had no idea until only a couple of hours ago what a risograph was, all of us leave proud of our prints, raving about risographs—and with bags full of books.

It’s serendipity, surely.

Filed under: Art & Photography