Yes, MAM

“The remaining work to finish in order to reach your goal increases as the deadline approaches.”
    Bove's Theorem

Note: This article is an abridged compilation of several postings I made to my blog, “Life With a 7900,” about living and working with my Epson Stylus Pro 7900 large-format printer. The blog, started in late 2011, is of interest mainly to anyone using that printer, which is no longer sold by Epson. A more readable story with some photos, about how I came to own this machine, is in our November, 2011 article, “Printer 2.0.”

Also, I wrote about printing signs in my April, 2018 article, “Sign Shop”; that article provides some (boring, probably) background about the care and feeding of this aging, and increasingly PITA printer.

For several weeks I've been working on a large job for the Missoula Art Museum (MAM). This is a Big Deal for me, and perhaps my most prestigious client so far. While certainly not the Art Institute of Chicago or New York's MOMA, the MAM is quite nice, with one very large gallery, several smaller ones, library and media rooms, and an outstanding curatorial staff that's brought in some spectacular exhibits over the years. In 2017 they added, in cooperation with the City of Missoula, an impressive outdoor “art park” adjacent to the museum.

This job has been in the works for over a year, and finally, in May, 2018, I received 46 files. The images, made by a Salish Kootenai College photography student, capture and narrate a story of modern Tribal (American Indian) life on and around Montana reservations. Some of the photos are beautiful, some are gritty, one or two are just disturbing. But my job is to make prints, so I'll withhold my opinions and get back to my story.

The Proof is in The Printing

Part one of the job was to make small proof prints of the entire lot. I used letter-size sheets of Epson Luster, in part because it's cheap, and also because luster has a tough, durable surface and would tolerate the handing I expected the prints to receive. They'd be spread out on a large table; the photographer, his teacher, and the museum's senior curator would rearrange, stack, sort, and otherwise cull the lot down to something appropriate to the narration, to fit within the available space for the exhibit, and to stay within their budget for printing and framing.

Everything about the job was routine. There was some time pressure, so I worked quickly, printing over four days. During that time the photographer and his teacher visited here to look at paper choices for the final prints, and I also had some other small client jobs to complete. The printer behaved as I've come to expect: each day's start-up required checking for clogged print-head nozzles, finding a few to a lot (this aging 7900 is never 100% clean anymore at start-up), and then running cleaning cycles until everything looked good. Sometimes this took a few minutes, other days half an hour or more. Then I'd print the day's batch. One small problem: making room for 46 prints! I prefer to let them dry at least 24 hours before stacking them between sheets of interleaf paper, so I often had a couple of day's prints spread out.

46 proof prints

For the picture above, after all were printed, I spread out the 46 proofs on my main studio bench and a couple of temporary tables.

When the proofs were delivered, the student, teacher, and MAM's Senior Curator met at the college, culled the images, and then called me in to talk about final print sizes. I'd make one large print on 24-inch (101 cm) wide roll paper nearly 40 inches (just over a meter) long, six prints on 11-inch by 17-inch sheets (roughly, A3), and 30 prints on large sheets cut to 24 inches wide by 20 inches (51 cm) high (or vice-versa for verticals).With that sorted, I placed an order for the paper, 24 x 30 inch Epson Exhibition Fiber, and then did other work while burning off the lead time. That work included making the large print and the six smaller prints because I had the necessary paper on hand.

I mentioned time pressure: I received the 46 files in late May, 2018, with a due date no later than mid-July. Earlier would be better to give the framer more time to do his part. The opening for this show will be in early August. Ordinarily I'd consider this plenty of time for the job, but in this case the timing wasn't optimal. Being in the middle of preparing pieces for a local gallery show in which I'd be a featured artist, while also preparing for the two big outdoor shows we do each July, I felt a little panicky about getting it all done.

Making Small Sheets Out of Big Ones

One of the large prints coming off the Epson 7900

The Epson 7900 making one of the larger prints, on a 24 x 30 inch sheet.

Some roll papers are quite stiff and retain a nasty curl after printing. Methods and devices exist to mitigate that; despite the marketing hype none is great, and there's the potential for ruining the print in the effort. To avoid that I offered to make the larger prints on 24 x 30 inch sheet paper. This comes out of the box perfectly flat, and stays that way through the printing process and drying period. But sheet paper is more expensive per inch than the same stuff on rolls, and in this case I'd be cutting away a third of each sheet, resulting it lots of waste. Knowing it would save the framer some hassle, I bit the bullet and did the cutting, absorbing both the labor to do it and the scrap paper. I'll be able to use some of that scrap to make smaller prints, so it's not a total loss.

The photographer asked that I make adjustments to a few of the files, mostly just improving contrast or opening shadow areas. Trivial work with Photoshop. Otherwise the printing proceeded as usual. Given my studio's space constraints I could comfortably make up to six prints a day and have space to spread them for drying with minimal chance of damage. The next day I'd cut those sheets down to the 20 inch (51 cm) height (or width for the few verticals), stack them between sheets of interleaf tissue, and then print the next batch.

Trimming a print with the Dahle 444

The printed edge is aligned with the yellow guides, and then the blade (large red holder) is pushed across to make the cut.

Each print is 22 inches (56 cm) wide across the 24 inch width of the paper, so the side borders are each one inch (2.5 cm). Given the 30 inch length of the sheet, the top and bottom borders could be quite wide; the curator decided he wanted the print centered on a 20 inch sheet, so the top and bottom borders would be 2.67 inches (6 cm). About ten inches (25 cm) of the bottom (at the top of the picture at right) will be cut, leaving equal top and bottom borders. I have a Dahle rotary trimmer, exactly the right tool for the job. To make precise and consistent borders I made a pair of cutting guides to be temporarily taped to the trimmer base. This allowed me to make quick work and get perfect cuts.

When the last batch of prints dried and all were packaged, I delivered them to the teacher at the college. He took them to the MAM, and reports that the curator is happy with the prints. I'm eager to see the final installation. These pictures clearly tell a story; I look forward to the photographer's talk when the show opens. Now that the job is done, my anxiety has lessened and I can wrap up the remaining work for our first outdoor show. I've a couple more prints to make and frame, and all the “infrastructure” to pull together and load into the cars, but I've still got almost two weeks. Plenty of time!

June, 2018

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