Risolana: A Community of Color

The creative community around Risolana, a publicly accessible risograph printing space in New Mexico.



[ feminine ]

  1. the south-facing side of a wall
  2. “the place where the sun shines.”

In "the people's parlance," a resolana is unofficially a place where New Mexicans frequently gather…and officiate. If one happens upon a resolana, one will likely find people (considered “children of the sun” for the duration of this blog post) gathered to chat, chill, “chop it up,” or create. This stands to validate the poetic license taken by Michael Lopez and Karl Orozco when founding Risolana.

Right now, you might be asking yourself…”What exactly is RISO?”

two people standing in front of a wall of prints, smiling and holding up their own risograph prints
Photo from Luke Dorman

Welp, a RISO is what happens when a risograph and (insert artist’s name here) make love. That resultant bundle of joy is a RISO print. And unlike us humans, who come in a varied yet finite category of shades and grades (if we’re honest), RISO shuns the dominant (read: positivist) constructs of color like CMYK. It is both the future of color fluidity and, somehow, the past…

at the same time.

From Risolana.org, “A risograph is a printer invented in Japan in 1986 that uses ink to produce vibrant digital prints with a uniquely handcrafted feel. Although originally marketed to corporations, schools, and churches for their efficiency and low cost, artists have recently used risographs to start small presses and DIY printmaking spaces.”

So, NOW you are likely pondering (like that meme from Peter Jackson’s cover of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings) the following…

gif of Lord of the Rings person with shoulder length hair with the words "One does not simply Risolana..."
Image by Carlos I. Gabaldon

Indeed, one cannot Risolana alone. In fact, much like its contemporary contraption from the late 70s (the turntable AKA record player), the risograph operated much like its technological ancestor: the campfire. The risograph is an accessible, cost effective, toner-free, environmentally friendlier alternative to the photocopier that now serves as a modern day catalyst for both creativity and communities of scale.

“We have so much work coming through the door because people saw a print on social media or on a wall nearby or as a result of someone they know that really enjoyed their experience here.” Studio Manager Carlos Irahm Gabaldon Solis continues, “People see it and go, ‘I want to do that for myself.’” For the only publicly accessible risograph in New Mexico, the desire to design (and distribute) at scale is word of mouth. Also known as “going viral” … the old fashioned way.

“People squeal when their prints come out,” says Lopez while mimicking the frequent and familiar sounds of joy that come from first-time printmakers as they crowd the machine for their debut print. Housed in the South Valley Social Enterprise Center, Risolana’s organizational neighbors could easily confuse the palpable excitement for a dice game according to Lopez.

several sheets of paper with prints on them, spread out on a table with a person reaching a hand over it
Photo from Caitlin LeMoine

“We come to RISO as educators,” says Orozco. “We embrace the idea of scaffolding. Not just facilitating the product itself and the things that are being printed, but our focus is on the people we are bringing into the space. Right now, we offer things like 30 under 30, where people with no access to RISO and no prior experience can come in and print for an extremely affordable rate. We also have an artist in residence program, where we are giving someone a really long amount of time to investigate what it is that they want to communicate through the format.” 

I asked Team Risolana, “What is it about RISO that has sparked such a renaissance? What can RISO afford creators that is different from pumping content into the digital media void?” (Which is, admittedly, likely where you are viewing this blog).

“It’s just harder to ignore,” says Orozco. “When someone chooses to give it to you, and chooses to put it in your hands, you’re just forced to interact with it.”

Even for clients who are more interested in the “print job” than the print process, it’s highly advised to make the in-person trip to the print lab in order to get the color theory for RISO’s uniquely radiant, soy-based inks just right.

a male-presenting person with cropped brown hair, wearing gloves and holding risograph prints over a table
Photo from Caitlin LeMoine

“We can post designs on Instagram all day and night,” says Gabaldon Solis. “But it is never the same reaction as when people walk through that door and see other people’s examples. Or when they look through prints that we have and the other zines people have made and think, ‘oh this is something very different!’ That’s when the wheels start turning.”

Although Risolana is easily the most retro chic one-stop shop for all your one-of-a-kind print invitation needs, Lopez extends a different open invitation to fellow makers. “30 under 30 is advertised as thirty minute slots, but it is also advertised as a party. It doesn’t get too rowdy, but the idea is that people have a set amount of structured time to care for everyone else in the space that is also there to print. It’s an environment where people are also learning from each other, while sharing the space and seeing each other print.” 

Attend a Risolana 30 Under 30.