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What’s Not Cool About Print?

printing_press_wood_cut_480pxPrint has been my calling for many years now. True, I never considered it exactly as my original life’s design but when I look back I wonder if maybe it actually was. Perhaps because I never was quite the “A” student my sibs were, my parents had the foresight to encourage other talents and paths where I might excel. It was art for me. Already a sideline my mother indulged in, it was an easy and rewarding path for me as well. I soon became the neighborhood’s resident artist. People would admire the likenesses I could render and a small business emerged creating hand-drawn greeting cards. As high school years approached my parents encouraged me to apply to a specialized high school in  Manhattan which would expose me to the commercial side of the art world. This high school was (and still is) called the High School of Art and Design. It offered classes in fashion design and illustration, package design, set design and even a few fine art courses like sculpture and painting.

My first clue: I chose to major in package design in high school. I loved the idea that BandAidmy work would be displayed on public shelves of grocery or toy stores. I loved the dimensionality of the craft and careful rendering process of the comps. I was required to take a class called Advertising Production Techniques where I pasted typeset words onto crescent board and painted their edges white. I didn’t have a clue as to why I was doing this but, enjoyed it just the same. It was many years later, having landed my first job in New York, working for a small agency that designed Johnson and Johnson Band Aid boxes, that I began to figure it out. I was a package designers. Hmm…

The second clue: It happened in college. Determined to be a fine artist and lead a life of poverty, I majored in printmaking. I studied both intaglio and lithography and loved that my work could be duplicated and reach more people. I was a print maker! Hmm…

Clue number three. I quickly realized, once no longer on my parent’s dole that I wanted to live comfortably. I found a guy with better prospects than mine but in order for him to live his (our) dream, I would be helping him through his studies. I had to work.

It was that first job in NY, the one working on BandAid boxes, that I secured through my high school portfolio which kicked me into the graphic arts world. I bounced around a bit at various agencies and in-house positions plus a little freelance here and there. After a few good years at the design and production table I realized it would be more fun to be out and about, working as a print rep. I loved the technology and I loved design. I felt those things together would fulfill me both creatively and financially. And indeed, they did.

Printing was fun and exciting. Seeing what was first mechanicals and later digital files morph into multitudes of printed product was exciting. Being on the road, meeting people and learning about many other industries from the inside out was fascinating. Helping these people succeed in their own business mission, a reward in and of itself.

Fast forward to today.  As I pretend to be that same young girl entering the business world, enticed by all the new start-ups and technological innovators – what should I do? What would you do? I still find myself fascinated with print. I love the smell of ink and watching the fresh sheets roll off the press. I think I would have enjoyed being a press operator, adjusting ink flow and blanket pressure to exact the perfect image. And when the technology bug bites, I can fascinate in the switches that turn electrons into data that direct the process and creates the tangible. What’s not cool about print?2012.03.20_gutenberg

Today’s business climate is really quite strange. If you are an educated millennial with a knack and interest for our cyber-world,  perhaps there are a few great opportunities for you, especially here in the Bay Area. But if you are a different kind of millennial, maybe someone who still likes to tinker and use your hands, to create tangible product and exercise your brain at the same time,  you need not that college degree. You need only interest, fortitude and the awareness that there is life beyond tech – and it’s print – print tech!

As our press-operators retire, the industry is opening up new opportunities for a lifetime career. Print has changed but it’s staying around and we need it. We need fresh young minds to keep us alive and to drive us into the future. Things we never imagine 20 years ago are taken for granted today. Just think of what a phone was used for back then and how it’s used today. It’s hardly the same machine yet those phone calls are sill happening. Print can fit into the future in much the same way. Printed electronics may be just one direction. What an exciting opportunity! I can’t fathom what it will look like in 20 years, or even 5, but print is cool in my book, and getting cooler every day.

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