The Gocco bug bit me ten years ago, and since then I have devoted countless hours every December - day and night- to being by its side. What is Gocco and why does it bite? Gocco (pronounced “Go-Co”) is a tabletop thermal screenprinting device that originated in Japan in the 1970s. It uses single-use flash bulbs (like the kind found in old cameras that go ‘pop!’) to burn an image onto a master screen. From there, the same machine can be used to press copies from the master using special ink. I was introduced to Gocco years ago by a friend who ordered one for her DIY wedding invitations. It even came with an instructional VHS tape in Japanese (with no subtitles, but the actors’ enthusiastic demos were helpful enough). My friend’s invitations turned out beautifully, capturing the detail of a botanical illustration of a peony, while maintaining the one-of-a-kind look and feel intrinsic to screen printing techniques.
After that first project, I got to thinking. If this little machine could be used to create nearly one hundred prints in a single evening (from a kitchen countertop no less!), why not use the Gocco for multiple images in a series? How about twelve images, and we’ll call it a year? My friend and I collaborated to make a desktop calendar for our friends and families and they were a hit. A couple of years later I approached my current collaborator about doing it again, and we’ve been making the calendars every year since. Each year we use a different set of images, an improved process, and new inspiration.
The collaborative process adds just as much excitement to the calendar project as the act of presenting the final handmade gift to our loved ones. I know this sentiment is shared by other designers, regardless of the medium: A singular, almost secret joy found in the creative process rather than the final product.
In honor of the process, here’s a step-by-step description of our adventures in Gocco printing (particularly for the sake of anyone who has gotten one of our calendars and always wondered why and how we do it):
- First, we order supplies, including screens, bulbs, and ink, all of which are in high demand and sold online to the highest bidder, due to Gocco being discontinued. (There are alternative printing methods, some of which are discussed at http://savegocco.blogspot.com/.)
- We start by collecting and curating license-free images from books or online, such as vintage graphics. We often embellish the images with our own illustrations. Sometimes we draw artwork from scratch. We look for images that make us smile because of their whimsical nature, remind us of someone we love, or evoke a mood we associate with the month at hand. January 2016 called for a beacon of hope in a dark time; we found a symbolic lantern and paired it with an uplifting quote.
- We then revel in the challenge of finding or drawing the perfect font to pair with an image. The world of typography is a delightfully intoxicating black hole.
- Next comes the layout and the prep for burning the master screen, which requires a carbon copy of the image (thank you, dear employees at the 24/7 copy shop).
- The instant thermal imaging is hugely satisfying. The light bulbs explode within the machine and voila! our artwork is transferred. Sometimes, we run into technical problems, such as the image not burning all the way. This can be a problem if a whole row of calendar dates is missing. We troubleshoot and try again with a new set of bulbs and a new screen. Until now we’ve been lucky to have a few backup supplies.
- Once all twelve master screens are imaged, we are ready to print. Ink colors are chosen based not only on the individual month’s image but also on how the twelve images look as a set; we want a balance of warm and cool hues throughout. We apply the ink and use the machine to print on pre-cut cardstock, one at a time.
- The ink is thick, so the 100 or so prints we make for each month must be set out on any available flat surface to dry overnight. Windowsills and stovetops are not off limits. When we print three months in one evening, you can imagine the scene.
- The final steps in this weeks-long process: Assemble and admire our work, then package and give our gifts!
The Gocco calendar project has been a gift to me, as well. It’s been a creative platform for my evolving design aesthetic, a fun and engaging technique to learn, and more importantly, it’s meant spending time with dear friends to plan and print together. That’s a great way to bring in a new year.
A special thank you to Ann Watson, my co-creator, and Amanda Mary Brown, Tracy Tubb, and Kate DeMayo, who all played a part in spreading the Gocco bug.