From the Photocopier to the Letterpress: Scheld’apen through Print
Souvenirs of Scheld’apen are still vivid ten years after its end. In this text, I propose to approach Scheld’apen through a different angle a different angle: its collection of prints.The material assembled in this book and the information available on the former website of Scheld’apen were the main resources. I propose to focus onfocus on the design of a selection of works, taking. I will also take a closer look intoat the different printing techniques that were used. I will also take a closer look at the different printing techniques that were used. They have their specificities, outcome, print run capacity, and cultural references. This focus gives an insight into Scheld’apen’s evolution through its fifteen years of existence.
Today the archive of Scheld’apen’s printed matter takes the form of a book, under the auspices of Benny Van den Meulengracht- Vrancx and Bent Vande Sompele. Yet the printed matter had a dedicated space in the former building. The posters of the different events throughout the years covered the walls of the restrooms. Some editions were printed in such small amounts that the only copy left was found on those walls.
Scheld’apen’s archive has a rich diversity of makers: visual artists, graphic designers, musicians, and enthusiasts. They worked on a voluntary basis, at least until 2008.(1) Scheld’apen presented itself as a ‘free and experimental space in a city where there wasn’t any’. Anyone who wanted to could
do the design of the events. The flyers, posters, and other printed material are for the most unsigned. The richness of Scheld’apen came from the
co-existence of different ways of working. The one organising a specific event at Scheld’apen could also be the one designing its visual identity.
References to punk and underground culture in the first years of Scheld’apen were important. The punk movement introduced anti-design as the refusal of professionalism and rejection of norms.(2) The dates on the prints refer to the day and time, rarely to the year of the event. This omission demonstrates a sense of urgency. The making process of the posters is often visible, that the viewer experiences as spontaneous, authentic, and alternative.
Scheld’apen’s First Poster: Squatting and DIY Culture
Scheld’apen developed its own strategies of belonging, presenting itself as a welcoming space for non- conformity and experimental practices. Those who felt alienated from the conventions of society created a space of their own. The squatting movement is linked with the ‘do-it-yourself’ mentality. Scheld’apen’s followed this logic, making use of (re)appropriation strategies and spontaneous language.
The first graphic work drawn on a simple A4 sheet of paper, paved the way for the future identity of Scheld’apen. A handwritten text informs about a meeting on squatting. Two cartoon figures accompany the text, resembling the Belgian cartoon characters ‘Suske and Wiske’. They reoccur in the following communications of Scheld’apen and introduce other characters in the same comic style with scars and punk haircuts. They are often shown vomiting, drinking, killing or cutting themselves, as well as dancing. Their behaviours show the non-conformity welcomed at Scheld’apen.
In the first years, the graphic language of Scheld’apen used a shock tactic.Their intentions wereIt intended to offend, provoke and draw attention. Scheld’apen translates as ‘swearing monkeys’. The visual language was explicit and violent, based on the appropriation of symbols. Its imagery came from childhood, obscenity, and mass media. It shared an affinity with anti-fascism and anarchy.(3)The taking-over of images was in line with the squatting ideology. This practice allowed imagining another vision within a normative structure, proposing a counterculture to the mainstream.
Scheld’apen’s language evolved through the years but continued using the same tactics for visual impact. The use of collage, handwriting, drawings, spelling mistakes, and cartoons was abundant. The graphic language reminds the one of resistance, present in many subcultures across Western Europe.(4)
Spontaneous Printing: The Photocopier as a Tool
Speed and direct access to the means of production were essential in the first years of Scheld’apen, making the photocopier one of their favourite tools. Many of the first posters of Scheld'apen were reproduced with the help of the copy machine. Its versatility facilitated the integration of mass-media images. At the end of the nineties, the prints were mainly photocopied in black and white. The designers worked the most direct way possible, by using black markers. Wobbly and thick frames create unity in the whole image. The background sometimes shows a skyline of high buildings, Antwerp’s city centre.
The mass-media images were selected for their shocking effect or their potentiality of diversion such as normative representations of society, the nuclear family, and the bourgeois couple. Another theme is the depiction of control and symbolic animals such as gorillas or sheep. Scheld’apen assembled images and texts through cutting and pasting. This technique was already present in punk and post-punk youth cultures in the mid-seventies. Known for its efficiency, unique works were created with a low financial investment.
Scheld’apen incorporated symbols within existing images to create a new narration. The Swastika as a critique of fascism, the anarchist symbol, and the international squatting movement symbol are frequently used. Adding comic bubbles was also a way of making the images their own. They played with the absurdities of society, taking a humorous or critical turn on particular images.
For a poster designed in 2000, we can compare the original creation and the final photocopied result. The initial composition shows the different layers gathered together for the final design. At the top of the poster, the designer cut out letters selected from various sources to form the word SABOTAGE. Some of the letters were already photocopies. Music styles in different typographies and letterings surround the words BIG PARTY, outlined with a black marker and pencil. Underneath, the line-up of DJ’s is enveloped in a pencil-drawn background reminding the stroboscopic lights of the club. The lettering is created using different contrasts, demonstrating that the maker has knowledge of the photocopier’s effects.
Playing with Conventions: The Stamp
The re-appropriation of visuals was also realised by copying the layout. Scheld’apen’s infiltrated the existing structures of society with visual tricks. One example is a party invitation designed as the Belgian train ticket. In the center of the invitation, the information is stamped on a white background and pasted on a dotted raster.
Public administrations use stamps for legal documents and certificates. The adoption of this tool was consistent with Scheld’apen’s spontaneity. This easy, quick, and hands-on printing technique allowed for the rapid production of promotional material. The paper was repurposed from left-outs gathered at printing shops. Consequently, every print had a different size. Scheld'apen distributed these to a selection of people they met at parties, based on their affinities and looks.
The stamps applied were composed by hand with prefabricated rubber letters. For a grunge look, the uppercase and lowercase letters are mixed up. The date, location, and names of the DJ’s were stamped
randomly on the paper. Rasters or cutting marks from the printing shops are sometimes still visible, reminding the economic system behind the organisation of the event.
Experimental Typography: Dry Transfer Letters
Dry transfer letters made their appearance in the early days of Scheld’apen. Dry transfer letters were pre-printed letters on transfer sheets and available in different typefaces and font sizes. The letter was set on the design by rubbing it with the help of a stylus or a pen, requiring no water or solvent.(5) Dry transfer letters were an easy way of having clean results without the help of a qualified printer. Non-designers were able to function as professionals. Their accessibility also encouraged experimenting in unique ways with the letter forms.
The poster of ‘The night of the musician’ of 2001 was composed exclusively with dry transfer letters. The square format resembles a vinyl cover, appealing to the alternative music scene. The designer intentionally rubbed on and off the letters to create cracks. The composition in itself becomes a whole, forming one cohesive image. What was important was to grasp the atmosphere of the night. Yet, the readability had reached its limits for some. In the poster retrieved from the toilets, someone felt the need to intervene. By passing over the letters with a black marker, the forms become letters once again.
An Artistic Input: Silkscreen printing
In the 2000s, different printing techniques appeared in Scheld’apen’s prints such as screen printing. This printing technique is the process of transferring a stencil using a mesh screen and ink onto paper or another material. It is a versatile way of printing with vibrant colour results. First used in advertising during the 19th century,(6) screen printing rapidly disseminated in other domains such as art and fashion. D.I.Y culture has a preference for this method because of its accessibility. Screen printing requires few skills and its equipment is relatively cheap.
At Scheld’apen, new members with artistic backgrounds took part in the making of the visuals. Screen printing made the prints more colourful and illustrative. Many events from 2003 were collaborative, bringing new inputs. Scheld’apen worked with organisations such as Rotkop, an independent and alternative artist magazine; K-raak, a nomadic organisation supporting experimental and DIY music, and Freaks End Future, a record store specialised in underground music. Together, they organised events such as magazine launches, concerts, and festivals.
The sense of spontaneity present in the first years of Scheld’apen persisted in the drawings and letterings. Doodles, sketches, scribbles, cartoonish creatures, and crossed-out elements invaded Scheld’apen’s visual language. The use of bright colours makes the general tone lighter. Scheld’apen imagery became disruptive with a more playful tone, like the party of dancing phalluses on the flyers of the Rotkop party of 2004.
The digital aesthetic: The computer as a Design Tool
The computer had an important impact on the visuals from 2003 onwards. This tool brought a new imagery in multiple identities of Scheld’apen. The flyer of DEATH PATROL 2004 was made by combining different computer programs. The line-up is in a grid structure, created with a spreadsheet program. The surrounding digital doodles were made with a graphic editing program such as Paint, using different pen thicknesses.
In 2005, the flyers for a music festival ) remind the Ray Gun magazines art-directed by David Carson in the nineties.(7) The typography interchanges from black and white placed on the mirrored image of a dog or a white rabbit with
red eyes. Two typographies were combined: one is a block display typeface set in all-caps, and the second is handwritten, made with a small and thick marker. The crossed-out mistakes and circled numbers give a spontaneous touch looking like someone drew on the flyer.
David Carson’s style marked the grunge aesthetic and influenced designers around the world. He experimented in unique ways with typography, texture, and layering. The uprise of the computer played an important role in the diffusion of ‘Carson’ style. Known for being very distinctive in appearance, looks were more important than readability.
The computer freed from certain constraints, as the flyers by Yannick Val Gesto testify. The pictures are sometimes pixelated, making their digital source visible. Photo editing programs influenced the visuals by altering the colours, adding gradients, and creating photomontages. The imagery is extracted from popular TV shows such as the Power Rangers, Goldorak, and children's toys. The careless handwriting reminds draft sheets with splashes of ink, crossed-out mistakes, and extra scribbles.
A larger scope: Offset printing
In 2005, the first program booklets made their appearance. Next to these, events still had their own posters and flyers. The material is progressively more and more printed with offset. Offset printing is one of the most common printing techniques used today for high quality and large quantities. This technique works with an inked image on a printing plate which is printed on a rubber cylinder and then transferred to paper.(8) It is a highly technical process in the hands of professional printing companies.
This transition to offset printing is an important step. A wider public also required a bigger print run. The printing had to be externalised to qualified printers where the designers had less control on the production process. Scheld’apen took a professional once they were recognised by the city of Antwerp as a youth centre. Tn responsibilities came with this acknowledgment such as maintaining a program, and communicating it in the best way possible. Legibility became more important for the communication of Scheld’apen.
One of the first program booklets printed with offset is from 2007 and is a good example of Scheld'apen imagery meeting larger print-run production techniques. It was printed in green and black on newspaper and folded in four. The images come from mass-media and advertising presenting a nuclear family, smiling faces, a bodybuilder, a complete pan set, and office chairs, among other things. This selection recalls Scheld’apen’s beginnings, questioning the normative codes of society. The typography combines different typefaces. The title ‘lente Scheld’apen’ is written with cut-out letters from magazines. The program is aligned to the left in a serif typeface. The rigid structure of the text breaks throughout the page. Dry transfer letters are also used for the date of the events, composed in a punk style.
The Final Letterpress Printed Poster: The Establishment of a Monument
The last poster is an exception to the rule in the entire printed material of Scheld’apen, concluding their existence beautifully. The poster is the only one from the whole archive printed by letterpress, the oldest of the traditional printing techniques. In this technique copies of an image or a text are reproduced by direct impression of an inked surface against the paper.(9) The text is, in this case, composed by hand using individual metallic and wooden types. Graphic designer Afreux who also made other works for Scheld’apen, realised the letterpress composition at the Polyprint company.
The appropriation of graphic references from the public realm is one of Scheld’apen famous tricks. When the city of Antwerp establishes a new monument, the information about the official inauguration is printed in a poster format with black type and yellow paper. The closing of Scheld’apen presented itself as the inauguration of a protected monument. The poster imitated the city’s official communication. Scheld'apen organised a reception, festivities, and a gift shop. You could buy souvenirs such as maquettes of thebuilding. Beers, spoons, and mugs on which a picture of Scheld’apen was printed were also available. (10) The official sign ‘beschermd monument’ was nailed on the building that evening. In the Scheld’apen’s spirit, the final event played with the conventions of authority.
2 Paul Guerra and Pedro Quintela, Punk, Fanzines and DIY Cultures in a Global World: Fast, Furious and Xerox (Cham: Springer Nature Switzerland, 2020), p.5-6, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-28876-1.
5 Tom Vinelott, “How to Apply Letraset Dry Rub-Down Transfers”, Action-Transfers, consulted on the 18.03.2023 https:// www.action-transfers.com/html/a_articles/what7.shtml.
6 “What is Screen Printing?: How it works, Benefits & Applications”, consulted on the20.03.2023, https:// www.ynvisible.com/news-inspiration/what-is-screen-printing.
7 Edd Norval, “David Carson - The Messy Type”, Compulsive Contents, consulted on the 18.03.2023, https:// www.compulsivecontents.com/detail-event/david-carson-the-messy-type/
8 “Offset Printing”, Britannica, consulted on the 20.03.2023, https://www.britannica.com/technology/offset-printing.
9 “Letterpress Printing”, Britannica, consulted on the 20.03.2023, https://www.britannica.com/technology/letterpress- printing.
10 “Laatste Eindfeest”, Scheld’apen, consulted on the20.03.2023, http://www.scheldapen.be/? action=media&albumid=2653
From the Photocopier to the Letterpress: Scheld’apen through Print