For the upcoming issue of Printed Pages we’ve been exploring the city of Montreal through the eyes of people who know it best. We got some top tips from some great people but one name that was repeatedly mentioned was Popolo Press, a printing venture run by Kiva Stimac that specialises in traditional techniques.
They summarise themselves succinctly online: “Popolo Press is the in-house print shop of the Casa del Popolo, Sala Rossa and La Vitrola, three live-music venues in Montreal, Canada. It is run by Kiva Tanya Stimac and houses letterpress, relief printing, screen-printing, risography, die cutting, bookbinding and foil-stamping facilities. For the most part things are hand-fed, hand-inked, hand-cut, hand-pulled, hand-mixed and cared for with love and attention.”
Kiva set up Popolo with Mauro Pezzente of Godspeed You! Black Emperor in 2001 and since then has been tirelessly producing gig posters, zines and all kinds of other printed ephemera to advertise Montreal’s thriving music scene to gig-goers. We caught up with her to find out how and why she does what she does…
What’s your creative background? Did you study graphic design or illustration?
Mauro and I started the Casa del Popolo in 2000 as a live music venue and cafe in Montreal. Before that I was working as a cook, bookbinding and printing as a hobby and selling at craft fairs. I was making linocuts and drawing comics and had collected a few wood and metal fonts for bookbinding. I also had a Riso Gocco machine for zine-making.
I didn’t go to art school, but both of my parents are artists. My father was a muralist and labour artist and always had a silkscreen set up in our house for printing posters for various political and labour protests. My mother – as well as being a painter/sculptor/printmaker and high school art teacher – worked as an offset printer for a part of my childhood and was one of the founding members of Women in Trades, an organisation for women in blue-collar jobs. On top of that my great grandfather was a poet/bookbinder/small press printer of Yiddish books, so ink is in my blood.
When did you first get into hand-printing?
I started designing/printing posters for shows when we started our yearly music festival, Suoni Per Il Popolo in 2001. We were inviting the artists and producing these shows ourselves, so we wanted to represent them well. Our festival runs for three weeks every June and paying other people for that many posters was not in our budget, so I started doing some of it myself out of my home studio (as well as hiring some of the great silkscreen artists in Montreal). First, using silkscreen, spray paint, photocopy and relief prints with a bookbinding press and the back of a wooden spoon! It was fun, but very time consuming. I had a couple of fonts of wood type and some lead type and a carving knife. Very DIY.
"I didn’t go to art school, but both of my parents are artists... ink is in my blood."Kiva Stimac
What kind of facilities do you have now?
There are three flatbed proof-presses accommodating prints up to 24×34 inches including the all woman-powered Vandercook 320G and two tabletop platen presses for letterpress and relief printing. We house a collection of over 800 fonts of wood and metal type and some really sharp carving knives, as well as a photopolymer platemaker, a Risograph V8OO and full screen-printing facilities for both paper and cloth, as well as a small etching press and a couple of foil stampers.
I hand-carve most of my images, I do a lot of linocuts and woodcuts and I like experimenting with stencils and other inking techniques but I also use silkscreen, and I have a photopolymer platemaker which brings me into the modern world of printing. I love vintage cuts and have a little collection which I like to dip into and of course the Risograph just makes printing street ephemera really fast and cheap.
How do you feel about Risograph machines that take a lot of the technical skill away from the printmaker?
I have a two-colour Risograph V8000 and I totally use it like a punk-rock silkscreening photocopier. I hardly ever do straight-from-the-computer prints. Mostly I do collage and use my other printmaking techniques in the process and then bring that to the flat-top to play. I see it as just another tool in the shop that can be used in the creative process; and watching the prints fly out of it so fast is very satisfying
Do you serve a big creative community in Montreal? Tell us a bit about it.
I make posters for shows that mostly happen at our three venues, but if someone contacts me and wants my design for a poster or album art or a book cover, I will usually take on the job. I am not a job-printer though, meaning I don’t print other people’s designs. I just don’t have the time.
There are so many creative communities in Montreal. That’s part of what makes it such a great city to live in – as well as relatively cheap rent. Things have changed over the years of course, but I am always amazed at the new crop of kids every year trying to make music and art in this city, who flock here from all over Canada. There’s always something interesting going on.
"I am always amazed at the new crop of kids every year trying to make music and art in this city, who flock here from all over Canada. There’s always something interesting going on."Kiva Stimac
What does it feel like to put the final layer on a freshly-pulled print?
Usually it feels pretty awesome, but sometimes it’s bittersweet, since so much of the reason I like printing is the process and the limitless experimentation that is possible. But there’s always the next one… and the one after that.
Talk us through a print you’re working on at the moment.
Right now I am making an alphabet of animals made from woodtype and wood ornaments that I have collected over the years. After that I have about 50 posters to make in two months in preparation for our annual festival, Suoni per il Popolo in June. Let the fun begin!