Tom Goulder – Master Printer

Tom is the owner and operator of Duck Printing in Port Kembla, and also just a genuinely good person. We’d originally started chatting about our similar political views and then eventually our shared interest in art and generally creativity when he shared with me that he’s spent the last 40+ years as a specialist printer.

Now Tom doesn’t do just any printing; what he does is artisan, archaic, meticulous and borderline pedantry. He knows his craft, and he’s one of the remaining few who know it so well. He’s remained dedicated to what he does.

After I expressed and interest in printing and the finished product, he invited me into the workshop to get a closeup view of what he does, how he works and the processes he undertakes, and it’d have been foolish of me to not take a camera with me to document my time there.

The workshop is full of these beautiful, manual printers of different types. I have to imagine that most of them weigh somewhere in the region of a small car and at the surface appear relatively easy to operate. And I guess in a way they are. The functionality of the press would make sense to most people – but this isn’t where the skill of printing really lies.

At one point he was flipping through a large coffee table book filled with various projects surrounding this printing format; that is, extremely fine art. He pointed to a printer in the book being operated in a project and said, in his New Zealand accent that you can tell had been weathered by years of living in Sydney, “see this machine that Lloyd Rees is printing on here, that’s this one over here”. He gestured at one of the many cast iron presses towards the window. I replied, “oh, that’s the same type of printer?”. “Nah mate, its that actual printer – the one in the book”. See, these printers are specialist pieces of equipment, and there aren’t thousands of them out there in operation. In fact, this specific one Tom was mentioning was designed in the UK, transported to New York for years of operation before eventually being imported to Sydney some 20 or 30 years ago. All while collecting fragments of stories of the other artisans that spent time printing on it across varying projects for varying artists of varying levels of notoriety.

The paper and the ink, as you’d expect, were scrupulously sourced. The paper, especially, was crucial. Imported mostly from Germany, Tom explained that it was this marriage between the etching, ink and paper that was important and varied the result, and so experimenting with all these different elements was the bulk of the process.

We spent a lot of our time talking about a couple of particular projects; one of which was for famed documentary photographer and personal idol of mine Stephen Dupont. They’d been working together on a process called photogravure, and Tom spoke in depth about his efforts so far, and what was, for him, still missing. Photogravure involves etched copper being pressed onto special paper, the deeper the etch, the more varying amounts of ink that would be applied to the paper, giving you more or less highlight and shadow.

After walking around and being shown the different applications of this printing, the different projects in production and even a handful of prints by prominent artists around NSW and of international fame, I asked Tom if I could take his portrait.

“Not a bloody chance young fella”.

But with the promise of a pint on me, he eventually relented.