Art studio introduces environmentally friendly printing

The new Risograph printer uses 95% less energy than a photocopier. Photo provided

George Mason University’s Print and Book Arts Studio is repositioning its practices and curriculum toward an environmentally friendly and sustainable future.

Christopher Kardambikis, assistant professor and director of printmaking and book arts in Mason’s School of Art, was determined to pivot and focus his operations and curriculum on printmaking processes that are nontoxic, energy efficient, and supportive of the repurposing of paper scraps into new usable sheets.

In Fall 2022, Kardambikis was awarded $20,000 from the Office of Sustainability’s Patriot Green Fund—a grant program in Mason Facilities that allows the campus community to contribute to solutions that reduce Mason’s environmental impact—to purchase of a new Risograph printer to help fulfill his sustainability mission. This machine uses a stencil-based and single-color printing process, which prepares students for commercial printing applications. It is ENERGY STAR certified and uses 95% less energy than photocopiers. It also does not produce greenhouse gases or any air pollutants.

papermaking tools
New papermaking tools are helping students recycle all paper used in the class. Photo provided

"The Sustainable Print Studio has been working to bring student publications to the center of our work and our curriculum,” said Kardambikis. “It's exciting to provide the Risograph machine as a tool for our students to print and distribute their own comics, zines, books, and prints. It's even better to know that they are using a process that is environmentally clean and responsible.”

In addition, the Patriot Green Fund also purchased new moulds and deckles for the studio, which are used for papermaking. This allows students to learn about the processes of creating new sheets of paper from a blended pulp of leftover paper scraps in a hands-on environment. The Print Studio holds weekly papermaking sessions to recycle old prints and previously used paper into fresh new sheets to be used during class.

“Our studio is building a full life cycle of materials—with students participating in every step of production to transform refuse materials into finely crafted books and comics,” said Kardambikis.

By making their own paper, the studio can recycle all paper used in the class to keep a constant supply of new hand-formed paper available for fine art printing. The class-made paper also reduces the cost of printmaking for students, which can be a large expense in screen printing and wood block printing.

poster in green and gold
Flyer cartoon by Mason student Sylvia Rossi

Kardambikis also said that enabling the students to be directly involved in the production of materials that can be used by the entire class helps build a sense of community.

These tools have been promptly used this semester in a new course, AVT 496 Dynamic Publishing: Comics Production. This class provides opportunities for students to learn from D.C.-based cartoonist Adam Griffiths.

The Risograph will support the production of Griffiths’ new graphic novel, which will be designed, printed, and distributed by the students in the course. In addition, students have the chance to get feedback from Griffiths on their own comics.