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farmers’ markets poster progress

March 29, 2008 at 9:32 am

From sketch

…. to full-size mockup with letters!

There’s actually way more done than this by now, these pictures are from last Monday night (March 24). The letters are totally hand-drawn, no tracing! but I used a computer to print out sample text to get the letters to fit more-or-less right in their space, and to get the kerning (the spacing between each letter) roughly in place. After I had figured out most of the letterforms (drawing them as I went along in the “Providence & Pawtucket” text at the top), I started adjusting the kerning on the paper as I drew… since the computer kerning wasn’t always right. The tall letters, diagonal slant, and tight fit of the central text made it necessary to really adjust each space by eye, squinting at the negative space between the letters, trying to feel out how much breathing room they have… sketching, looking, erasing, redrawing the letter a 16th or a 32nd of an inch over — etc. It sounds maddening, right? but I have done it so many times now that I have a feel for it, and I haven’t done it in a while, so it was relaxing, falling back into old ways, an understandable task.

I’m going to try to post images of this project through to its completion — I’ve mostly put up process work so far, and if you’ve read some of the earlier posts, you may be wondering, “does anything ever get finished?” It does, but I think that after I’m done with things, I’m less excited about them than I am in the middle of the process. Also, since most of them are posters, or multiples of some kind, people see the final product… but the process tends to go unseen…

secret door work & livelihood update:

I occasionally do some screenprinting work for a local offset printer, Black Cat Graphics. They call me when they need a light-colored ink printed on dark-colored envelopes — the one thing their processes and techniques can’t pull off. (The jobs tend to be really fancy wedding invitations designed by a swanky place in New York… but luckily all only one color.) Right now, I’m in the middle of trying to be super hard-working and organized to get the second series print (about private space & shared space) done for my show in May. It’s been going well so far, even though there have been some major exceptions of space-out time — mostly I’ve been very productive & pretty organized and staying focused and on-task.

Black Cat called me up at the beginning of the week to ask if I wanted to do a large screenprinting job — more than twice as many things as I’ve printed for them before, more than twice as much money. The envelope printing will be demanding, but straightforward — lots of small details and fine lines, but I’ve ironed out (most of) those kinks in the last couple of jobs I have done for them. (Part of the reason I like working for BC is that J—, the proprietor, is as picky about quality & detail as I am, maybe more so…) It will take some time, because of the large number of pulls, and that will be time taken away from me getting the print done… it might even mean it’s not totally ready…so I initially was going to say no. I realized that, though, having the extra money will mean that I won’t have to be stressed out about money by the time of the show itself, and that I won’t be worrying about whether I sell anything or how much I sell, won’t have to let money affect how I approach the whole situation — at least not any more than it already affects any situation… So, seen in the light of that trade-off, absolutely worth it. I decided to take on the job…

and. . . I’ve definitely hung up half-finished work before . . .

the last night of the fruit & produce warehouse

March 25, 2008 at 8:29 am

Last Sunday, and another Sunday a couple of weeks before that, M— & I got up early(ish) and met up to go visit the old fruit & produce warehouse on Harris Ave. It’s being torn down, “legally”, in the same way that all demolitions of historic buildings in Providence are legal. Art In Ruins has the whole story, more links, many photographs, and comments from various people. Here‘s the ‘street view’ of it from last year, though who knows how long that link will last…

The demolition of this building is a shame and a crime. Along with a couple of way-too-large, brightly-lit branding/signs on redevelopment projects, golden retrievers being walked up & down Broadway, and the city’s Department of Arts, Culture, and Tourism (yup, those all belong together, folks!), it is one more reason on my list of reasons to leave Providence (which somehow hasn’t gotten long enough yet to a point where I actually leave…).

(image from Art In Ruins!)

When we were there on Sunday, I brought a measuring tape and went around measuring some of the construction details. When the warehouse was originally built, it was 965 feet long (about 100 of those feet were shorn off in 1998 when they built the Rt. 95/Rt. 6 & 10 interchange, which was also when the warehouse was finally closed). Though functional and utilitarian, and built on a massive scale to accommodate the trains and trucks that would pull up next to its loading docks, the building is clearly designed to be used by humans, at a human scale. It was a distribution center for fruits & vegetables, and though the building itself was huge, many small produce companies rented two or three or five of its 15-foot bays, and all had the same connection to the same regional/interstate network. Deep rigid awnings covered the docks to protect people and produce from the weather, but the first floor ceiling was extra-high to make room for a wide window above the awnings (seen in the photo above) which would light the spaces in which the workers spent their time. Compare with modern distribution centers — I couldn’t readily find an image of a really huge one, but you’ve seen them all over the countryside — there’s a massive BJ’s warehouse on Rt. 146 between here and Worcester if you need an example.

The basic function is the same (loading docks, trucks pull up, stuff comes in, stuff goes out) but any kind of details or proportions that would give the building dignity, rhythm, or identity has been cost-adjusted out of the plans — except for that nice white stripe. Natural light is dispensed with (making and maintaining a window is more expensive than making a wall, plus the building is easier to climate-control). The location (somewhere outside of the city) and the ownership structure (centrally owned and operated) both dictate that each warehouse will be accessed and used by one company only — the larger the company, the cheaper their costs will be, the huger a warehouse they can build, the larger a share of the regional economy they can control. The old Providence fruit & produce warehouse was significant not just because it was ‘historic’, and beautiful not only in its decay: from its beginning, it was a structure that fostered a different way of doing business — small-scale instead of massive, local-connected-to-regional instead of national-dominating-local, concerned with human life and experience, instead of concerned with spending less money. It was built by a city that had as its aim fostering better access to food and better business and work opportunities for its citizens — not by a company interested in increasing its market share and profits. All these things are not only political or idealistic: they were, from the start, built into the structure and the proportions of the building itself.

I was interested in paying some closer attention to some of these dimensions and details: what was left, at least. Drawing is pretty much the best way for me to give something my extended attention, comprehend the details, and make sense of connections between different things. Photos are helpful as reference after the fact, especially when time is limited, but the process of making a drawing is crucial to actually understanding something. M— is working on an epic drawing (which is probably going to be about 30 feet long!) of the entire length of the building, so she was also looking for details (of the rubble, as well as of the structure…). On Sunday, only three of the building’s 71 bays were left, and the last remaining cast-iron staircase had been pulled down out of its opening, so we had no way to go up to the second floor (besides a risky climb up a rubble-filled elevator shaft…). Most of the measurements of the upper floor could be inferred up from the facade at the ground floor, or counted off from the regular dimensions of the cinderblocks in the wall that had been built to close off the shortened end (at right in the photo below).

However, we were getting all nerdy and attempting to figure out the dimension of the bricks which were used to fill in the lower part of the walls on the second floor. We found some bricks sitting around the rubble, and measured those, and the widths of the mortar that remained attached to them… but then realized that they were the not the same bricks, but instead were bricks from the elevator shacks that had sat on top of the roof, and were (may have been?) added later… thus probably had a slightly different dimension. (They had a different texture, were a different color, and also most of them were hollow inside.) We scouted around for some of the other bricks on the ground, and found one big chunk, but the side facing up was the inside of the wall (much less even in spacing and mortaring than the outside), and it was too heavy to turn over. As I was trying to measure it, the cops pulled up and we decided to cheese it (of course, at an extremely leisurely and relaxed pace).

Well, tonight, Scøtt and I went back, at around 5 am (still too dark to take decent pictures) and found only one bay of the building remaining. The second floor of the second-to-last bay was falling down at a slope… and underneath it, sitting on the rubble pile, below a broken piece of concrete dangling precariously by a couple of strands of rebar… a large section of the 2nd floor bricks that we had wanted to measure.

  • length: 8″
  • length with mortar: 8 1/4″ to 8 1/2″
  • height: 2 1/4″
  • height of horizontal mortar strip: 3/4″
  • so, height of brick course including mortar: 3″

goodbye, building.

Here are the rest of my measurements from last Sunday.

kitchen kit part 1

March 21, 2008 at 6:12 am

I printed a whole bunch of these “kitchen kits” over the past week. The kitchen in question is, of course, the kitchen at Forbes St. — and these were made specifically for the residents of that house to cut apart and put back together as they choose. (The prints will also be a ‘bonus print’ for print series subscribers, and some will be floating around at my show ! in May.) Making a screenprint with parts that you can cut out & paste together (definitely inspired/spurred on by Jung Il Hong & Brian Chippendale’s silkscreen work in this realm, as well as Meredith Stern’s linocuts) was something I’d wanted to do for a long time, and this doesn’t totally fulfill that need, but it’s a start.

It’s also a start in experimenting with how to give people the tools to make drawings, without making them go through 5 years of architecture school training. An architectural drawing is a great way to communicate and transmit information, and even to facilitate a conversation about ideas for space, but access to that medium has always been limited by technology or specialized skills (even in the pre-computer era). How to communicate about design? How to make a tool that people can both use in group discussions, and take back to their rooms and mess around with on their own? How can we have a conversation that will produce a physical artifact that everyone present has had a chance to modify, that can be referred to in the future as evidence of the process or the decision? How to avoid being, once again, the one in the middle of the room holding the only pencil?

So, the kitchen kits are in the classic poster tradition of ‘large expendable multiples’, as well as in the classic dungeons & dragons tradition of ‘a gridded space over which creatures can move and adventures are had, facilitated by the imagination’. After getting done with the printing (and then sleeping) I kind of couldn’t keep my hands off of it and spent yesterday cutting them up & making a couple of different versions of the Forbes kitchen (past, present, possible future). It was a lot of fun. I had had doubts about the grid (which is 6" squares at the 1/2 inch = 1 foot scale), but in the end it functions pretty well as both a ground to denote what is the interior space of the kitchen, and as a instant measurement device: “wait, only 2 feet between this counter and the wall…. that’s not enough for someone to walk through!”, etc. (To all my architecture professors: Yes, it has the scale on it… you can also cut out the graphic scale and use it to measure things on the drawing!)

This, and hopefully more playful, game-like print/building projects to come, are inspired both by game designers like Jane McGonigal (whose work I barely understand but am pretty excited about), and by the book Housing Without Houses, by Nabeel Hamdi.

Here Hamdi talks about trying to make buildings which involve the users in their creation:

If the setting these buildings provided was to be an invitation to users to participate in creating an architecture of cooperation &#8212 a concept only primitively explored in the days of flexible buildings — then the size, position, and organization of space and materials would also have to perform in more than technically rational ways. They had to reference the choices available, promoting spontaneity and discovery, albeit within the constraints of the materials and systems employed and the legal and regulatory structure. The architecture of possibilities, in other words, would need to be legible and opportunistic, and yet remain technically rational.

Housing Without Houses, p.73

“Okay, roll the 20-sided die to see how much resistance you get from Code Enforcement….”

The Forbes kids get their hands on the kits this weekend, we’ll see what they do with them…

sticky-paper sheets printed from the same screens will also become coffee-cup stickers for my friend’s travelling espresso machine coffee shop…. yeah!

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