Getting to Know: The Big Tuna

The Arvada Center celebrates all things PRINT! From now until March 24, all of our galleries are currently hosting exhibitions that explore printmaking and its many processes, and following these exhibitions, one of the biggest stars in the printmaking business will be right here at the Center - The Big Tuna! On April 6 and 7, join us for BIG INK, where Lyell Castonguay teaches you how to carve a woodblock, and culminates into you printing your carving on a custom-built giant printing press. The name of that printing press? The Big Tuna. Read on as Castonguay's shares with us the reasoning behind the funny name, and what it is like working with The Big Tuna. 
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Q: Where did The Big Tuna get the name The Big Tuna?

A: The Big Tuna got its name because it's large and powerful like the fish!

Q: Do you remember the first item ever printed on The Big Tuna?

A: My piece "New City" was the first woodblock that I printed on The Big Tuna. "New City" has an underlying ecological theme. Despite the tragic sight of wrens carrying their home away, the image has a prevailing sense of wonder. The viewer can witness these birds enduring despite losing their habitat. You can see "New City" here. 

Q: Printing presses are big! What is it about The Big Tuna that makes it portable?

A: Typically, a printmaking press that produces large images weighs several tons due to the immense pressure required. So, I faced the challenge of designing and commissioning a lightweight press that could create high-quality woodblock prints. To solve this problem, I created a modular design made of several pieces. I also designed a rolling table that raises and lowers to store it in a cargo van during transport, and a lightweight press bed that folds in half.  Plus, the main roller of the press is hollow, which saves on weight. The press weighs around 500 pounds and is much more portable than the traditional presses.

Q: How long does it take to print something on The Big Tuna? What's the process?

A: The time it takes to pull a single print using The Big Tuna dramatically varies. A lot depends on the size of the image and the size of the inking roller used. I can print a 24" by 36" woodblock in minutes, but a 40" by 96" image can take much longer. It's like printing a giant handmade stamp. The process starts by carving a design into a large block of wood, which is then inked and pressed onto paper by the machine. Most BIG INK workshop participants spent several months carving their blocks, so the final minutes of inking and printing are genuinely the most exciting part of the process to experience!

Q: Any funny mishaps with The Big Tuna?

A: I like to dress up The Big Tuna Press with lots of fish-related decor. That includes a tiny fish-shaped trim, a shiny mermaid-scale skirt, and plastic tuna figurines attached to the top of the press.  Once in a blue moon, the decor can get a bit in the way of our work, and the tuna figurines get accidentally knocked off.  It's okay, though - since they are magnetic, we stick them back on!

Q: What do you hope to see in The Big Tuna's future?

A: Woodblock printmaking is an incredible art form that brings together people of all ages, backgrounds, and experiences; I am fortunate to meet and work with many wonderful people!  In the future, I want to continue to grow our community, encourage more people to try woodblock carving and help continue the legacy of this historical art form. Also, I'd like to find ways for BIG INK participants to network better, such as a private forum and member database, so this nationwide community has a dedicated online space to connect and grow. I'm currently working on these features as we speak. I can't wait to visit Arvada this spring and share the joy of printmaking with the people in your community.
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Come see The Big Tuna printing it out at BIG INK on April 6 and 7!
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