Farewell to Damien Leech


Damien Leech, Research Associate at the Centre for Fine Print Research (CFPR), leaves for a new job in Nottingham this month, having been at the Centre for two years.

Fellow Research Associate, Wuon-Gean Ho, interviews him on his move.

WGH: Congratulations on your new position! How long have you worked at the Centre for Fine Print Research for? What were your impressions of the Centre? I’m sorry you are leaving, you are such a great member of the team.

DL: I have been at CFPR for two years. It was a totally new experience, as the Centre is a unique, one-of-a-kind place. Who else would let a physicist near expensive printmaking equipment? I was drastically underqualified!

WGH: Yes, the Centre is an interesting blend of very old machines and space age technology. I guess you were hired for your science background?

DL: Yes, I came in as part of Dr Susanne Klein’s project on advanced manufacturing, but incredibly, being at CFPR opened up a new bunch of research areas I didn’t know existed and wouldn’t have had the chance to work on anywhere else. My favourite press was the Van Der Cook, though I didn’t want to break it…

WGH: The very first time I met you at the Centre, I recall you showing me a lump of something in a tub which had self-organized to a reflective irridescent mass, and you explaining the chemistry behind it. What was that substance? 

DL: It’s a liquid crystal called hydroxypropyl cellulose that Susanne pointed out at a conference focused on chirality. Essentially it’s a liquid substance that will organise into a semi-crystalline state, given the right conditions and enough time. This crystalline state matches up with the length-scales required for structural colour and reflects the visible colour spectrum. There’s a really great paper about it here: https://doi.org/10.1002/adma.201905151

WGH: I am excited to read about your research into structural colour as well. The paper which you have written will be shortly published in the Autumn edition of the IMPACT Printmaking Journal (www.impactprintmaking.com)

DL: Bioinspiration is fascinating – the act of looking at the systems nature produces and trying to recreate them. I wanted to take a quick look into the way bioinspiration and structural colour could be used in printmaking in the future. Things like effect-pigments are commonplace but as we gain access to more precise and complex methods of printing, we can start to image how we might try and emulate beautiful things like beetle shells and sea shells and so on.

WGH: Let’s talk about your excellent lunchtime seminar programme for CFPR. This has been a packed programme of experts speaking for half an hour each Wednesday from diverse backgrounds including fine art printmakers, scientists, origami experts, film conservators, photographers and professors. The online format has meant attendance has widened to participants from all over the world. How did you decide to set this up and do you have a favourite talk?

DL: Well, in the physics world, you have a seminar group. This is the only time you can convince physicists to talk to each other. The seminar slots were available and it made a lot of sense during lockdown… (Access to all the talks is on the website https://cfpr.uwe.ac.uk/category/events/cfpr-seminars/ so you can view them if you missed any). I don’t have a favourite talk, it’s been a wide range of topics and there’s been so many good ones…

WGH: In terms of bridging printmaking and science you seem to be working on a multitude of projects at the same time. I saw you making colour test strips for Woodburytype for example, but then a few months later you were part of the group presentation on remote robotics. What are you working on at the moment?

DL: With the help of Sonny Lightfoot and Dave Huson, we made a syringe pump driver that can print gelatin directly using a hacked 3D printer. We have tried it with cake mix, but it’s a bit too thick. And we found that marmite has enough salt in it that you can make an electrical circuit with it…. Here is our ‘bread board’!

Bread Board (2020) by Damien Leech. Marmite, toast, circuit and lamp.

WGH: Well, on that note, on behalf of the CFPR, I wish you the very best for your new role, and please keep in touch: we will miss you very much!

DL: I’ll be working on all sorts of cross-disciplinary projects, including stereolithography, so still in print research. I should hopefully be around to say hi!

Follow Dr Damien Leech on his printmaking and science adventures at https://twitter.com/dr_djleech

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