right now!     ian g. cozzens updates, news, photos, and thoughts

the epic to-do list

July 9, 2014 at 12:31 am

Hi readers of these updates! Hope your summers are good. It’s now kinda hot here, Scøtt was dog-sitting for a couple weeks so I was hanging out with this little yellow dog Winnie as well as Buio-cat, they were hot too, everybody was/is hot, it’s hot now & it’s midnight.


So… this is a chance for me to tell you what I HAVEN’T done. There’s a lot of stuff I need to write more about on here, including other projects I did in the spring like complete an assignment for Headmaster Magazine #6, and the final outcome of the print that I shared some process drawings from here.

Also… I never really put together final posts about the Manchester St. Power Station print project (in progress here), or even the Recycle-A-Bike poster from a couple years ago (process moment)! Yikes!

Then there’s a bunch of other stuff from the past year that hasn’t really seen the light of internet-day, or even proper documentation: a dazzle camouflage pattern I made last summer to go on a t-shirt to give myself some body freedom/body obfuscation, which was a personal project that I now want to make some kind of mass-production possible for… a text & slide-projector performance/reading (also about bodies) I did that will become a zine someday… a map-and-memory project I made to be installed in my friend’s apartment in Abu Dhabi, that needs to have a local instance at some point, and get realized fully…

Also I’ve had a blog post in draft form for a while about tools for drawing, which keeps developing & changing in its meaning & context since I got a new wacom tablet recently, and have been learning more computer skills… and since my grandfather (who gave me his engineer’s Rapidograph pens) died this past month…

BUT! There are a couple of print projects on my plate right now which I am struggling desperately to complete. As well as organizing shows & events for the rest of the year… And being a living human who cooks, eats, gets dressed, sleeps, talks to friends, and lives. So I’m not writing those posts now!

Also eventually I will finish some really long-unfinished projects like my epically, drastically incomplete print series about everyday spaces? Aahh! (I kind of don’t want to think about all the other projects that are unfinished / aspirational, that’s just the most egregious one…) Someday I intend to eventually bring all the projects to a close. So basically, as it always has been, this blog is a chance for me to say “sorry everything is not done yet” and “it will be done eventually & then I will make a blog post about it”. It’s good to know nothing has changed since 2007, I guess.

For the moment — I am posting some nice barns, letters, building aspects, etc. to instagram/tumblr; you can keep track of my random nerdy notes in either of those spots — and please enjoy this picture of a drawing setup — on the parlor table due to the length of the horizon line I needed to use to get the vanishing point right. The cat was very happy that I was working on a surface he could sit on (as opposed to my main desk, where there’s really no room for him) while I made the marks.


More soon. !!!

breaking time & space at Slater Mill

May 31, 2014 at 10:46 pm

I just busted out a project that I am really excited about. I finally got to make some really big three-dimensional letters… it is for a show celebrating labor protest history… and it is in a great old industrial building.


It is part of a show at Slater Mill Historic Site, a museum that is in the location of the first installation of the “Arkwright Method” of factory textile production in the United States. The exhibit is called The Mother Of All Strikes, focusing on the first factory labor walkout in US history, which happened at Slater Mill in 1824 when women loom operatives walked off their jobs and protested successfully for the restoration of their cut wages. It’s up till July 31st so there is lots of time to check it out — if you want to see it, contact me (secretdoorprojects@gmail) and I think it’s possible to arrange a free visit.

The show includes historical information & imagery, as well as artwork made specifically for it by Christine Ashley, Chelsea Carl, Priscilla Carrion, and Kristina Brown, and me!

I don’t have great pictures of the final installation yet, but here are some process shots and blurry phone pictures of the real thing, with more writing & good pictures to follow!

Slater Mill’s interior, with various textile machines from different eras (some still operational!):


A little chunk of a project description I wrote for a reporter this week:

The piece I made for Slater Mill, and for the anniversary of the 1824 strike, is called, straightforwardly, “Autonomía” — which translates to “Autonomy” in English. The large letters (made of cardboard and silk-screened paper) are staggered in space and take over six bays of the factory building, getting in people’s way — just a little bit! — as they walk around. From one end of the building you can see that they spell a word; from other viewpoints, the shapes of the letters are visible but it’s not quite clear how they fit together.

The idea of autonomy is the idea that everyone should have control over their own lives, projects, work, and associations — it’s a specific way of talking about freedom that is about self-determination and cooperation as well as about independence.

The word was created using a perspectival illusion, based on combining an architectural drawing with a drawing of the letterforms. The furthest-away letters are the largest, and as they come towards you they get smaller, so from a specific viewpoint they all appear to be the same size, floating in space, not subject to the rules of perspective. This was a way of breaking the ordered, regular spacing of the building’s structure, which was part of the control system that Slater & his partners imposed on their workers. The word is only legible in denial of the factory’s regularity, contradicting how objects are “supposed to” behave in space.

I wanted to connect workers’ struggles today to the struggles of workers in the past, and make it clear that the fight continues — right now, with the struggles of fast-food workers across the U.S. and here in Rhode Island for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, among many other battles. The word is in Spanish to allow it to communicate directly to Spanish-speaking museum visitors — and to remind English-speaking visitors that these struggles are happening all over the Americas and the world. (And also to make it clear that I am *not* quoting the 1824 workers, since we don’t have any first-hand quotes from their speeches or meetings in the historical record.)

Some epic process notes….!

Based on the building’s plan, and on my own measurements of vertical elements, I made a perspective drawing (here ghosted out under a couple layers of vellum) and then drew the letters of the word I wanted to build in such a way that it would fit into the museum’s space:


Here’s a detail of projecting the letters, these largest ones cut up into overlapping pieces, back in space onto the “picture plane” (a perspective-drawing concept, the plane where all the elements have a “true height” to scale) to figure out how large I would have to build them to get them to look the same height in person…


The largest letter was six feet three inches tall, the smallest was about 18 inches tall.

(Most of this drawing was made on a drafting desk with a parallel ruler, but I did have to take it to my parents’ house in Philadelphia with me when I went back for a family wedding in the middle of the crunch time… here it is on their dining room table, with the plan of Slater Mill above the perspective drawing…)


The thing I wish I’d done differently in the drawing process: I should have made the original plan at a larger scale; it should have been 1 foot to 1/4 inch instead of 1/8 inch! (or even bigger?) Then I would have had more ability to get accurate detail from the drawing instead of having to do complicated proportional translation. Luckily I had this trusty analog tool:


The proportional scale! Which I don’t use all the time, but when I do use it, I can’t think of anything that could replace it.

Drawings were scaled up and then transferred to cardboard. I got all this two-ply bike-box cardboard which was nice & rigid (thanks, bike shop pals!), and perfect for being able to create a gluing surface on the edges, by peeling off one layer of corrugation, and bending back the other layer to give the hot glue something to hold on to.

Draw letter, add a 3/8″ border, cut partway through & peel:


Cut through the middle flat layer:


Gently bend back the bottom corrugated layer, and squish the corrugations down:


Cut two-inch strips of cardboard and hot-glue them to the folded-down edges (the paper-wrapped bricks are weights to hold the whole thing in place & keep the glued parts pressed tight together while the glue cools):


If you drop your razor knife with the blade fully extended like that, don’t try to catch it! (I didn’t… but just barely)

Some complete letters stacked in a nice-looking pile…


Each letter had its height divided in four, and I made four stripes of this pink paper that Alison Nitkiewicz & I screenprinted more than two years ago


(the Os extend a little beyond the top & bottom line of the letters, so they got a tiny stripe of another color pink added on the top…)

The biggest letters (the first ones that were done!) loaded in the van to go to the mill (and yes, the colors did look completely different in the daylight vs. in the studio lighting):


Late nite install:


Scøtt was a crucial, crucial helper in the hanging process, I really wouldn’t have gotten it done without his help… the timeframe was tight enough that we didn’t take any installation shots except this one, when we were almost done:


Jeremy Ferris took this nice picture at the opening, really showing the size & scale of the largest letters:


And here are another couple pictures I took as things were winding down:



And… just some of the smaller scraps of pink paper left over in the studio afterwards:


… and while we’re looking at letters, here are two variant proportions for the same letters from stops along the C subway line in Brooklyn.

These are different shapes, to fit a different size panel & with different street names (the first one is Nostrand Ave, the second one is Kingston-Throop Av), so the angles are all different… BUT the small tiles are the same size, and the “style guide” for how the tiles are cut and placed is the same, including the extension of the top point of the A and bottom point of the V past the bounding line for the rest of the letters.



Things I like to look at!

I have been posting a lot of found letterforms, also cool architectural things, process work, and occasional cats, on my instagram recently, I’ve been really psyched about that format for internet interaction… follow if you’re into it!

“in the new year” part 1 — drawy drawy draw draw

February 20, 2014 at 2:36 am

architectural drawing of roof beams under construction

I haven’t been posting things here recently, I’m not sure why, maybe because it feels somehow weightier than putting something on tumblr or facebook, or like something has to be more “finished” to post it here? Which is absurd because this has always been all about process and things in progress.

Also I was really hoping for some “break time” in the new year, but turns out I’ve just been really busy with three big projects that haven’t been commercial print projects (as in making prints that people might purchase), but instead have been three challenging personal projects in response to assignments or calls from other people (for exhibition, publication, etc). So… kind of a break? at least a break from my regular print work? but all of the projects have been on tight deadlines (and/or just really late because I was supposed to work on them in the fall and didn’t because the fall was such a busy non-stop season for me…), so there’s been a certain level of stress / “I can’t do anything till I finish this project! aaah!” feeling to the past six weeks…

… and also some guilt: “if I post something on my blog, the people who are waiting for this work will think I am procrastinating…” :C

(Update: after finishing this post, I think the main reason is that when posting stuff here I feel like I need to write things about the images and tie them all together / explain somehow… and that writing takes a while…)

Anyways! Here are some images from the thing I am working on right now (the last of the three projects, will post next about the other two). Pencil drawing, gonna try to print it as a tri-tone made of halftone layers. This should be difficult, but not impossible, to print well. I’m trying to glean lessons / avoid pitfalls from printing the duotone hands on the Recycle-A-Bike poster

It is a drawing of an imaginary building that is simultaneously falling apart / under construction, and it will have some text in it (spoken by the person on the right in the below image) but will mostly just be these people exploring the building…

drawing of two people standing under a sloping roof having a conversation

Drawy drawy drawy draw draw, keep drawing, draw all the lines:

drawing of broken lath-&-plaster walls with the plaster crumbling & the lath sticking out at odd angles

Will I someday remember to remember that drawing is easy and fun and the best part of everything? It’s so easy to get intimidated by it, before I’ve started…

When I’m drawing people from my imagination, I feel like I’m still in middle school. I remember the specific feeling of revelation, in early high school, where my drawing practice switched over from “oh I drew that face really perfect, even though it’s in the wrong place in the larger drawing I can’t erase it because I could never get it that perfect again” to “if I need to, I can draw it again, go ahead and erase & make it the way you want it!” But I still feel a little like the lines coming together “right” on a drawing of a person, especially the face, is a magical, accidental thing that I don’t quite have control over…

…and apparently I’m still channeling my favorite characters from elementary school:

illustration from the book

in-progress partial drawing of a child

(the color illustration is from Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain, by Edward Ardizzone, great author/illustrator/graphic-narrative-maker/hand-letterer, staple of my childhood… I didn’t realize that he wrote & drew the “Tim” books over the span 1936 to 1977, that is a long run! I also didn’t realize that I haven’t read them all… gotta get on that. Also he made a bunch of paintings and illustrations of harsh scenes that he witnessed as an official “war artist” (!) in World War II… many things to seek out.)

Okay here’s some images from me testing out the tri-tone effect on the computer, to see if it will work with the scale of printing / scale of the details on the drawing… I think so? I hope so!

three-color separation of a detail of the drawing:

halftone image of a section of pencil drawing

lightest tones:

lightest color halftones

medium tones:

medium-value color halftones

darkest tones:

darkest color halftones

These are only test images, the separations will change… After making these, I looked at the Recycle-A-Bike prints compared to their transparencies, and made the note to myself that in shooting the screen, the smallest “positive” (ink) dots do not block enough light and are often lost, and then in printing, the smallest “negative” (blank paper) dots often get obscured by ink bleeding into them… so I will adjust the “curves” that determine where these colors fall in the image, to try for the most descriptive image possible…

Here is a detail of the combination:

combination halftone image in super close up

If you click through & zoom in, when you look at the full-size image, that is a screenshot & shows the image at 100% PIXEL size… that’s 27 lines per inch, at 600 dpi… you can look at the ruler at the top of the image to see what a ruler-inch is for comparison.

I hate to do this, so blog-typical (and I’ve done it before for this same thing! augh) but I need to get back to drawing, so I will say, “I will do a serious process post on how I make these halftone tri-tones / duotones sometime soon!”. And I will follow through with that! (After the thing is printed & mailed out… sheesh.) Is learning about that process something that’s interesting to anyone that reads this blog? Does anyone read this blog, in the age of facebook & tumblr? Hmmmm.

Here’s some sneak-preview multi-layer dazzle-camouflage-pattern blip-blops on clear acetates for one of the other “new year” projects, that I finished last week… I am under orders not to talk about it till the publication that it is for announces its contributors… so I have to wait to give out more specifics! But here are some cool/weird/accidental colors to tide you over:

a bunch of different color geometric patterns printed on clear plastic

Also it is Buio’s birthday sometime in February, he has been my good friend for almost 10 years! (I found him as a kitten in June 2004…) Here’s a nice picture of this companion in front of a cool Katrina drawing:

a black cat sitting on a table in front of a drawing of two women and their little dogs that says 'I stop the world and melt with you'


rapid update

October 11, 2013 at 8:09 am

Remember the beginnings of this guy? It’s finally getting done, I hope!


Detail of layer 2 (actually the first printed layer, but begun 5 months after what will be the second printed layer) in progress, this is rapidograph on wet media acetate:


Hopefully I’ll have some of these ***finished*** at the RISD Fall Alumni Art Sale, this coming Saturday October 12th, on Benefit St. in Providence between 10am & 4pm… I’m going to get some sleep this time so I can be coherent & friendly… Come say hi!

Also, thanks to the late night internet and Printeresting for this encapsulation of my life recently:


Okay, back to it!

traveling — locally

July 17, 2013 at 4:21 pm


While sitting outside on the bridge and working on the drawing for the Manchester St. Power Station image (actual print on paper on slight pause right now, totebags are in production and I think I’ll be seeing them soon?) I became aware that every day I was drawing outside I would come home and say “drawing outside! it’s the best! I love it! I feel great!” etc.


So, when making a big to-do list / plan with Emmy a couple of weeks ago, I made sure to put “sunny days: go draw outside” on the list. Gotta put it on the list if you wanna get to do it! And too many summers have gone by when I’ve had a strong intention to sit outside & draw, that has never turned into actually taking the time to do that…


After getting the tote bag design done (which ended up being a lot of adobe illustrator work on minute adjustments to vector points, driving me totally crazy) I was like “get me outside now” and started doing a bunch of bike riding & exploration & looking for cool stuff & sitting down & drawing it. Also taking pictures of buildings, hand-painted or otherwise interesting signs, and other things…


Basically I feel like I am “traveling” in my own city. Not “traveling” like “on vacation”, but “traveling” as in letting your open-eyed-ness become acute, seeing things for the first time as you do when you are in a new place… being an alert observer of what is around you, looking for the patterns and noticing the ordinary. It’s pretty great to be able to open my eyes really intentionally to the place where I have lived for 14 years.


Also I’m pushing myself to explore further & go places I haven’t been before, see things that I have never seen, that are hiding just around the corner from me in Cumberland or East Prov or Cranston or West Warwick… Bike is obviously the best vehicle for this kind of exploration…


So there are no drawings in this post cause I haven’t scanned them yet! and partially because they are a little ‘fragile’, not physically but in my understanding of them, they’re still practice / process, not ‘product’ yet… which they maybe never have to be? or maybe what makes them interesting is because they are a record of the discovery that is taking place while they are being made… ? But I’ll put some scans up soon, promise…


These photos are all from one day exploring in Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls, Cumberland, and Lincoln, with the always awesome Meg Turner, who also loves bike riding and exploring, who can be recognized by her catchphrase re. abandoned buildings: “There’s always a way to get inside”. I didn’t finish my drawing yet… have to go back to the building & look at the light again…. !


some linkssss:

Valley Falls Company (site of the first photograph). Also, the Blackstone River Valley is where all these photos are from & it’s beautiful!

Meg’s print of the Pawtucket/CF train station

The Club Juventude Lusitana in Cumberland…

Festa de São João

okay finally I got someone to take a picture of me next to this graffiti on North Main St (photo by Meg). I still have serious ambivalence about my representation in photos, so it goes… but I guess I can put this out in the world… !



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.


the “paper ruler”…

May 24, 2013 at 4:13 am

Related to this project for With Care, here’s a further note on font-drawing technique… or actually, on a technique that’s applicable to any precise-ish drawing *not* on a computer. [n.b. I wrote some of the below update back in February, revised & publishing now…]

My friend Will found this stack of 60-year-old r.s.v.p. cards, and I’ve been working on making letterform drawings of crucial or significant words on them… 35 of them were up at AS220 in February — these guys:


(more in-progress shots here and here.)

35 cards was enough for the gallery, and I had to get other things done for the show so I set the remaining 22 cards aside for a bit. I had been working on them with all the earlier ones spread out in front of me… so when they were all up in the gallery, I went in a couple times to draw some more of them while the space was open.

The card below is going to say “presence”… but whoops, even though the “E”s will be a little narrower than the other letters, the “S” is still too far to the right to fit the whole word on the card. I moved “P” “R” and “E” to the left already, but I had drawn out this nice and slightly weird curve for the “S”, and I wanted to retain its weirdness instead of making it more generic when I moved it over…

an index card with illegible handwriting on it and the large letters "PRES"

This involves a tool which I’m not sure I’ve ever posted a picture of here: the “paper ruler”, which is a scrap of paper, often an 8.5″x11″ sheet but it could actually just be a little scrap, folded in half diagonally (for length, straightness, & sturdiness), with the folded edge used to transfer distances and dimensions. Line the folded edge up to your drawing, make fine pencil marks on the paper ruler at the marks you want to transfer, then move it to where you want to transfer the dimension to & make the marks on the drawing.


For drawing purposes, it improves on a traditional ruler with numbered markings, because a) there’s no need to translate what is simply visual information into numerical information and back again, b) inches or centimeters have no relevance when the important units are “how wide is the letter” or “what is the distance between the baseline and the crossbar of the “A”, etc, and c) the piece of paper will be easier to hold and move around than a (usually heavier) regular ruler is. Also, you can make one wherever you happen to be by using a postcard, business card, or the edge of an envelope, or tearing a sheet of paper out of your notebook and folding it to create a straight line.

I took the paper ruler and made a set of marks on it showing how far I wanted to move the “S” over… then setting one mark against the existing curve of the “S”, marked that distance to the left, at intervals. You can see the dots on the card to the left of the upper part of the “S”, and a line traced through those dots to the left of the lower part:

closeup of the letters "ES" showing how the letter S is being moved to the left

The transferred “S” (dots erased, and lines cleaned up):


Once the drawings that they are made for are finished, the paper rulers become meaningless — I never remember which dimension was relevant to which specific thing I needed to measure, and the drawing’s done anyways. Even if I pause a drawing and start it a couple of days later, I’ll just make a new set of marks on a new folded piece of paper. But the rulers themselves have been touched and marked and known and seen so many times in the course of making the drawing, that it is hard for me to let them go completely… obviously sometimes they get lost in the shuffle of desk papers… but they are such information- and memory-laden objects that, though I occasionally intend or attempt to throw one away, I can never quite complete the action of putting it in the trash basket.

Thus, this envelope that lives next to my desk:


a selection of various sized rulers from the envelope:


closeups, including a golden-section reference card for a specific (unremembered) layout [blue cardstock, left], and an Occupy Providence flyer [upper right].


This technique, and this blog post, fall into the categories of “Why would I want to spend less time thinking?” and “my computer is almost 8 years old & very slow & drawing is way more fun anyways”* and “things that are way harder to explain in words than they are to do”…

… and also squarely within the category of “things I learned from Myron Barnstone that I use every time I draw”. Mr. Barnstone, who turned/turns 80 this year (I think?), is an independent art teacher in Coplay, PA (outside of Bethlehem), who teaches an intense course of study on composition, drawing, and color. I took his drawing and composition classes when I was 18. His rhetoric is deeply dogmatic, of the “My way is the one correct way to do art” variety — it took me about a year to recover from the intimidation & start drawing again after studying with him — but 16 years later, I use techniques & methods that I learned from him in pretty much everything I do. If you’re intrigued, the man is 80… his knowledge & skills are irreplaceable… now is your chance…!

* I got a modern computer this month… it makes many things faster… but drawing is still more fun…

“ink and knife”-native letters

May 10, 2013 at 1:11 pm


How did I not write anything at all about this project yet on this bloggy? I think it was because I was ***way way way behind schedule*** getting it done, so didn’t have any time to make process posts along the way. Then afterwards I got super wrapped up in organizing a bunch of stuff for a month of non-assimilationist Pride events here in Providence. So it goes!


I made this print last summer, for a print portfolio project organized by the amazing political artist and potter Meredith Stern. The portfolio is called “This Is An Emergency!” and is focused on reproductive & gender justice. Meredith has been doing presentations about the project (and her work) around the country, as well as doing the logistics/promotion to get institutions and libraries to buy copies of the portfolio, which is super awesome cause a) those institutions have these radical prints, and b) it’s pretty great that some of my work is in the collection of institutions all over the place.

You can buy the purple-gold-orange colorway of this print here, and I also made two new colorways because I was running out of the first one; blue-silver-green (sparkly) and tan-gray-red (not sparkly). They are $20 — cheap! Shipping is $6 or I’ll deliver in Providence or you can pick it up. Get it, put it on your wall, use it to help tell your cis friends about what it means that you’re trans, to help explain to your parents why racial profiling is dehumanizing, or to help remind your students that their values are worth hanging on to even if they don’t coincide with the values of the academic institution… anyways, I made it for you.

complexity_blue_246 complexity_gray_245

The full text is at the bottom of this post.

I spent a while brainstorming and writing the text for this print (and trying to figure out how to make the text more concise, but avoid “soundbites”/tumblr-esque-ness… also thinking about representation of human beings & once again deciding to avoid it)…


…and then time hit me & I realized that I needed to make the simplest possible print, alignment- and printing-time-wise… but how to make a “simple” print about “complexity”? Plus I wanted it to look super cool (the classic downfall, I know). I decided to make basically the whole “background” of the print a giant rainbow roll of *ink*, and leave the letters the color of the paper.

First step: draw out the text how I wanted it to read (thinking about “reading” vs “seeing” & how they work together), not getting it perfect but just enough to ink over:


Then: inking. This was done on wet media mylar (“prepared mylar”), using a nib pen, brushes to fill in the background, and an Olfa razorknife to scratch unwanted ink away. Each of these steps requires some time for ink to dry, and is contingent on working your way across the surface in one direction at a time, so you don’t smear the wet ink you’ve just put down. I also wear thin cotton gloves, with the thumb & first two fingers cut off the dominant hand, to protect the plastic from the grease on my hands. Okay here goes! Watch the lower-case “g”s…

1. outline the letters & begin to fill in their smallest concavities, with the pen:


2. fill in the spaces between the letters with a small brush:


3. fill in the ink on one side of the letters with the brush:


4. …and then fill in the final gap:


5: now with the back of the point of the Olfa knife, fix any places where you blobbed over the line, clean up the inside part of the “e”, “a”, “o”, etc, square off the corners and ends of the letters (check out those “g”s), and generally sharpen it all up:


Was this simple? Kind of. Did it take a hell of a long time? YES. I’m terrible at this time thing.

But that aside… I really like working this way because it produces letters that are native to the materials I’m using to create them. The act of my hands using specific tools to make them is what gives the letters their shape — not just aesthetic decisions in a vacuum. It was intriguing to make a couple different sizes of the same letters, and a vertical and slanted set (not sure if “roman” and “italic” apply here), and to see how they all came out differently… Of course, there’s an alternate set of letterforms created by “drawing the same letters” but with ink as the *positive* instead of the negative — just as cutting “the same” letters negatively or positively out of rubylith results in different forms. Someday! actual usable computer fonts will come out of all this work… maybe?

Here’s a cool photo Pam Murray took to show the metallic ink I used to print it, and the resolution of the letters:


And I wanted to include one quick set of images to answer the question “But how did you do the rainbow roll at an angle?”

A. Shoot the transparency on the screen at an angle!

1. transparency at an angle, and a “linear blob” of different colors of ink on the screen:


2. a couple of prints into the run, the rainbow roll has smoothed out (you can see how the paper is aligned on the table at an angle as well):


3. epic squeegee (don’t drop it):


One last note about this portfolio format for political art work generation and distribution — it rules!

Meredith is part of Just Seeds, a radical artists’ collective, and though this portfolio was not a formal Just Seeds project, they’ve used the same model a number of times: “a group of artists each make a print about an issue, possibly collaborating with organizations or mentors, then those prints are collected into a portfolio which is both distributed to organizations to sell/use/display, and can be shown as a thematic exhibit and be the occasion for discussions and an impetus for activism”. It’s a pretty bad-ass method for disseminating political art outside of the big-money art market, for getting little-known artists (like myself) some wider distribution and possibly recognition, and for providing art to political organizations.

It seems like something that should happen as widely as possible. If you know of an issue in your town or area that could use a bunch of prints made about it, grab this idea & run with it! Contact Meredith through her website to ask her questions about the process… She has worked really hard to make the whole project happen, and to promote it & make it successful, but it now has a momentum of its own: a young woman came up to where I was tabling at the art sale last weekend with Sam Merritt, who also made a print for the portfolio and was displaying it in front of our table, and asked her “Is that print in that, uh, reproductive rights collection? That was exhibited at my college last month — people were lining up to see it, it was a great event, everybody loved it!”


Full text of the poster:

so you’re not comfortable with our complexity?

you pull us over, lights flashing
you call us back to the counter
you don’t understand why we have to do that to our bodies
you demand picture ID, proof of residence, a letter from our therapist, citizenship documents, tax returns, body mass index, a calm rational voice, coherent gender presentation, formal english grammar, insurance card, deference

and it even sounds friendly when you say, “come on, baby, would it be so hard to give me a smile?”

and we almost do it
so you’ll let us exist safely in the world you offer

but — your systems of control are not safety
they will never be a place to live

so we leave them behind
we run from them headlong, heaving homemade bombs back over our shoulders into the gated compound, waiting for the explosions
we rip them, piece by piece, excruciatingly slowly, from their nesting places within our own hearts and stagger away wounded, barely alive
the door of the bus closes with a soft noise and we pull our knees to our chests

our demands are simple, contradictory, impossible, necessary
you tell us the world has no space for our complexity

yet we live right here, in dissonance & beauty
we’re not comfortable
yeah, we might be dangerous
our long-term effects are definitely unknown

our complexity is the world

In re. the art sale: here I am, sleep deprived & coffee fueled, in a shirt that is my favorite colors, in need of a haircut, gesticulating about something I don’t remember but which seems entertaining, standing outside with Sam and a girl I don’t know, under a nice sign that says “QUEERS!” — that’s good, right?


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…

drawing fonts / trading projects

February 18, 2013 at 8:46 pm

a person seated at a table trying to draw with a small dog on their lap

Oh, the assistance of a tiny dog… so crucial for drawing this typeface for Liz Novak’s jewelry line / personal-world-creating self-actualization project, With Care… !

Liz (“E. Elizabeth”) is a skilled pal who I don’t get to see often enough, maybe because we both work a ton? or maybe because I am mega distractable and don’t realize that actually months & months have gone by since I have seen some of my friends? Unclear. In any case, it’s unfortunate… and partly with the ulterior motive of ***hangouts*** I asked her for help with the bandana project that I began for the “Practical Tools For Shifting Reality” show at AS220. She had asked me for help with a letterform project at the end of last year (which I had actually forgotten about in the chaos of holiday-sale-december-time — yikes), so it was a great chance for a work/project trade!

Liz is a jewelry-maker, a proud New-Jersey-ite (and also a loyal adopted Providencian like myself), a seamstress at the local bad-ass-lady-run business I’m Your Present, and a SERIOUS flea-market-hunter and collector of visual & graphic ephemera (check the instagram!). She also makes costumes… knows a ton about fabric & sewing & clothing… & has helped me in the past in various self- and gender-actualization-through-clothing-modification projects!

hankies in progress spread out all over a couch, with a cat on the shelf above[photo by liz]

In the lead-up to the AS220 show, she advised me on some of the fabric stuff for the bandanas, did a bunch of ironing, figured out the use of the rolled hem foot on my sewing machine to sew the tight hems, did a bunch of the sewing, and taught me how to use the rolled hem foot so I could keep doing it on my own… Her help was super crucial to that hanky project actually happening. At the end of our second day of working together, Liz said something like “You know what I really like? Working hard.” I never really think about this, possibly I just take it for granted? But I’m on the same page. And indeed, working hard together was especially fun.

hemmed & folded hankies...[photo by liz]

It helped that the bandanas looked super awesome when we were done!

In return for helping with that project, she had asked me to help her with font & logo design for With Care… which I was super psyched to do, since I had just been in the very rewarding realm of drawing lots of fonts/letterforms for the show.

two words, "correia" and "fabrik", in 1920's letters

Liz had collected together a bunch of objects, decorative items, and (of course) historic letterforms, which I (of course) love looking at, and which gave me an idea of what kind of letters she was interested in for the logotype, and some graphic/visual context to work from…

the back cover of an old magazine titled "your health", with the titles of articles

two words, "charm" and "ferragamo", in old typefaces

So we sat around & talked about different kinds of letterforms (& various other important community news, what some might disparage as ‘gossip’, but is actually crucial) and I drew some letters! It’s a pure delight to take this set of letterform-drawing skills that I have & turn it towards creating a ‘brand’ identity for someone a) who is a friend, b) whose taste I really respect, c) who also respects my aesthetic judgment, and d) who has a very strong vision for what the aesthetic world of their creative project/business is. Wearing my ‘designer’ hat, it’s really nice to be able to perceive someone’s aesthetic and try to follow & amplify it! I hope I succeeded…

Getting ready for some kerning — the letters in “CARE” are awkwardly spaced here, and I wanted to even out the curve to make it more symmetrical:

a drawing of letters with overlapping curving guidelines

The drawing scenario, with bright light (clip lamp) at Liz’s kitchen table, showing bristol board (original drawing), tracing paper (kerned letters), and small black jewelry box which this rectangle is designed to eventually go on:

different tracings of letters "with care" arranged on a table

Final drawing, with gemstone — somehow I have never drawn a gemstone before?

a person's hands holding a tracing of a gemstone onto a drawing of letters
[photo by liz]

Next steps for this guy are a little bit of cutting & pasting, to make it fit the differently-proportioned rectangles that Liz needs (Etsy-store header banner, two different jewelry boxes, postcard), rubylith cut-out (to get clean-but-slightly-wobbly lines without using a computer), scan rubylith & clean up on the computer. At some point I might draw some different versions of it at different weights or with a three-dimensional shadow on it… infinite possibilities… !

postscript: Clearly, the “animal in proximity to project” scenario is not unfamiliar to me:

a person seated at a table trying to draw with a small dog on their lap [Martin, at Liz’s house]

a person trying to work at a computer with a cat sitting between them and the computer [Buio, at my house]

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