The Allegory of the Skin

DSC_0068 grayscaleWhen you look at this image what do you see?

I captured this image about three weeks ago.  I was intrigued by how the light hit certain areas, the randomness of the ripples and wondered what people might perceived it as.

As I asked around I got answers like: an oil spill, or melted chocolate, even deep, dark, thick arctic waters.  So I am curious what you see.  What image does this relate to in your mind or in your experience?

Now what happens when I add the original color back into it?

DSC_0068Now What do you see?

With color I received responses such as: brownie or cake mix, melted plastic, and more creative thoughts.  So what do you see?  What does color do as far as offering clues?  I promise this isn’t some sort of Rorschach test, I wouldn’t do that to you this close to Christmas!

During this questioning process there were a few that guessed correctly after a few tries.  They did so, because they knew me.  They knew who I was, what I was involved with regularly, and where the picture was most likely taken.  These clues led them to the correct answer as to what they were looking at.

So, here are a few of those hints for you.  I own and operate a print shop.  I have been involved with the printing industry for nearly 15 years starting back in high school as a laborer when large jobs would come in and progressing to a pressman’s apprentice, then on to being a pressman.  Finally, about 10 years ago my wife and I took over that print shop and that has turned into a career for me.

Even though I am the owner, I am heavily involved with the production of printed products and often work long hours in order to get the job done on time.

Does this offer any clues as to what the images are?

DSC_0067Well if you guessed ink, you are correct.  This is the same image but zoomed back a bit.  You can now see the container that holds the ink.  What you are seeing is what a pressman would term as “skin”.  As the ink sits unused and stagnant, even though it is in a closed container, it develops a dry layer on the top referred to as a skin.  Depending on the ink, this layer can become a solid and is brittle, crumbling like the glaze on a donut.

Others will develop more of a rubber type feel, similar to a dry layer of latex paint that’s sat undisturbed for too long.  It’s solid enough to peel from the top, but still flexible and soft.

But either way this layer of skin develops wrinkles and ripples as it sits undisturbed and slowly dries and, either way, it is removed and discarded before the pressman is able to access the useful supply of ink that sits below.

When I was first apprenticing I was shown the process of removing this layer known as ‘skinning the ink’.  I remember watching the pressman as he took his ink knife (which is just a more expensive version of a basic hardware store putty knife) and worked from one side of the can to the other, sweeping back and forth in a hypnotizing dance as he removed the top, rippled layer of dried up and useless ink.

Inevitably as he did so there was, at least to me, an alarming amount of useful ink that was also removed and discarded.  I was surprised that he didn’t even give it a second glance as he took a stiff edge of paper that was already in the garbage and scraped off the entire glob of ink and let it join the rest of the waste products that were no longer needed or useful.  He was able to then dip into the clean and useful ink that lay below to ink up the press with and produce a beautifully printed product.

Soon enough came my chance to set up the press and run a job on my own.  I was nervous and excited at the same time.  This was my chance to prove all I had observed and learned.

I set the feed table guides and feed feet.  Stacked in the paper and raised the feed table up.  I removed the old plate and fed on the new plate, tightening it snug to the cylinder.  I then turned the fountain bottle upside down and placed it in its holder as I heard the fountain solution bubble down into the tray.  It was time to raise the ink tray up and lay in the glob of ink I would be using.

Side note:  I realize that none of the above paragraph probably makes any sense to you…but that’s okay.  Just take it as I was preparing the press to start printing the job.

I opened the can of 356 Green ink, and as expected, there on the surface was the rippled layer of dry skin.  I skinned off the top layer, as I had been shown, but then a spark of brilliance hit me as I decided to go the extra mile and salvage all the good ink I could from the glob of rippled skin I had just removed.

As I did so the skin broke apart and I found that in the tray lay mostly good ink but with some fragments of skin.  I removed all that I could see feeling satisfied with the money I had just saved the shop.  I layered in a bit more of the good ink from the skinned can, put the lid on, and began inking up the press.

The printed sheets began piling up in the delivery end of the press.  I was feeling very accomplished and proud of what I had achieved on my own.  But as I pulled sample sheets I began to notice hickies (these are blemishes in the image that look much like a bulls eye) across the printed image.  I stopped the press, cleaned the plate and the blanket, and began running again.  It was not uncommon to have this happen as dirt, paper, and other contaminates inevitably find their way into the rollers.  But what I was discovering was that they were infesting the image and not allowing me to get more than 20-30 sheets off before I had to clean the plate and blanket again.  Something was definitely wrong.

The next time I stopped the press I puzzled and puzzled at what the issue was.  I began searching the press looking for some indication of what had happened.  As I peered at the ink rollers I realized they were speckled with some sort of grit.  WHAT IN THE HECK IS THAT!?!?!  Had a piece of paper found it’s way up in there?  No, that usually looks more like lint.  Had something fallen from the ceiling and been chewed up as the rollers turned?

I put a latex glove on and ran my finger along the roller in an attempt to scrape some of it up with my nail.  As I rubbed it between my thumb and index finger, examining it closely, it suddenly hit me.  I had not rid the ink from all if it’s skin.  Part of that layer had been transferred from the tray and into the rollers which had then taken it and ground it into millions of tiny pieces that were now spread throughout the entire press.

That feeling was an immediate low to my fantastic high I was feeling a mere 15 minutes earlier.  The job that I was so proudly and successfully running was now a shame and an embarrassment to me.

Frantically I drained the fountain, jammed the clean-up tray under the rollers, and began a quick clean-up hoping it would be an easy remedy.  Once the rollers were clean, mostly at least,  I filled the fountain again, re-inked the press, and resumed the run.

Again, the first 50-100 sheets looked fine.  I could feel relief swelling up inside me.  But only to crash again.  The hickies began to appear and once stopped, I could see the speckled mess across the inked rollers.  I was almost at a panic at this point.  I didn’t want the pressman to see my rookie error.

I realized the only way to solve the problem would be to do a complete clean and this included discarding ALL of the ink that was in the tray; not only the ink I had salvaged from the skin, or so I thought, but also the good ink I had dropped in after because it had all been mixed and stirred together as the press ran.

As I cleaned the press I realized that some of that skin had adhered itself so well to the rollers that it would require me to remove the rollers, one by one, and hand clean them.  This not only became a complete clean-up, but a lengthy and laborious one at. Every roller was removed and cleaned by hand, all the ink was removed and discarded, and once I was satisfied that every bit of skin was off the press and in the garbage I started the process of inking up the press once again.

Finally as I settled in on the successful run, I pondered in my mind the reasoning for the pressman being so willing to discard ALL of the ink that had been removed with the rippled skin.  The time and effort and material that I had wasted in my attempt to salvage a small amount of ink was simply not worth it.

But still remains that impulse every time I open a can of ink and skin off that top, dried up, and rippled layer.  What a waste!  I still wish there was some way to salvage that ink that is thrown away at the beginning of each job.  The best way to avoid that waste would be to never allow that skin to form.

How often in our lives do we allow ourselves to become stagnant?  How often do we allow ourselves to become complacent with where we are?  As we do that we allow a skin to develop that covers our potential.  I would also suggest that as we sit stagnant, ripples begin to form as hurdles where smooth progression once was.

This rippled layer of skin becomes a barrier, making us work twice as hard to get back on track and progressing forward again.  It also opens the doors for contaminants to sneak their way in, inhibiting our progress and making the road that much more of a struggle as we renew our goals and step up to bat.

So my suggestion?  Well, first I’d say don’t allow yourself to become stagnant in the first place.  Now this quickly becomes a ‘practice what you preach’ moment.  Too often I’ve gotten lazy and allowed myself to ‘take a well deserved break’.  But more and more I am realizing that that ‘well deserved break’ just causes me to take three steps back.  So I’d encourage you to keep progress moving forward.

This can relate to your efforts at work, at home, education, exercise, or any worthy pursuit.  Just keep yourself active in that good pursuit.  This can even relate to personal battles you may be facing.  And that leads me to my next point.

If you are going to rid yourself of a contaminant, dispose of it all!  If the ripples of contamination have layered themselves on and you are ready to take that step of ridding yourself of them, then I plead with you to do a thorough job of skinning the ink.  I know how it feels to justify this or that as you do a half committed clean-house in a show of re-directing your life.  Well as they say: “either sh@& or get off the pot!”.

If you are ready to clear off that rippled skin so you can achieve your potential, than do it right.  Do a thorough ‘skinning’ as to not leave any door open for contaminants to impede your progress or sabotage your success.

As we head towards the New Year, to me it seems a bit lame or old fashioned to make resolutions.  I mean, why wait until the New Year.  If you can’t make it by starting now, what good is the New Year going to do?  But at the same time I am finding myself feeling a bit energized and almost excited to put 2017 behind me and have the new beginning of 2018.  It is almost natural to think; “ok, just get through the next few weeks and then I can start fresh”.  So I would suggest whether you are into the whole New Year Resolutions or not; it is a natural starting point.

So if all you need to do is try better to not allow your life to go stagnant, or if you need to do a thorough skinning; LETS GET TO IT!!!  Let’s take some calculated steps, set some priorities, and get this show on the road!  The New Year is waiting to cheer you on towards your successful run!

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