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

can I just say something?

April 5, 2009 at 11:09 pm

I love drawing.

plant sale sketch

I haven’t been drawing for a while, so it’s nice to get back into it by working on lots of letters… (they offer really nice parameters, both to fit within and to break out of.)

plant sale sketch 2

I also love erasing things, then drawing them again and modifying them. I also love changing things by tracing them. With every change, the drawn line becomes richer and more complex. [note the shifting “Y” — looking back at these photos, I’m kind of tempted to go back to a curvy one…] Below, using tracing paper, I’m moving the letters closer together, and spacing the lines farther apart vertically, for what I hope will be increased legibility.

plant sale sketch 3

My housemate says that this kind of thing would be easier with a computer; I’m pretty sure it would take the same amount of time, just require a different kind of patience, a different method for the modification of lines…

plant sale sketch 4

Above, the little golden-section rectangle is giving me a set of dimensions that are proportional to each other, which I’m using as the letter-heights and vertical spacing for the text in this little group. This is super fast & loose, and in this case, is mostly based on “what looks right” as opposed to any rigorous proportional analysis of the rectangle of the poster. I tried to find some good geometries to use in the overall layout… but the placement of things by eye looked better than placing the elements by geometry, so that’s what I went with.

Here’s one stage of the semi-finished sketch for the top of the poster, from a couple of days ago:

plant sale sketch 5

… and the middle of the poster, from that same stage:

plant sale sketch 6

The next update will show the bottom of the poster and its development…

Oh yeah — did I forget to say that I love drawing?

Southside Community Land Trust is a great organization that supports and helps organize community gardens all over the city. I’m excited to be making this poster, partly because SCLT is radical (in the multiple senses of the word), and partly because I’m following in the awesome footsteps of Jo Dery, who has made the SCLT plant sale posters for as long as I can remember.

bread business

November 2, 2008 at 6:41 am

Finally (and only a week late, really) the layout of the bread poster is done! Actually, really only half the layout is done, since the transparencies for the other two colors will be made by hand. However, that will be the relaxed part, this work on the computer made me a little crazy, with its pretenses of / pressure towards precision…

The two transparencies for the text and the line drawings will be printed by the very professional and excellent I-O Labs in Pawtucket! It’s costly, but really not that expensive in the grand scheme of things: and at this point I’ve messed around enough with these layouts on the computer that I don’t want to mess around any more with piecing them together from photocopier transparencies…


As you can see, this idea has shifted its format away from the previously mentioned vertical poster style. Here’s a screen-captured fragment of a version of that one:


…which was just too hard to read, besides which, I ran out of room on the paper (which is stuff I had around from an older project, cut very precisely in long strips (7.375″ high) on the big cutter at Black Cat).

The sequence of the steps simply flowed better horizontally, and for some reason I could fit more in. No theories about this right now! Here’s the main poster layout (center) with the two color layers at top and bottom:


One more detail:


Conclusion: lots of fun to draw stuff freehand with ink & brush on Bristol board. Less fun (though rewarding in its own way) finagling the scans around on the computer, in a seemingly endless fashion. Satisfying to have it ready to go (still, however, there’s that computer-work feeling of “but isn’t there more I could do?). Scary to be turning it over to the printers’ and hoping the transparency comes out well. I’m predicting it’ll be hard for me to print accurately since it is so long, lining things up will be a pain. But overall, I am pretty psyched with this concept and execution, so far.

Next step thoughts: One of the other layers will be rubylith cutouts to track the shape of the dough through the process… The other one will be messy ink painting and scraping on mylar, to form large letters behind the line-drawings and to highlight the path through the sequence. This color will be printed low-contrast to the paper… maybe even just transparent base to change its value a little… we’ll see…

…and yes, this is what I used my extra hour of daylight savings time for!

two ends of the spectrum

September 24, 2008 at 2:12 am

This past weekend, at the Block Party! that Andrew Oesch organized (and I helped with) in Worcester, MA:


…and, a couple of days earlier, working on drawing (or rather, desperately trying to figure out how to draw) the display font for what became this poster:


The Block Party was collaborative, temporary, and chaotic. It had no tangible “goal” besides getting a chance to play, offering other people (kids and adults) the chance to play, creating a potentially transformative experience, practicing collaborating and facilitating with Andrew O, taking the chance to do something we had wanted to do since we were little (have an almost infinite number of giant blocks to build with), and maybe getting a little transformed ourselves (I’m pretty sure that’s me in the red shirt):

BONE ZONE at stArt in the street, worcester 2008

Despite its transience, this kind of project is very direct — you can see the results in people’s enjoyment of and immediate narration of the experience (one kid, as his mom pulled him away from jumping on and squashing boxes at the end of the day: “But… this is the BEST PLACE EVER!!!”). I have a bunch of persistent memories from my own childhood (a giant wooden dragon in the children’s section of the public library, walking through a tall maze of translucent plastic at an art fair, building forts in the woods, working on a collaborative clay castle-sculpture at a craft show) which convince me that Sunday’s memory of building giant structures out of boxes will stick with some of these kids for the rest of their lives. Andrew O and I are left with nothing except lots of photos and a couple of sheets of colorful paper — almost all the boxes got smashed and recycled — the experience was the important thing.

A poster like this one (computer-designed, computer-printed) is also temporary. If I’m lucky, someone will put a copy of the poster up on their dorm-room wall, maybe keep it as a reminder of the speaker that influenced their changing ideas; maybe it will go into the departmental archive, but most likely, most of the copies will become part of the massive pile of paper-waste that comes out of any university in any given academic year. Hopefully, it will get some folks to come out to the talk — maybe more people than if it was a simple flyer designed in a word-processing program and printed in black and white… who knows.


Designing on the computer opens up too many infinite possibilities for me. I like the limits of the physical, of rubylith and of ink drawings; I’m more comfortable with the irregularity, and the permanence, that are built into something you make by hand. Looking at a computer screen, I get wrapped up in minutely adjusting the anchor-points of lines or editing shapes pixel-by-pixel, saving endless versions of things so I can revert to earlier decisions if necessary.

Working on an analog object, if you erased something, that means it is gone (even if you might reach for the command-Z key instinctively) and you have to draw it again, or as close as you can get to it. In the physical world, there’s no perfectability: whatever you make might have problems or issues, but they will result from how it was made and be a part of it — not errors you have overlooked and might have fixed if you had just had another couple of hours to spend in front of the monitor.

[here are two parts of the middle of the “digital/analog battle royale” illustration process for the Labor Studies poster. on paper:]
[and on the computer. notice the ink-line tracing of the two politicians, which is in the middle of being re-sized to fit the photo-reference mockup:]

When I was looking at display fonts to use on the Labor Studies Dept. poster, I couldn’t find a computer font that I liked. I started to draw letters from scratch, but the initial sketches didn’t fit the need or style of the poster, and I didn’t have a lot of time and wasn’t feeling super-inventive at that moment. The letter-pantograph device (seen at the top of this post) was handed down to me by my grandfather, a retired engineer, along with his set of 1970s Rapidograph pens. Using it, I drew the letters above, then scanned them in, enlarged them and printed them out, photocopied them to the right size, and traced their outlines in ink, making them more angular, and changing them somewhat (to differentiate them from the dreaded Comic Sans!). The tracings were scanned again, and photoshoppified into something usable for the graphic title of the poster.

The whole poster involved so much work, so much finicky moving of text and images back and forth, so much consideration and discarding of various fonts, so much attempting towards perfection. I’m mostly happy with it, especially with the illustrations, but I don’t think it has the richness and interest of most of my screen-printed projects… and since I’m not part of the community where the event will take place, it doesn’t have an effect on my life, and I can’t see its effect on other people.


The Block Party! project also involved a huge amount of work (done mostly by AO, though I jumped in at the last minute). Collecting and assembling all the boxes was an almost-infinite task, printing the patterned paper, pasting it on, organizing volunteers, thinking about the philosophy and metaphorical underpinnings of the project. . . However, there was no pretense of perfection: our basic goal was to have enough boxes to really transform the space of the street — beyond that, we had no idea ahead of time of how it would actually turn out, and we knew that we would be figuring out how to do the project along with everybody else who was there that day.

Searching for perfection — ignoring the demand for perfection (even/especially when it comes from within myself). Either of these approaches could be applied to any project, any medium, that one might want to work in. At this point, coming off of these two almost-simultaneous projects, I think I know which of these paths regarding perfection I like being on the most.

However, it’s relatively simple to apply the “chaos is awesome” mentality to projects (like the Block Party) where the chaos is actually unavoidable. It’s somewhat harder to let it creep in to the screenprinting projects I really want to be focusing on, the areas where my meticulousness is more ingrained and more likely to take charge. Additionally, when life is overwhelming (as it usually is for me), it’s easiest to strive for righteousness and certainty, since those seem like the most secure options. One constructive strategy might be to take on less, leave more time for things, don’t put myself in places where I’m so stressed out that perfection seems like the only achievable goal, where I don’t have time to accept complexity and confusion. I know this is possible, because I’ve worked on more and more projects recently where I’ve had to slow down to allow for learning and chaos. . . they are harder and more difficult to approach than the ‘perfectable’ projects. . . . but simply remembering that the harder projects are more fun is a large part of the process. . . .

Here’s Andrew Oesch starring as Sisyphus in Werner Herzog’s new movie about participatory, community-based art projects:


… and a good reminder (from fomato.com) about how not to get bogged down by more projects than I actually want:


thanks, cute creatures, for your infinite wisdom.

fun busy ness

September 6, 2008 at 7:53 pm

“Oh hmm, what would happen if I did… this… or like this… maybe that would be cool. Would that even work?”

…and if you give it a chance, it does, to a certain degree at least, and turns into something relatively rad, or at least something that offers interesting possibilities for the future. I was trying to use up some empty space on a screen… and I thought I needed to come up with an idea for an upcoming printing job. It turned out that I didn’t have to come up with anything for this job, I just need to show up and print something on people’s shirts from an already-prepared screen… so I get to save this idea for myself! I printed these anyways, to test and have some more nifty paper to write notes on, before washing the stencil out. (if you want one of these thingys, write me a letter: po box 244, providence, ri 02901, and I’ll write you back using the print for stationery.) You get extra points if you can tell me how I made the stencil for it!

Everything here has been pretty chaotic: I was out of town for a week, jobs and projects are turning around and changing up on me, our housing situation has been in flux since our new downstairs neighbors turned out to be worse than our old ones (wouldn’t have thought this would be possible, but I guess it is), and… I got a 10th-hour email from Dave Cole‘s gallery asking me to finish printing the Truckmobile posters.

[here, with three colors printed. finally.]

This is exciting, since (more…)

distraction? or project?

August 3, 2008 at 3:32 am

Well, the New Urban Arts zine swap is approaching, and I sideswiped myself into working on a zine about how to make bread. So I’ve been doing that for the last little while. I’ve never laid out a document consisting mainly of blocks of text before, so I’ve been constantly referring to Robert Bringhurst‘s Elements of Typographic Style, which Andrew lent me a while ago. It’s great — if I’d gone to school for graphic design I probably would have found out about it years ago — but I am delighted now to discover the many opportunities for distraction and nerding-out that exist within its covers…

I’ve been spending a lot of time at the computer, which is all right, but I am pretty ready to go back to actually drawing. The bread zine is going to be photocopied on good paper, possibly with a screenprint of some kind on the cover: 24 small pages of just one recipe for delicious homemade bread, that you can vary and adjust to your own taste, usable even by someone who’s never baked anything before. If you want a copy, let me know!

Additionally, I got a large fan, making summer a little sweeter:

(which happens to be the same model fan that inspired this project… hmm, I just realized I never put up any images of how that turned out…)

. . . Andrew brought me a giant jar of the burdock-root kimchi we started earlier in the spring. He and I made some more drawings, including, just yesterday, this one:

(a detail)

. . . and, I picked hundreds of green beans from my garden and made dilly beans, about which I can only say, home canning, though complicated, is easier than it looks, try it, try it, try it!

geographical expansion news: If you’re in or around Portland, Maine, you can now go look at and caress some of my posters and postcards at Eli Phant, a ‘handmade stuff store’ run by old friends, that just opened on the eastern end of Congress St!

I’ve been reading Lilah’s blog

…and I’ve been really psyched about Mickey’s comics. All right!

sucked in

July 17, 2008 at 6:28 am

…These past weeks have seen lots of work on the ‘privacy’ print.

Looking back over my notes on Edward Tufte, thinking more about the organization of the whole print, I figured out how I am going to lay it out. There will be an axonometric drawing of a living space on the bottom half of the print (this one will be kind of like a ‘dollhouse view’, we will be looking in from above & be able to see all the rooms and how they are connected). From every place (‘moment’?) where an interesting dynamic between personal and shared space is created, there will be a line leading up or down to a smaller diagram or perspective drawing, plus some text describing how each spatial connection does what it does. This is exciting, since it lets the different doorways and connections exist in a context, related to each other, rather than floating in space — it gives them an added layer of meaning.

[early stage]

This also implies that I need to actually draw a building. This is: “Scary!! (fun?)” as I wrote on my large brainstorming sheet of paper a week ago… The building I’ve been working on is kind of theoretical, since it is only one story, even though any living space of this size (5 bedrooms) in a city (small lot sizes) in New England (cold climate) would almost definitely be a 2-or-more-story building. However, when you have more than one story, it’s relatively straightforward to define private spaces, since the stairs can be used to create the separations between private and public, and even make subtle refinements within those categories… Last week, one of the subscribers told me about figuring out how to use the space in her house: she put her bedroom and office on the second floor, and then created a “guest zone” on the third floor, so that her guests can feel like they have their own special place, and not feel like they are getting in her way or invading her personal space when they visit Providence and stay with her.

So both for graphic purposes, and to deal with the more difficult problem of creating privacy when the whole living space is on the same floor, I’m going with a slightly unrealistic 1-story building.

[later stage — “I broke the drawing”]

… to make it more realistic, though, I am working on making a believable structure and roof plan…


… and because I couldn’t figure out the roof issues to my satisfaction by drawing it on paper, I let myself be persuaded by Andrew to make a model on the computer.

[early in the process…]

This involved me cursing at the screen for a couple of hours while conquering the learning curve on Sketchup, then getting pretty psyched about it (though still frustrated occasionally…)

It’s been an interesting drawing experience, since I haven’t used a computer drafting program since a long time ago in school. Skp doesn’t have a very intuitive interface for moving your point of view around, or moving the model around — I’m using key shortcuts and a mouse, very awkward, so it feels like inventing a new way of moving in space, like learning to walk from scratch. However (or maybe because of this?) I find myself almost physically connected to the building I’m drawing: I’ve found myself craning my neck to look around a corner… it’s very strange.** Sketchup is probably most satisfying when you accidentally jump into the wall of the building itself and things get glitchy… suddenly you are making nice Thom Mayne or Zaha Hadid drawings, congratulations! I’ve been taking lots of screen captures. It’s three days later, now, though, and I still haven’t finished the roof plans. A fruitful distraction.

… in other news, I am moving my sleep schedule back four hours, so that instead of going to sleep at 10 am and waking up at 6 pm, I can go to bed at 6 am and wake up at 1 pm. Tonight I’m a little late… but working towards it. !

* the green cardstock = cutoffs from those wedding invitations I printed a while ago!

** I’ve never experienced Second Life, but I find myself wonder what Sketchup would be like if the interface, for navigating in space at least, was something like the one shown in this slightly weird but fascinating video from the makers of SL…

shoupies & pop pops

July 9, 2008 at 1:50 am

I finally gave in to temptation and bought the multi-multi-pack of many-colored permanent markers from the Big Top Flea Market in Atlantic Mills:

Given that these are from the flea market, they are not actually Sharpies but Shoupies, and they cost me $2. This was not the temptation to own a lot of colorful permanent markers, but the temptation to own a product very carefully crafted in imitation of a really-carefully-branded product. I probably should have left them in their packaging as an art object, but I’m too practical for that, and… there’s a lot more where they came from. (At the flea market, I had the choice of two other non-sharpie ‘brand’ names, written in the same font, both with the same capital S. No photos: I didn’t want to attempt explaining to the friendly Chinese girl working the booth that I am a graphic artist with an arcane interest in fake products, not the undercover trademark police…)

They did a pretty good job. I am always thrilled by seeing off-brand objects that use graphics to imitate the product they are ripping off — (more…)

this is why people use computers for this kind of stuff

May 7, 2008 at 8:06 pm

The text layout for the bottom of the farmers’ markets poster, as I draw it four times:

[initial sketch layout]


A month later: whoops, there are five more markets that need to go on the poster!

[not so good, markets are too small, layout is all choppy… but hey, rounded corners!]

[more unified, slightly larger boxes, better spaces for other information. I’ve already started inking & cutting out the rubylith, so this, with minor changes, is what I’m going with…]

Yes. I could do this on the computer (I have in the past, and I obviously do a lot of other stuff on the computer). There’s no real reason not to, besides the fact that I like holding a pencil more than a mouse . . . and there’s some sneaking suspicion that by going through these paper revisions, erasing and re-drawing, things end up better in the end. I can’t prove that, and there’s no doubt that graphics programs can also give you the same amount of gritty feedback, and offer extended possibilities for equivalent richness and complexity, as well as the ability to be more flexible in adjusting things, so I’m not really putting it out there as a position or a statement. At the end of this process, though, I’m sure that working on it by hand adds something undefinable to the final object — the mark of my hand? the wobble of the lead or the pen or the knife blade? an element of messiness that a computer can emulate, but never quite match?

Somewhat relatedly, here’s a link to Jo Dery’s website, which I think is newly present on the internet. She’s a printmaker, comic- & zine-maker, and animator/filmmaker from Providence. She works in sketchbooks, on paper, on film as well as digitally, and, um, all the results are amazing.

farmers’ markets poster progress

March 29, 2008 at 9:32 am

From sketch

…. to full-size mockup with letters!

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

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

secret door work & livelihood update:

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

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

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

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