What If just before Christmas you were standing in a depressingly long queue in the post office, irritated and frustrated by the waiting because you have so much else to be getting on with? Initially, to relieve the boredom a bit, you look around at the others stuck in the queue with you, the masses snaking out ahead and those even more unfortunate than yourself who have just joined at the back. The majority are using their mobile phones to send, check and delete text messages, play games or speak to someone… anyone! I am unable to be so constructive with my time, I didn’t even bring a book with me, so after loosening off several outer layers of clothing, essential for the winter temperatures outside I mentally prepare myself for an excruciatingly long wait.
In an attempt to free myself from the mobile-phone nit-nattering all around, I foist my attentions upon the meagre efforts at product display that both sparsely edge and govern the route of the queue; a flip-chart-pad flung over an easel with an offer for post office account holders untidily scrawled in black marker pen, postcards of puppies, kittens, frogs, giraffes, ladybirds, babies and love hearts, books for children, travellers, eaters and coffee tables, gift wrapped mail packages, wrapping paper, scissors, brown parcel tape, various other stationary on offer and diagonally down from where I have reached in the slow shuffle of the queue, cloak room tickets.
The tickets are simple black numbers on a light grey background they jump out from the stand where they hang, reminding me of my mum’s Friday night Gala bingo cards from decades before. I am now almost free from the mobile muttering having finally found something to focus on and it doesn’t take long before I am thinking what perfect ready-made templates the tickets would be for a screen print. Easy, just oil up the paper to make them transparent then expose them directly onto a screen. But then why cloakroom tickets? I can’t just make yet another print for the sake of it, just because it would be easy and probably look good. Well actually I could but what would be the point, it would just be more large sheets of paper to cart around while trying not to get them folded, creased or torn. No just file the idea under something to remember should the opportunity arise to do it sometime in the future.
Gradually the room and the queue soak back into my reality, the young guy behind me is arranging a work meeting over his phone, ahead a once quiet baby has had enough and is now bawling from the pram while the mother tries to distract it and some poor old bloke near the back throws in the towel, he waddles slowly towards the door with his un-mailed package under his arm and exits back into the cold. The rest of us inch slowly forward, I’ve now reached a new stand of post office goods just around the other side of a stone pillar, calendars. I quickly scan and dismiss the eco, green forest, Enya, spa, spray, mist, pan-pipe, water trickling over pebbles vibe of 80% of them and focus on the very plain thick little book of days. Like the cloakroom tickets there is a big solid black number in the middle of the page that is torn off each day to reveal the next.
In 1971 the children’s TV programme Blue Peter buried a time capsule in the BBC gardens that was to remain there until the new millennium. I was 8 at the time and I remember being in hysterics with my sisters after working out how old we would all be when they dug the waterlogged thing up again in 2000AD. Well that milestone came and went and only my father who had died 5 years before didn’t make the date. 12 or is it 13 years into the new millennium, my mother has just gone and I am still in line, edging slowly away from the year that Philip Larkin positioned, between the end of the Chatterly ban And the Beatles’ first LP. Now suddenly, while stuck in the drip-flow of this monumentally dull queue I am struck with the thought that all the calendars before me possess the future co-ordinates, the numbers, the date when I will have officially survived a half century on the planet. I promise myself there and then, that even if I don’t survive this queue I will make a print of 2013 before that year is over.
What if a search then began for the perfect readymade template needed to make a print of the year 2013? The simple block calendar I spotted in the post office queue is cellophane wrapped and when I get it home I find it is useless for printing because each dated leaf sheet has text on the reverse side, once oiled and exposed onto a screen this will obscure the simplicity of a single bold number. In the rush up to Christmas my position in the post office queue progresses while in my head I tour the bookshops and department stores to check through their massive displays of calendars as well. I have no need for pictures, so all the wildlife, windmills, Edward Hopper, Justine Bieber and impressionist painter, calendars can be ignored. But I do need the paper to be cheap and thin to allow the oil to make it light transparent, so all the thick glossy donkeys, lighthouses, Marc Chagall, Justine Bieber and French country kitchen, calendars can also be ignored. So what if after searching for a couple of weeks I finally identify the Kalender des nutlosen Wissens ,the calendar of useless knowledge made by a company called, Heye as the best one for the job.
It’s a calendar pad which requires a page to be torn off every day. The numbers are big and bold and as a variant each weekend and holiday page is inverted so the numbers are then white on a dark background. Most importantly, the back of each page is blank so nothing can bleed through when they are oiled.
Along the bottom of each day-page runs the useless piece of knowledge promised by the calendars title; Elephants can’t jump in the air or normally people in Siberia buy their milk as a frozen block. They needlessly complicate the print so I guillotine them off when the pad is still whole.
Rounding the second column on my right I enter the long final straight of the queue, there’s perhaps only 20 to 30 people still to be served in front now. I get back to the print, I consider the organisation required for printing 365 individual templates, it will be complicated and a little bit tedious. As with any work, preparation is key, that and structure and the 3 process colours, yellow, magenta and cyan will help shape that. Over the past 5 years I have used the process colours extensively in printing I like the notion of each layer forming the composition and mixing the colour at the same time.
This structure will therefore split the 12 months of 2013 into colours; the 6 months from July to December will be yellow, January to the end of May, magenta and then the month of the birthday will be cyan. The only date that will be registered and therefore printed evenly in each colour will be the birth date, like its position in the calendar it will be placed near the centre of the print.
The paper will have to be big to accommodate all the dates but the maximum size I can print a single layer on one screen without too any complications is a metre square. When trying to lay out the 6 months to be printed in yellow I find that the templates are too big, the amount they overlap each other obliterates most of the printed surface of the numbers. I change tack, with another 2 guillotine chops that make the templates smaller and squared. I also change my mind about arranging the templates into a grid a large circle proves more successful in accommodating the 6 months.
Once I have the print of the first yellow layer I can arrange the next 5 months on a large sheet of acetate directly over it. To avoid repeating the same construction of templates for the magenta layer, I can off-set the templates by turning them 90 degrees this time. And because there aren’t as many in this layer I can spread them out a little more.
The last Layer of cyan is numerically easier than the previous two, so much so that I will get a bit stuck as to how to arrange the single month’s templates. I think about using chance and just letting the things drop onto the print to form the final screen, I consider making a spiral and even asking a friend’s 9 year old daughter to do it in whatever way she would like. In the end while discussing it with Katharine Eastman at our dinner table, she suggests putting a square peg in a round hole and making the last screen square. This suggestion frees me up, for the first time I tamper a little with the readymade templates and invert the whole month of June on the photocopier.
So there it is, everything in place to print the year 2013. It will of course take the help of my good friend Michael Schoenke but I will have to get out of this post office queue before I can speak to him about it.