Let’s go back a few years. Tell me about where you both grew up and how you met.
Ben: Well, I’m from a little town called Nuneaton. We both came to Nottingham to study photography. I suppose we met properly after university because we weren’t really in the same circles whilst studying. After graduating, quite a lot of people from our course left, but me and Craig decided to stay and work together, we both knew we wanted to start some sort of a business. Craig had used risograph printing before and was happy to make an investment in that, he was aware of how successful it was in other places and that no one else was doing it in Nottingham. I suppose you also enjoyed using it, didn’t you Craig?
Ben: So we just put our brains together and started from there. We approached the university and they were able to give us some funding to buy our first machine.
Did you see yourself doing what you’re doing now when you were younger, before university?
Ben: Oh no, no. I don’t know what I was thinking before uni.
You did want to do something creative though, didn’t you?
Ben: Yes, well, I wanted to be a photographer, I suppose. But, I don’t think I was ever that completely interested in making my own work, I have always enjoyed other people’s work, I enjoyed photography books and things that are more of a finished product. So I don’t really know what I was thinking before uni, but things change so quickly when you leave, anyway.
Had you been working other jobs to support yourself prior to starting Dizzy Ink?
Ben: Yes. Bar work. I still do a bit of bar work every now and then.
Do you enjoy it?
Ben: It’s bar work. You just find ways of supporting yourself.
Craig: Before Dizzy Ink I was working at Backlit gallery, teaching, doing exhibition work, helping manage the studios. So I kind of already knew I wanted to go freelance, do something of my own. I also worked for The Guardian, in London, and that wasn’t for me, I hated the thought of moving to London and joining whatever everyone else was doing. I had my own ideas and I wanted to use them, I wanted to stay here in Nottingham, it was far more interesting, there was such a creative buzz. I was happy being part of the Backlit community.
“I was in my third year of uni and up until then I was spending so much time in the darkroom, making prints and just being fascinated by print, so standing there and looking at the risograph prints, that looked completely different to anything else out there, I wanted to understand the whole process. “
What’s the biggest risk you have ever taken?
Craig: Withdrawing every last bit of money, ever. Going down to London, in a Clio, to see this man I’ve met online to buy the risograph printer. Loading it into the Clio and bringing it back. I have borrowed from everyone I knew, friends, family members, so if it had fallen through I would’ve never forgiven myself. And people trusted me.
Can you tell me a little about risograph, what is it?
Craig: Well. It is a stencil based printing process, that was originally designed for offices, schools and churches. It is basically perfect for newsletters and similar things. The special thing about it is that it prints in spot colour pigmenting rather than CMYK. There are other ways of doing that, but they are costly, they would involve setting up a lithograph printer and making plates, but they are massive machines, they’re quite inaccessible and they can’t take on small jobs. Risograph, on the other hand, is so immediate, so experimental and cheap, in comparison.
And is that why you chose risograph?
Craig: I first discovered it when I did a Ditto print in London, they were advertising jobs, I saw their books and I really liked the considerations they’ve done – it just looked very alluring. So I went down to see what the studio was like, it was very intriguing. There was this printer in their studio, so I started asking about it and that’s when I found out it was risograph. They showed me how it works and I was just like “ wow, there’s something going on here that I’ve never seen before”. After that I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I was in my third year of uni and up until then I was spending so much time in the darkroom, making prints and just being fascinated by print, so standing there and looking at the risograph prints, that looked completely different to anything else out there, I wanted to understand the whole process. It was really hard, and expensive, there wasn’t a lot of information about it and it was quite difficult to get involved. Dizzy is the complete opposite of that, we like people coming in to look at it, find out what it is, we try to connect with loads of people and show them the process because it is such a fantastic medium to work with.
And did you need any convincing, Ben?
Ben: Oh yes, I did at the beginning. We had a meeting and a week later Craig bought the machine and I was like “what? what’s happening here?”
Craig: Yeah, that happened. But me and Ben are really good at getting involved and finding out what’s going on, especially with funding. So, when we were at university, we would always go the extra mile, do the extra work, like Made in a Day projects and so on. As Ben said, we were two of the very few people who stayed in Nottingham and we knew we wanted to do something, but didn’t quite know what, so we went on a drunken bike ride before the summer and ended up with the idea of doing something with publishing or production. Then Ben caught wind of this grant scheme through The Hive and invited me to come along to the meeting. It was an offer we couldn’t say no to, we were offered £2,000 to start “our own thing”, it was that easy.
Ben: It really was. They were very willing to help out, I think they saw us as reliable people, because we worked so hard on our degree, we went the extra mile and we just tried different things. We didn’t have a fully developed and polished business plan, but they trusted what we had. It was quite clear that we wanted to make books, I was more about publishing and Craig was more about printing, it just made sense and they wanted to support us.
Craig: Also, risograph being an environmentally friendly process, as it only uses soy-based ink, really made an impact on their decision. So, we wanted to work with artists and print for them, because at that time, other than my degree show piece, risograph hadn’t been seen a lot.
It’s quite a different style of printing and it’s getting very popular now.
Craig: Yes, and I think we kind of had an impact on that, we wanted more people to know about it and use it, we didn’t want to just keep it for ourselves. We want people to experiment with it, get involved in the process and apply it to their practice because you can do so many things with it, you can publish your own books and have your own prints for a small amount of money.
“That’s the good thing about what we do. It’s not just “turn up and print something”, people know that if they come in with a project, we will spend time on it and get involved, there’s a lot of creativity even if it’s not just my own work. I enjoy every day.”
And if it wasn’t risograph, what other media would you work with? Would you stay in the darkroom?
Craig: Well, throughout college that’s what I was doing, I did prints for others, kind of had this fantasy that I would be a print maker. Me and my friend were a little obsessed with doing these beautiful black and white photographs. But if it wasn’t for riso, I would probably end up going to London and working for a magazine or a newspaper.
Ben: I think when we were studying, independent publishing was very encouraged. Photography books, DIY and everything self-published was very well received, so I think I would’ve stayed in that scene.
Could you explain your own creative process a little, how do you get from idea to the finished product?
Craig: It really depends on what I’m making. Because Dizzy is so busy and mental, the process depends on the amount of time that I have. If it’s something we’ve been commissioned to do, like Three months On, where I knew what I wanted to do, I can start working immediately. I had the idea to blend some of the media I was using, for large-scale, black and white prints I quite often use this cheap architecture printer, which is essentially a plan printer, to get very nice contrasts. I used this method of printing before, at The Castle, to do paste-ups, where you use quite thin 90gsm paper, it’s perfect for wallpapering walls. I always want to make stuff, but time is a factor, so using something like the architecture printer is very nice, because it’s quick.
Do you get a lot of time to do your own work?
Craig: Not loads. In between work that I do for Dizzy, I find that I need to have some time to produce my own work, otherwise I get frustrated.
Ben: I don’t really spend much time doing my own work, I really enjoy having ideas for workshops and setting them up, I like the collaborative environment. Since graduating I haven’t been able to go back onto the creative path myself, but I also don’t want to force that, I think I’ll get to a point, when I’ve had enough time to know what I want to pursue. Then I’ll do it. And if that doesn’t happen and I still carry on with what I’m doing now – I’m content with that, I enjoy being involved in other people’s work, I enjoy the collaborative side, because it’s still creative. That’s the good thing about what we do. It’s not just “turn up and print something”, people know that if they come in with a project, we will spend time on it and get involved, there’s a lot of creativity even if it’s not just my own work. I enjoy every day.
What’s been your favourite project to work on?
Craig: I think the Metazine is up there. It’s great how far it went, it has been picked up and noticed by people, it’s on it’s second roll because it sold out. Two big paper companies pitched to cover the cost of the next issue because they want it as a portfolio piece. One of them even asked for 70 copies for themselves, so each one of their consultants can go out with a copy to different studios, designers and agencies. That’s pretty amazing. We also went down to London and did a talk about it, it is a very nice publication, you don’t see things like that everyday.
Ben: As well as that, I think the exhibitions that we’ve done, and hopefully will continue doing, are very nice to be involved in, especially with a more political subject. I think it may be because I am getting older or just generally people are becoming more aware of the way the world is and more and more people want to have their say. The Three Months On exhibition had really good feedback, we got a lot of people involved and we executed it very well.
We did a large scale screen printing workshop with the Contemporary the other day, with a similar theme, Brexit. There were a lot of children involved and maybe they weren’t as aware of what Brexit was, having that discussion was very interesting. I think the installation work we can do and the way we can use print to communicate to people and get them involved is something we want to carry on doing. And we will.
Tell me more about the workshops.
Ben: We run a lot of workshops. We always wanted education to be a part of we do, and the location of our studio is perfect for that. We run zine and screen printing workshops, on both paper and textiles, we also do open evenings, like bring your own t-shirts and get something printed on them.
Craig: So right from the start, after moving into this studio, workshops became one of the main things we do. They are great at getting people into the media, giving them a taste, they’re good experimental sessions. As we went along we developed other workshops, we now get commissioned to run them and so on. People can do a lot in this studio. There’s also the School of Print, which is pretty massive, we launched it last year but it’s still kind of in the process. I think this year it’s going to get even more popular, it’s been getting a lot of attention and interest, people are coming in and getting inducted, they’ve started to hire the equipment. That’s very exciting. I think we’re giving people the opportunity to carry on with this post-university access to things that help you be creative.
I guess when you graduate, suddenly you get cut off of all the equipment and facilities, and that can be quite devastating.
Craig: Exactly. We are offering industry standard equipment for less than a price of a studio.
“Do your thing. Get involved, I know it’s a cliché but go meet people, talk to people and remain sociable. Maybe get a studio, where you can have these conversations with other artists. “
Tell me about the Kickstarter you did for School of Print, what were the challenges?
Craig: It’s managing that amount of money at once, whilst running a business. It’s a massive project and we are very lucky we had so many people involved in it, we can’t thank them enough. As for the campaign, there’s a hell of a lot to sort out, there’s a lot of admin, a lot of communication, actually producing the items, then the organization and preparation. Getting everything right the first time is kind of key.
Ben: We had the first two weeks solidly planned, made sure the video was really good. Looking back on it, it doesn’t seem that hard, but at the time it really was. Like Craig said, it’s making everything work whilst running Dizzy, that was the hardest, they both were full time. But now it’s kind of simmered down a little so we can focus on what we do best, we’re fairly confident with the reach of Dizzy, people seem to know us and the studio. It was crazy doing Kickstarter, and it was great having so many people involved but that also sometimes complicates things, people tend to want different things. Also, what happens afterwards? You can build all of it up and the campaign can go really well, but you really need to plan for what happens afterwards.
Did you have that plan?
Craig: We did, yes. It’s super busy beforehand and it’s super busy afterwards, but when the actual campaign runs, that’s the calmest point, because of all the organization we’ve done. It was a massive marketing campaign and really did the job.
How does living in Nottingham influence your work?
Ben: It’s never been an exclusive city. When we’ve started in Backlit, everyone was really supportive, it’s really easy to become involved with things in Nottingham. That affects the way we are as a business, we don’t want to cut anyone off, we want to reach as many people, who have even the slightest creative interest, as possible. It’s an easy city to do what you want, be creative, there’s a lot of opportunity within that.
Are you creatively satisfied?
Craig: Yes. Definitely.
Ben: Yes, job satisfaction 10/10. In terms of the scene in Nottingham, it’s very good, and not just for what we do, there’s so many institutions with great art and music. I’m confident to say that it is a good city if you want to be creative.
What advice would you give to a young person starting out?
Craig: Do your thing. Get involved, I know it’s a cliche but go meet people, talk to people and remain sociable. Maybe get a studio, where you can have these conversations with other artists. Again, I can’t recommend Backlit enough, it is great community to be a part of, they are the people who are going to support you and help you start your career.
Ben: Yes, I agree, get yourself out there, surround yourself with creative people. Sometimes it will be a struggle to make it as a freelancer, you will be a bit skint but it does work out in the end.
And what advice would you give to your younger selves?
Ben: Go to the dentist. Also, don’t sell that van.
Craig: Start taking photos earlier.
Ben: Yes, there’s a big section of my life that I wish I had photos of.
Seems like you’ve done everything right.
Craig: Well I don’t have any regrets, I wouldn’t say, like, I wish I studied graphics, because I still ended up doing what I wanted to do. Some of the skills might’ve come post-uni, but I’ve learnt a lot from photography. I guess the advice would be: Learn everything.
Craig: I’d like Dizzy to be going for quite a while, I’d like it to become one of those gems in Nottingham, maybe it could be a reason for people to visit Nottingham. That’d be nice.
Ben: It’d be nice to become known a little bit nationally and I don’t think we’re too far from that. Especially with the “riso world” not being a big world, there’s a handful of studios, really.
Craig: It’d be good to be known for being reliable and have that DYI feel about us. To be known for doing great workshops, always deliver great results, do great exhibitions and events and design really cool books.