I KNOW I’VE SAID THIS BEFORE, BUT ONE OF MY FAVOURITE PARTS OF MIRAGE IS MEETING INCREDIBLE CREATIVES WHO INSPIRE MY OWN LIFE. PULLING UP ONE MORNING TO WHERE THINGS HAPPEN STUDIO IN WICKHAM, RIGHT NEAR THROSBY CREEK, I WAS PRETTY CONFIDENT I WAS ABOUT TO SEE SOMETHING AMAZING. SET IN THE BACK SHED OF SUZAN FREEMAN’S PROPERTY IS THIS CONVERTED ART SPACE WITH THREE GIGANTIC PRINTING MACHINES – THE KIND OF MACHINES YOU CAN JUST SEE THE HISTORY STEAMING OFF OF – AND I WAS LUCKY ENOUGH TO BE SPEAKING WITH THE PERSON BEHIND IT ALL…
It was about a year ago when I first met Suzan after an Idea Bombing event as part of the Newcastle Writers Festival. I’d just finished ranting at a packed audience inside the Press Bookhouse about our love affair with print in a digital world. A year later I was still keen to speak with her about the interesting work she showed me. So Suzan let me in to where all the magic happens.
Tell me a bit about yourself…
Suzan: I studied at Newcastle Uni, a long time ago, then moved to Sydney and worked in advertising for about 20 years. Worked in packaging and design, advertising. Then when I had my daughter I decided to move back to Newcastle, and that’s how this all sort of started. Ever since I studied print and design I loved old-school printing; when everything went to offset, it was a bit sad to me. A friend and I bought this one [pointing to a very large old metal machine]. It was in a scrapyard in Wallsend. It’s from 1852, a beautiful old Albion press. They used to print the newspapers, apparently; I think it used to print the Port Stephens Examiner. This little Arab treadle press – I got a call from someone at the print museum in Penrith: ‘Someone in the Blue Mountains has an Arab press and if you can pick it up by Friday, you can have it for free.’ I got on the phone and started calling people – it’s about 700, maybe 800kgs. It was in really bad condition.
Having restored several machines, is that part of the process for you?
It helps me to learn how the machine works as well. There are a few old manuals around, but I’ve been really worried I wouldn’t be able to put them back together again.
Have you had to learn a lot of skills to use each of the machines?
Definitely the Heidelberg. It’s all about how the paper picks up. If you can’t get that right, it depends on the different weights of the paper; it’s a bit fiddly, but I’ve kind of gotten to know how it works now.
A lot of trial and error?
A lot. And speaking to other printers.
Where did this love affair with old styles of printing start?
I used to want to use old types of printing, like foiling and letterpress, to print work that I was doing – business cards or such; I’d always push to use these. It’s a lot more tactile.
It’s crazy to think about all the things these machines have already printed.
I know. To think how many people have printed on them. If you could take a snapshot… Imagine this old 1850 [machine]; back in the day, people used to use wood and lead type and set each letter. We don’t do that anymore. All the history of it, all the personalities that have passed by.
Do you think that’s what attracts people to what you’re doing?
There is definitely a sense of satisfaction from getting a particular kind of print. People also like the fact that I’m trying to keep this alive, because the skills are – well, some of the people teaching me are in their 80s. If the skills are lost with those people, the only other way we’re learning is from manuals.
I feel like there are two elements to this: printing from yourself and finding the right people, but is there also a second element in terms of education and training, for both the machines and the history?
I have noticed, from doing the markets, that many people don’t understand the difference; they’ll say, ‘That’s nice’, but not really understand that it’s been pressed and printed by hand. It is education; you can’t get these results by paying 30c a print. Each colour you have to put on separately. It all takes time. But also, [it’s about] trying to find people who want to collaborate and support this kind of printing process as well. I’ve been speaking with a few people about setting up a print studio in Newcastle that purely works with paper. A paper print house. Using all different types of printing like Riso, screens and others.
So who should contact you?
Anyone who wants to work on collaborations. I also want to work with people who have other techniques. Maybe people who are interested in this form of printing. Historians. I’m sure there would be people out there who would like to know more.
Who inspires you?
I definitely have a love of type – even just people that are pushing themselves. Sagmeister in New York – he’s been doing amazing stuff for years; he always seems to push the boundaries a bit.
Are there people locally?
I’m part of a type club, run by Wayne Thompson and Brett Piva; they bring together people who have a love affair of type as well as beer! It’s really important to communicate with other people who are similar. They are really supportive too.
Where should people find you?
Website, Instagram, and Facebook. But mainly Instagram.
When you’re not printing, where do you like to hang out in Newcastle?
Merewether baths. We have a six-year-old, so we go to the beach a lot. Try to see live music occasionally.
If someone comes to visit, where do you make sure you take them?
Baked Uprising, the baths, the Surfhouse for a pizza and to sit by the beach. Ride our bikes around the bike path from Throsby Creek into town.
If you could teach Novocastrians one thing, what would it be?
That’s a hard one. Make sure they are welcoming to new people, no matter their background. I’ve found that Newcastle can be a little cliquey.
You’re intrigued right now, aren’t you? Find Suzan across the internet via @wherethingshappenstudio or www.wherethingshappen.com.au, say hello if you spot her at the markets, and invite her to the next cool creative event you have happening. Suzan’s studio is simply incredible, so maybe we need her to invite everyone to stop by, hey?