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constraint; delight

June 27, 2013 at 7:22 pm

The colors in the prints coming out of the “hand-cut stencils and transparent colors” class keep getting more & more complicated and interesting.


This is partly due to the students in the class being bad-ass & willing to explore possiblities… but ultimately I think it’s because the project we do is governed by a limiting constraint:

“Two layers of transparent ink, printed on lighter paper, create a third color where the layers overlap. Working through hand-tracing and hand-cutting rubylith stencil film, use these three colors plus the paper color to translate a photographic image into a silkscreened image. Optional: use variations in ink color or transparency for atmospheric or dramatic effects. Expand to a third transparent color if your image demands it.”

As the classes continue, I accumulate a reference group of prints (and test prints!) made with the same constraint, but different compositional / lighting / color strategies — visually demonstrating more possibilities than I (or anyone) could come up with on their own. These provide interesting examples and models for emulation/modification…


[Buck’s final print, final version, on lighter paper: this print became part of his show at Candita Clayton Gallery, visible till July 1st!]

The constraint allows us to focus on small variables, as opposed to exploring the admittedly infinite possibilities of silkscreen, and learn what those variables have to teach us. I include myself in that “we”; I’m definitely learning as much as anyone…

Katie Bedrosian’s final print:




Here’s Jen Hall’s final print from the first class, which I finally got a chance to photograph:


This one steps into the territory of three transparent layers; Jen decided that she needed one extra color to create the sky gradient *and* the shading / complexity in the elevated shack…

Lara Henderson’s print, which she worked on as part of the second class, also contains three layers: she wanted both a high-contrasty-shadow effect, and a subtle low-contrast folded fabric effect, and both of those couldn’t be achieved with just two layers. HOWEVER it’s not done yet! Possibly next week (so I hear)! When I can hold a copy of it in my (hot little) hands, I will write a further post & possibly ask Lara to write a little bit about her process & decision-making for it, it was really interesting to be part of that conversation.

If you’re limited to this one medium for creating your transparencies, if you can’t turn to halftones or cross-hatching or key layers to describe things in your image, if you can’t use the computer to help simplify whatever is going on graphically… maybe you feel out of your area of expertise, or like your hands are clumsy in a way they haven’t been in a long time, or like the marks you’re making are strange and unaccustomed. I would like to posit that those moments of seeming clumsiness and inadequacy, and the work that results from them, can be instances of delight and discovery possibly more powerful than those that stem from tools you feel like you already know how to use. Pushing our ideas through a material or a process that resists somewhat, that pushes back, means that evidence of the creation of the thing becomes inherent within it, that the process and the form are integral components of the finished object. I’m trying to find very specific language for this, and not get overly metaphorical… don’t know if I’m succeeding… ?

Some more pictures of humans holding prints:


Jen Booth, from the first class.


Katie Bedrosian & Buck Hastings, from the second class…

… maybe it will be you, in the third class???

Unrelatedly (or maybe relatedly, in terms of color/light/spatial worlds): I was psyched to capture this moment of cat in window inside building inside print inside frame inside Emmy‘s house… the print is by Dan McCarthy… the cat is “Stinkeye” aka “Baby Bunny” aka “Walker Mettling‘s Swiffer”…

meta cat


June 18, 2013 at 6:32 pm

As hinted at earlier, I have been working on drawing the Manchester St. Power Station, for a commission design but also for my own purposes. Though I’ve occasionally turned to camera/computer as photo-reference to keep the work moving along, since it’s been raining a bunch this week, mostly I’ve been drawing outside, “from the real”.

stormy building

[n.b. most of this update was written in late May, please forgive the slightly fictional historicity…]

To get the view that I decided is best (I will write more about this in a further post on this project) this means sitting on the Point Street Bridge, on the walkway part but about three feet from the guardrail & the vehicular traffic. This is a very loud experience (I keep forgetting earplugs) and also vibration-y, as I’m pretty sure that bridge was not made for the scale of trucks that pass over it.

providence poses for its portrait

Today it was also a very windy experience; a thunderstorm was projected, I kept expecting a giant bucket of rain to dump down on my head (as it did earlier this week: I attempted to shelter for a bit under one of the bridge trusses, during which attempt I took the photo at the top of this post), and there was a consistent & very gusty strong wind from the southwest. I was using a complicated paper ruler to get a specific kind of simulated-perspectival-regression thing to happen — when you’re setting up that kind of a scenario, you do it trial-and-error-style: “does this look right? does that look right? okay, draw the line, make the marks, good”. Then that little piece of paper with a family of marks and lines on it is your reference document for creating semi-realistic perspective on any line in the building that is parallel to that line. (does that make sense? I’ll write more about this technique at some point.)

buiding & drawing

And I guess that that is the downside of the paper ruler? Because if you have a windy day, and you are sitting next to a busy road on a bridge over a river, and your drawing is taped down to a piece of masonite board, and to keep the little paper rulers from blowing away you are sticking them between the drawing and the board, and if the wind then blows a bunch of grit & sand off the road surface right at you/your drawing and between the paper and the board, and to get rid of the grit so it won’t make bumps under the pencil lines you stick your hand between the paper and the board and try to brush the sand away….

…. well, then what happens is that you watch your dumb little scraps of paper, that you just spent an hour utilizing to make all these crucial precise finicky decisions, blow away across a roadway of speeding cars and in the inevitable direction of a grody body of water. My initial reaction was “Oh crap!”, my secondary reaction was “Ah, you know, whatever, it’s just paper, I already used them to note the perspective lines I needed”, my third reaction was “Oh wait I still need those to make some more perspective decisions for the rest of the drawing…” and my fourth reaction was a deep sinking feeling of loss, destruction, regret, stupidity, and sorrow, an emptiness in the gut, a disaster I had just made happen. All in the course of 30 seconds.

I did jump up, making sure to carefully set my drawing on its board flat on the concrete walkway, but the paper rulers were already blowing down the middle of the roadway — and the Point St. bridge traffic is not to be trifled with at rush hour (or any time, really — it’s one of the worst biking passages in Providence, I think…). Somewhat ironically, the real reason I didn’t run after them immediately is that my new (to me) computer was in my backpack which was sitting next to me on the bridge walkway… I couldn’t quickly pick up backpack & drawing at the same time, couldn’t really run with them, and I couldn’t figure out whether to leave the computer, the drawing, or my bike totally vulnerable to anybody who might be walking past while I ran on a risky mission after the rulers. Bike: crucial to my life, irreplaceable; computer: new & valuable money-wise & also work-wise; drawing after 3 or 4 days of working on it: completely irreplaceable and also now extremely valuable in terms of time spent on the commission & when I needed to get it done by, and also just as a beautiful object that I was attached to………

grubby & stained drawing
[click on this image for a higher-resolution view, so you can contemplate just how dirty this drawing is]

So I let the paper rulers blow away. They weren’t even in the river yet, but they were already gone. This was a weird decision, for me. I hate losing things, I think about everything I’ve lost for a long time, the memory of them keeps coming back to me with regret & sadness. But it was a passable day for drawing, & I needed to get drawing done, and I sat back down & kept drawing. Lines! You can re-draw lines… But I kept being washed over by a wave of the regret and loss feeling, the lack of physical existence of the objects that I had such a clear physical memory of holding in my hands, folding, drawing on, using as tools, with their smeared graphite dirtyness and their intense reality that had just become unreality, or at least a reality that I could no longer reach in the same way…

About ten years ago, I asked a teacher and friend of mine, Peter Stempel, an architect and designer, why he had stopped making pencil drawings and started making his architectural drawings on the computer — in the early 2000s, he had just recently given up resisting the universal switchover to CAD. I asked: was it taking you too long to make the pencil drawings? No, he said, he was really happy about everything about his drawing process — except the uniqueness and fragility of the paper documents: when he took those drawings to the duplicator, if they got caught in the machine or torn or some other freak accident happened on the way there, that was the only copy he had and all the information he had worked so long to develop and note down could be lost. The possibility of this loss — in a profession where no one else was risking it — was too grave to entrust his work to that process any longer……

some details

Drawing as object // drawing as information. That is the dual nature that makes paper drawings so resonant: they embody both at the same time. In a computer era, the printout exists and has a bunch of uses, sure, but that paper is already garbage the moment it comes out of the printer — the important information is in the file, the vector coordinates, a series of numbers…

In a paper drawing, the paper holds the information but is also where the information came to become itself, where the decisions were made, where useless or inaccurate or simply un-beautiful lines were decided against and erased, turned from marks into indentations, ghosts or echoes… The drawing object is four-dimensional, resonant of its past as well as its bumpy, grubby, warped, gritty, folded departures from the plane… it tells of all the things that have happened to it, and of the future potential for its own non-existence. The person holding the drawing in their hot little hands has also had a lot of things happen to them, so maybe they understand how the drawing feels? but unlike the drawing, their own non-existence is not a future potential but instead a future certainty… whereas— unlike both— the vectors will last forever…

So anyways… philosophy aside: now that I’m done the commission (more process notes later) and have turned in the vector files I made based on the drawing to be sent to a company which will print them on tote bags (!!), my conclusion about vector graphics is that using the tablet & stylus to drag little “nods” around hurts my hands a bunch and puts me seriously at risk of repetitive stress injury… in a way that cutting rubylith and drawing never has… BUT… in this modern world, there’s nothing like being able to instantaneously send someone a vector file which they can reproduce at any scale and at any resolution. I just have to not work on those files for too long at a stretch…. AND there’s no question that drawing is way more beautiful. DRAWING!!!

And, on the practical aspect, I did also find a solution to my specific windy-day, drawing-on-a-bridge problem. The *new* informational scrap of paper is attached by a length of blue masking tape to a rubber band around my wrist… awkward but secure?


Hey remember this cool print I worked on last year with Noel Puello? Noel and friends (& fellow NUA alums) Carmela Wilkins and Sara Tolbert are working on another one this summer! Once again, for college fund-raising.

carmela sara noel

Here we are drinking coffee & tea & strategizing (with their sketch and color-test-sheet) around my kitchen table… I’ve seen some photos of their printing process that were stunning… I met with them today to do a quick html/css/ftp tutorial… and now they’re working on an updated web presence for it… I’ll keep you posted on the further developments of this project!

different colorway

I promise I’ll write more about both my weird simulated-perspective method, and the rest of the process on the power-station image, very soon!

Also this update is dedicated to Puppy Bonesteel, a cat who passed away this past week. A unique & personable cat, he had beautiful spots & big eyes, he was a good friend to my dad and my brother (who shared in his ownership) and an adventurous animal. He is missed.


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