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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

pushing away from certainty

May 15, 2013 at 7:22 am


I’m teaching this silkscreen class, on transparent colors & rubylith, now for the second time at the AS220 Community Printshop, and for my fourth time overall. I think it’s become clear that the crucial component of the class is that the people who are learning get to try stuff out, try a lot of things, and try doing those things different ways — a whole bunch of different ways.

I can say “a good way to tape off the screen is like so” or “you might have more success getting good coverage with the flood if you hold the squeegee at a shallower angle”, and I might have some authority on those things being “right” — but even so, none of that stuff will solidify until you do it a bunch of times.


(I will quickly note that at the same time as I definitely *do* have methods & techniques that I teach or recommend, I also maintain that there is no objective “right” in screenprinting, just a lot of collections of widely varying strategies for getting various desired results…!)


Then there are things that I actually have no idea how to teach or what to recommend, as when the question comes up: “What colors will look good together?” It’s up to you as the printer, and as the learner, to determine this. The way you would figure it out is the same way I would start to address the question: try out lots of different colors and combinations of colors, try things you wouldn’t think would look good, allow yourself to be surprised, don’t rule out options…

There *are* some principles that we can work from. In this scenario where we’re printing two layers of transparent color over each other to get three separate areas of color, one thing we’ve learned is that overlapping complementary colors (blue-orange, red-green, etc) produce a color that is the most *different* from each color by itself…

…as seen in these newsprint tests from Lara’s print:


This can be extrapolated into subtle strategy like “if you want two grays to overlap and make a very different gray where they overlap, push one of them a little into the orange zone & one of them a little into the blue zone”… But it’s not a hard-and-fast rule, just a potentially useful tactic. (The only actual hard-and-fast color rule I know of (and it only applies in the US & Europe, maybe?) is: “If you put red & green together, people will think ‘Christmas’ even if they try their hardest not to.”)

Sometimes when I’m working on a print, I make a small color test strip — in some kind of layout that will show me how each color will combine with each other color — and print that beforehand with a bunch of different potential color combinations. Here, we’re making a small-ish image, and using the image itself as a way to test colors. This removes the necessity of imagining the tested colors onto the image, and makes the process that much more direct.

Everybody prints four or so copies each of four colors…



… and then prints four *different* transparent colors over those — ideally ending up with sixteen different color combinations. That’s enough to begin thinking about, to get some surprises as well as some blah ones…

An unexpected color combination (ink still wet) from Lara’s work:


In Buck’s prints, the same transparent green printed over three different colors:


Different color combinations produce different “forest lighting effects”:


A table of Buck’s test prints; one of Katie’s two-layer test prints is visible in the foreground (sorry I don’t have a better picture of it!!):


Some combinations that Lara picked out from her test prints:


Here we are (except for Jeremy the awesome T.A. who is taking the picture) looking at and talking about what’s happening with all these colors (so many colors!). This class is small (people dropped out at the last minute, and one of the students was out sick this week as well…) so it’s nice, we get to take time for lots of questions / digressions which in a larger class we might have to gloss over. It’s the end of the long evening in this photo so we all look kinda exhausted, and as Buck said a couple minutes later, it was basically “bedtime”.


It’s truly difficult, when you’re striving to a) be “successful” in carrying out a process and b) get a result that looks satisfyingly “good”, usually on c) a timeframe (a “timeframe”?) of some kind, to give yourself a chance to try weird stuff / dead ends / potentially non-useful options. What I’ve learned in teaching these classes, what I’ve heard so far as feedback from folks in the classes, and what I’ve gathered in paying attention to “what’s the fun part?” of my own work, is that those moments of testing and experimentation, the moments where we’re not sure what’s gonna happen, are often what is indeed most fun about the process.

They are the moments of delight, they’re where we get the best new ideas from, and the strange color combinations look odd at first but might turn out to be the ones we use in the end. And hopefully, the next time the question comes up: “Try something weird, or go for the known option?”, the remembered delight will push us in the direction that leads away from a comfortable certainty…

personal note personal note:

This morning I woke up frantically from a dream that, as is standard with my dreams, had me wandering with an unknown-but-imperative purpose around a cryptically organized and/or disintegrating building… but then it also somehow managed to be an anxiety dream about an unprecedented number of stressful things, in sequence or nested within each other in the story of the dream. I texted this to myself in the bleary moments after waking, to exorcise / to remember (edited slightly for coherence):

winter bikeriding on treacherous streets; social rejection for unperceivable reasons; inability to hold tiny pieces of paper and/or fabric in place while trying to do a precision task with them; seeing someone I made out with, out in public, with their significant other, who can never know we made out; realizing that a friend had command of a craft that I had persuaded myself to not try because it would be “impossible for me to learn”; having great difficulty climbing an avant-garde-ly deconstructed/redesigned flight of stairs; romantic rejection because of being trans and pointless arguments about body determinism with the people rejecting me; deep confusion over how to redesign my website to best represent my work *and* to be logically navigable; deciding not to do something I enjoy doing because of being afraid that old friends didn’t like me anymore; the uneasy certainty that I am not working on the most important task, but still unsure of how to know which is the task to work on…

The day got better from then out, obviously. Upcoming-project cellphone-camera blurry snapshot….


final prints from the transparent-colors class, and… another class!

April 27, 2013 at 2:22 am

[print by John McGarry]

Here are (almost all of) the final prints that people made for the class I taught at AS220 back in February & March! Some folks sent me pictures of themselves with their prints, so I’ve thrown those in too. Check out the awesome work… & there are still spots open in the upcoming session of the class that starts this Monday!

(hmm… something is weird with the color display via wordpress, if you click on the images you’ll see a much more vibrant look at the actual prints. it doesn’t look *too* terrible here, so I’ll troubleshoot it some time that is not tonight!)


[print by Soledad Soons]

It’s been a while! It feels like I fell off the planet or something, but I’ve actually been up to a bunch of stuff, just in all different directions (at the bottom of this update I noted it all down). Time has sped by, terrifyingly…

[print by Ryan Dean]


[print by Jeremy Ferris]

If you want to explore advanced silkscreen techniques, refine the knowledge you already have, and improve your precision hand-printing skills, while learning how to use rubylith film and transparent, overlapping colors to create a sharp-looking graphic print (like the ones you see here)… this is the class for you. It’s four Monday nights, 6-10pm, over the course of four weeks (starting this coming Monday, April 29th) plus one extra printing/studio day (day/time t.b.d.), and it costs $150.

[this is only the first test version of this print… by Loren Howard]

I wrote more about the class here & here (the date & time info in those blog posts is no longer accurate, but the other details remain pertinent!). In the first session, people found the advanced-printing-techniques aspects of the class really rewarding, so we’ll probably be prioritizing some of that stuff this session. (I will probably also hassle everyone about screen care, cleanup, and general good studio practices!) If you have questions you can get in touch with me, and if you’d like to know more about the AS220 Printshop you can contact Lara Henderson, the Printshop director.

[print by Jen Booth]

[print by Al – whose last name I never learned!]

There are spots open cause two people cancelled (today — urgh)! Do it! Here’s the signup link. Let’s hang out Monday nights & get super nerdy about screenprinting.

jen h
[Jen Hall finished her print after the class was done — so I don’t have a copy of it for a close-up… yet!]

Activities between March 7th and April 27th: I finished out the last couple weeks of class, then did a bunch of catching up with friends (after the work-focused months of January & February), and got to finally really hang out with some new friends to whom I had been saying “we should hang out!” for way too long — yes!!


I worked on documenting some of my work from the February show, designed & printed a not-too-sappy wedding invitation for my little brother & his partner, traveled to IDA in Tennessee and walked around the early-springtime ridges & creeks there, stopped in Phila on my way back and walked around liminal zones near my parents’ house, then came home to Providence & did taxes, and wrote something and performed it (in “slide lecture” form, aka “multi-media performance”!) as part of the series of “Queer Salons” that Casey Llewellyn, Ren Evans, and Chana Morgenstern have been putting on here in town.


Also I worked with Beth Brandon on planning the construction of a 15-foot-long fabric printing table, helped Andrew Oesch with the late-nite final stretch of getting ready for his “Characters in the Collection” show at the MFA, and helped Sam Merritt install wordpress for her custom-embroidery website (not yet ready to be looked at, check out SamsWorld360 in the meantime), AND I started getting ready for the Spring RISD Alumni Art Sale (coming May 4th). So there! I didn’t fall off the planet after all. HA.

rubylith class & cool poster show!

March 7, 2013 at 4:26 pm

We just had the third night of the “rubylith & hand made color separations” class that I am teaching at AS220. There are seven people in the class, all of whom are super awesome, dedicated, & interested… and I’m very grateful to & psyched about working with the cool, capable, and crucial TA Ryan Dean, a printmaker & printshop keymember.

Rubylith in progress (from a week ago), cut by Jeremy Ferris:


This class filled up, and there were more people interested, so I’ll be teaching it again at the end of April & May, on Monday nights — you can sign up here on AS220’s website!

Also, if this particular subject matter isn’t relevant to you, but you need advice / troubleshooting / thoughts on a silkscreen project or technique, it seems like I am doing some “silkscreen consulting” these days, for money and/or for worthwhile trade. Get in touch if that’s something you’re curious about (unlike Dogbert, I will not “con and insult” you!)…

Class color mixing chaos scenario:


Color experimentation while test-printing this frog print, by Jen Booth:


Froggy close-up:


There is some wild color stuff happening in the print above. One color has a swirl of darker ink going through it, while the other one has two different colors on the screen: an effect of switching the color out in the middle of the print run, after flooding the screen partway with the light green ink (the lighter area at the bottom of the image), then scraping that ink off, adding orange-brown ink & flooding the rest of the way. This kind of thing isn’t really replicable in an edition / multiple way… but it’s super beautiful as a monoprint!


Above, Al demonstrates the lighting that I’ve found useful for rubylith cutting… You want to have a bright, directable light, shining across your work so that your hand isn’t casting a shadow on the part you’re working on, and low enough so that the light will glint in the line you’re cutting in the red plastic and you can see where you’ve cut.

Two different color-test versions of this print in progress, from last week, by John McGarry:


I’ve been teaching silkscreen since 2005 in various contexts: in a project-based mentoring context to high schoolers at New Urban Arts, individually to friends & colleagues, and in the past three years through classes at the New Orleans Community Printshop, at my house, and now at the AS220 Printshop!

I always learn a ton while teaching & figure out new ways to describe things and talk about these processes to make them legible. It’s fascinating to realize how different people’s minds work through these techniques differently… and it’s always surprising to remember that I have thought so much and figured out so much about the minutiae of silkscreen process over the past 12 (!) years. I still feel like I’m learning & troubleshooting so much… it’s sometimes hard to remember that I actually know some stuff. !

(… and if that seems crazy, it’s always important to remember (as came up recently for me in conversations with Beth Brandon & Meg Turner) that everybody looks complete and “like they totally have their act together”, when looking from the outside… but from the inside, each of us has many doubts & sees our self as incomplete, questing & questioning, a work in progress at best, a totally incoherent disaster-of-a-self at worst…!)

One color printed (the blue), overlaid with one layer of rubylith, by Jen Hall:


This print will eventually have a *third* layer also, filling in the sky with a rainbow roll gradient… I (obviously) have such a sweet spot for this kind of loose/orderly geometry, cut without a ruler, but along straight lines…


We have two more classes, one more week — there’s lots of printing (and color mixing) to do still — I’ll post final images next week!

I just shipped a bunch of posters (spanning 11 years!) off to be part of the National Poster Retrospecticus, a touring poster show that will be appearing for **One Night Only** in seven U.S. cities: Burlington, Rochester, Detroit, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Richmond and Boston. So psyched to be part of this show, curated by JP Boneyard, going to so many places! I’ll post more info on the specific events as I get it…

segments of a bunch of colorful posters

One of our local hardware stores closed recently, which was sad cause they had kept it going for a long while & were central & really convenient, not just to me but I’m sure to many people (and they were in my favorite place in Providence, Olneyville Square). After workers ripped out the actual shelves & display racks, these red chalk drawings of shelves & display racks were revealed, drawn directly on the plaster wall.

red chalk drawings on an interior building wall

I don’t know when the hardware store was first opened, i.e. when these drawings would have been made, but maybe sometime in the 60s? The drawings are super nostalgic & powerful for me. I can see the original hardware store owners standing in the empty space, full of U.S. retail optimism, in what is basically a completely different economic world than we live in today, sketching what they wanted their future store to look like… I can hear the sound of the chalk on the plaster and the tones of their conversation. I don’t really know how to wrap my mind around it… but I wanted to document it… drawing! makes the world real…

giving all my (rubylith) secrets away…

February 6, 2013 at 8:17 pm

So, I’ve written a bunch before on here about this red-and-clear double-layered-plastic that I use all the time called rubylith… and I’ve written a little bit about getting to teach Noel (below) and Priscilla how to use it, and about past classes I’ve taught at the New Orleans Community Printshop and at my house.

Now I’m bringing the whole weird set of rubylith & transparent color screenprinting skills that I’ve developed over the past bunch of years to a class at the AS220 Printshop here in Providence.


So… are you interested in learning how to cut clean-line rubylith stencils and set up multi-layer transparent-color silkscreen prints *without* the aid of a computer? while experimenting with color & rainbow rolls? and spending time getting nerdy with other silkscreen enthusiasts? If so, you should consider taking this class!

It’s on Wednesday evenings, 6-10pm, February 20-March 13 (with one extra evening class session — a printing/experimentation open shop time with the instructor (me!) — to be planned based on students’ schedules). The cost is $150. Details & registration info here.


Last night I went by AS220 Industries‘ open house to show some student work from previous rubylith/transparent-color/hand-cut-color-separation classes I’ve taught… and to talk (semi-coherently, I hope — I was tired…) to potential students about what the class will cover.

In the photo above, these (unfinished-state) projects from my earlier classes on the same subject are by (clockwise from top left) Kitty O’Connor, Vanessa Adams, and Jori Ketten… and below is a poster I made that has more than two colors, but uses the same techniques of overlapping transparent colors, printed from hand-cut rubylith layers, with no “key” (or outline) layer, to create an image.


from the class description (that I wrote in a very excitable state, late at night, a couple months ago):

What will students learn & get out of this class?

Students will learn a bunch of different advanced silkscreen techniques and methods: precision alignment, rainbow rolls, using transparent ink colors, complicated hand-cut stencils, careful ink management & printing techniques (including the “plastic mountain”!). They’ll try out a strategy for thinking about color separations & color graphics that will hopefully apply to various different artistic pursuits. We’ll also get to experiment with colors, inks, & printing in a low-pressure way — allowing ourselves to not have an end goal but to see what looks interesting & to try new things that might look weird. Oh, and each student will also make a good-looking finished print of their own, and we’ll do some kind of print trade at the end so we all get a copy of everybody’s print…


[Kitty O’Connor looks at different color versions of her print, at the end of the class in New Orleans]

[two-layer print by Rachel Speck]

Each class participant will be making a two-layer print based on a photographic image — we’ll be keeping it *relatively* simple for the print we make in the class, so everybody has time to figure out rubylith, and to experiment with colors and inks — but the concepts & techniques will be applicable to further projects. Vanessa Adams, who took this class with me in New Orleans, put the techniques immediately to work, making the poster that this image is a detail from right after the class was over:


One of the most exciting things for me about teaching screenprinting is seeing how people use what they have learned in the next things they make…

What is the benefit of hand-cutting stencils for silkscreening?

One of my teachers, David Gersten, when asked why he doesn’t use a computer to make drawings, because “it would be faster and save you time”, responds, “Why would I want to spend less time thinking?” Any process that is done by hand, engaging with the physical, material world rather than the immateriality of a screen, offers a chance for our thinking, made manifest in our hands and bodies, to interact with the world around us… and the energy (conflict, friction, complexity, resolution!) of that interaction is always evident in the resulting work.

[Will Bowling working on the rubylith transparencies for his print of his church, below]

Cutting rubylith stencils is drawing with a knife — and instead of your line having a thickness, you are actually cutting a perfect Euclidean geometric line — it has no existence of its own, it just exists as the division of two things.* Then through screenprinting, that line gets filtered through another material interaction and becomes the division between ink and paper, ink & the ink below it, ink & the other layers of light & ink passing through & reflecting off the ink & the paper. Okay?! Also they’re beautiful.

Hand-cut stencils aren’t right for every scenario, but they’re perfect for situations where you want a sharp edge on your graphics and a clean division between colors, and where you want to cover large areas with solid expanses of ink, and where you want to simplify and stylize complicated forms into graphic shapes.

*credit goes to Jacob Berendes for this astute observation!

Some more student work:

[two-layer print by Emmy Bright]

[two-layer print, unfinished state, by Will Bowling]

[different color versions of a two-layer print by Walker Mettling]

What are some of the results and rewards for experimenting with color?

Oh geez, how to answer this question? What are the rewards for experimenting with anything? You see things you wouldn’t have thought of doing if you hadn’t tried them, you get new ideas for things to try next, and you maybe find the perfect weird color combination for your project. Or you just get to play around in unfamiliar territory. We’ll be sharing ink colors and color combinations with each other, so we’ll be challenging each other to use colors we wouldn’t ordinarily use! Often with screenprinting, we are content to stick with what we know or with “poster colors” straight out of the jar from the store — this class will just be pushing a little ways out of that territory, hopefully to everyone’s satisfaction.

[transparent color overlay test strips by Li Pallas]

[two-layer print by Kitty O’Connor]

[two-layer print by Hannah Jegart]

If you’re intrigued, here’s the extended class description, and here’s some very specific details and how to register!

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