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imagined neighborhoods

November 16, 2009 at 9:31 pm

After the precise-alignment-style process of printing the Polish Home prints (and after resting for a day to catch up on sleep!) it was super fun to make some more of these big messy prints:

“neighborhood” prints

I made this drawing in 2006 maybe? and have been printing them up every so often. It’s a theoretical Providence (or New England for that matter) neighborhood, with triple-deckers mixed in among industrial buildings. They are fast & loose to print, and offer me a good chance for color experimentation. I really really like the color combinations that are on this batch; there are some good rainbow-roll gradients: red/brown & silver, purple/blue & pink, green/blue & light green (plus variations on & remixes of the above).

The brown kraft paper reflects the light in interesting ways and sets off the bright inks: there are lots of opportunities for similar / different value contrasts. It’s hard to do precise alignment on it, though — it’s thin & uneven, and distorts when the ink dries (I’ve worn the skin off my fingertips doing a long run of attemptedly-precise prints on kraft paper, sticking down every print to the spray glue on the table, trying to smooth out the wrinkles!) — so it’s great for something like this where the imprecise alignment of the two color layers is part of what makes it awesome.

close up…

I printed them last night, biked them down to Craftland today!

Oh yeah, blatant self-promotion! These little neighborhood prints, along with other work of mine, are for sale at the Craftland shop downtown, among many very brightly colored and poppy objects. I’m working right now on some new stuff & some re-prints that will be there for the holiday-season epic Craftland sale extravaganza…

Here’s their banner, featuring a slightly-creepy-and-submissive-but-charming-as-always Jen Corace girl…!

craftland sale…

some moments from printing

November 15, 2009 at 7:29 am

All right, the prints are signed, numbered, and packed up, the screens are stripped and ready to go down to the car wash, so let’s close up this process.

Color mixing: comparing semi-dry swatches. (in the background are some alignment prints of the Liberation banner that I helped Erik Ruin print this summer in Providence, still lingering on my plastic alignment sheet!)

mixing colors…

Ink color attempts. Over the phone I told Meg I was mixing colors, she said, “mmm, I can see you surrounded by muted greens and blues, rusty reds & oranges…” My response: “NOOooooooo! Am I that predictable????” Answer: YES. (and yes, I’ve been thinking hard about this…)


MORE color mixing. Getting closer. The blue-blue-green gradient will be the sky. Figuring out the colors takes about a day, usually, and it’s worth it to have the time to look at them, think about it, & look again…

more color mixing

The first pull! Look at that nice gradient. (All these images are enlargeable by clicking, and generally look better larger!)

first print!

A detail: I have drawn a pencil rectangle to lay out where I want the print to fall on the paper; then I tape down some masking tape at the corners of the paper, which lets me put the sheet down in the same place over & over again.

first color detail

The first & second colors are printed, and I’m looking at them with the third color transparency over them, thinking about the values of the next colors, the light orange/brown and the darker red…

more color comparison…

I had mixed this brightish salmon-pinkish-orange (seen in the swatch above) for the third color, which is a color that I have mixed and used so many times before: it is kind of the closest the speedball inks that I use can get to a “brick” orange… but it’s way too pink. It’s useful, maybe, in the context of a lot of bright colors… but in this context, trying to represent real bricks, I have never been happy with it.

Andrew O was hanging out while I was setting up to print the third color, and I found myself saying to him, “Man, I really really hate this color, I’m so bored with it, and it’s not even good looking…” After he left, I started printing with it, got through 14 prints… and realized it was just not right. I decided to start over & make a different color. The new color, with a lighter value and a less saturated red/orange component, is at right below (though somewhat hard to see in the poorly-lit digital photo). Luckily I had enough extra prints that I could afford to lose 14, since the lighter / less saturated color was so much better: totally worth the loss in time & the extra work that it took to re-mix it. Follow your instincts & change it till it’s right!

color decision…

From stack to drying rack…

printing the third color…

The third color.

color #3, the bricks

At this point it was pretty late at night, and the morning deadline was unavoidable, so I stopped taking pictures & just plowed through the work. In super-focus zone for the last two colors, I was racing the clock & my own speeds to see how many prints I could pull in an hour, or how long it took me to fill up all the shelves of the drying rack. 64 pulls: 52 minutes. Bzzam. Kind of brutal and obsessive, but a decent way to get yourself through a long night / morning, and even to shorten the time you are spending on the work… Jacob & I were discussing repetitive stress injuries, and this phrase came up and stuck with me: a terrible factory of my own devising.

The completed print.

Polish National Home!

A detail: I’m pretty psyched about the different textures in the trees and in the ground, and the layering of the lines in the two brick colors. And those halftones turned out pretty nice too…


So yeah, the take-home handout for today’s lesson:

  1. if you don’t feel like something’s right, work on it till it is
  2. don’t be scared of difficult stuff
  3. don’t procrastinate just because you’re scared of it
  4. the messy parts turn out the best, don’t be scared of them either!
  5. if you work on it, it will get done eventually…
  6. sometimes you just have to buckle down & finish.

Time for bed!


November 8, 2009 at 6:14 am


Yes, you are not mistaken: I made some halftones on the computer, printed them out*, then traced/stippled over them with a rapidograph pen, modulating the size of the dot I was making with the pen to match the dots in the halftone gradient.

halftones on paper…

It’s true, Liz Girlhaus was there, she saw it all go down! Yes, THIS IS TOTALLY CRAZY and backwards from the way that anything in the realm of image-reproduction should be done. Also it’s incredibly obsessive & reveals my need for an ordering system to underlie everything I do.

more halftones!!!

But, when I got the gradient for the street finished, I had that moment that comes in every project where you go from thinking, “this totally blows and it is going to be the worst thing I’ve ever done”, to thinking, “hmm, this might actually looks pretty good… hmm… hmm! yeah!” Well, we’ll see how it prints.

[* thanks to the awesome tiny laserjet printer I got from Mike “Pants” Hernandez-Stern when he moved. Thanks man!!! It works great, and makes the dynamic between computer and paper SO much more direct. (I had to think hard to find a way to not to use the word “workflow” in the above sentence…)]

for Kate: building with rounded corner, Corbusian/industrial long windows, and another ridiculous neo-classical pediment over the door. Main Street, Pawtucket, RI.

maaco bldg

for Jonathan: “The sheltered prince escaped from the glamorous but stifling confines of the castle, to join his bold outlaw sister in the wild forest of the Amherst St. kitchen, where she and the two sassy orphan children that she had taken in lived happily in banditry, with their old auntie the teakettle looking out for them when they got into any serious trouble…”

the runaway prince…

thank you for the shiny new coffeemaker!

… and, those blueprints:

beautiful blueprint lettering…

more amazing lettering.

… the most prosaic stuff, in the most beautiful form. Thanks, Rob!

Their influence on my lettering for the poster can be most clearly seen in the N and the A, as well as the H and the E. My Os and M are following along the same lines of thinking, but end up in an entirely different place…

mockups / proofs …?

November 7, 2009 at 5:52 am

Well, I’m in the middle of trying to fend off a known issue in a way that I’ve never tried before.

Relatively often, I find myself working on stuff that needs to look semi-“realistic” or have a semblance of representation of a specific thing. (And yes, what exactly that means should entail a further digression, but I’m not gonna go there right now!) I don’t particularly like this territory for working — it is a little boring — but here I am in it at the moment: this is a commission & to fit the needs of the organization, it has to to achieve a certain level of beauty and pictorialism. To create the right sense of space and form and depth and distance, all that stuff, the illusion of reality, the colors all have to work together well, and have values and intensities that reinforce the illusion.

Getting this right is more or less easy if you’re drawing the outlines, then coloring in the shapes. Here, however, the colors go on the paper in reverse order: lightest to darkest, fills to outlines. The super-professional way to make sure they all look right together would be to do proofs before printing of all the different colors — but that would require setting up the four screens multiple times, instead of just setting them each up once.

The less labor-intensive way is just to test the colors, give them your best guess, then start printing and adjust each color when you get to it, crossing the fingers all the while. But, what if I print one of the earlier colors, say the light red of the bricks, the wrong color, or too dark or too light of a value…? By the time I get to the last color, the dark red/brown that will be the outlines, I might be asking it to play too many roles in the print, to be darker than some colors, but not too dark so that it diminishes others… THIS HAS HAPPENED BEFORE. Multiple times. And it’s usually meant that, to maintain the desired illusion, I have to mix another batch of ink, shoot another screen, and print one more color than I planned to.

So, the solution that I am trying now? Making a color mockup on the computer. This involves the extra steps of scanning the transparencies, messing with their contrast, & aligning them all on the computer… but that is much less involved than proofing all four colors/screens multiple times before printing. Also, the image doesn’t have to look perfect on the computer, just imitative of the real thing enough to give me a sense of what the relative values should be. This is not a “beautiful intermediate stage”, like some of the drawing stuff I usually put up here, and it’s not really going any farther than this: I think I’ve got more or less what I wanted to get from it.

color mockup attempt

Yup, it looks kind of terrible, and no, it will not look like this when printed. Computer images: not my strong suit. However, it is very helpful to get to look at the whole thing as a color image, instead of just as black & clear & red transparencies that I am trying to imagine in my head as various colors, holding all their possible interactions in my mind’s eye together… Not only does this let me think specifically about the values of the colors I want to use for printing, but I can modify the transparencies to make their interactions better, before the screens are shot. Hooray! Purposes are served!

All right, let’s look at something that actually looks good: how awesome is the drawing of these letters? Working out the letterforms was my probably my favorite part of this project. Drawing is the best!

detail of letters - click for full image

As I am clambering laboriously back into work mode after a summer of making very little art or work, I am realizing that drawing might actually be the best. At least, it’s what keeps pulling me back in, the flickering & elusive candle flame that I am following through the darkened building. I don’t know where it is leading me: what kind of drawing I need to pursue, and what its application should or could be, are still unclear. Do I draw to make plans for the construction of buildings? to figure out how to build furniture? to design fonts? to create images? to pay attention to, reflect, and understand reality? full-scale with a sharpie and a utility knife on sheets of drywall? I don’t know. But, for however purpose… it feels the best, makes the most sense, and is the most immediately engaging of any activity that I do.

In other awesomeness: New Urban Arts was just recently given the Coming Up Taller award, which means that some folks decided that it is one of the top 15 youth arts organizations in the country, and that Jason & Rosalia got to go to the White House and hug Michelle Obama! Tyler wrote about this, and the culture of awards, really thoughtfully on the NUA blog. I’ve known Rosalia since 2006… it’s really amazing to see her standing next to the first lady in that picture, with her smile of confidence and secret hilariousness. Go NUA!!!

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