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

pushing away from certainty

May 15, 2013 at 7:22 am

classtwo_02

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.

classtwo_04

(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…!)

classtwo_05

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:

classtwo_01

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…

classtwo_03

classtwo_07

… 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:

classtwo_06

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

classtwo_09

Different color combinations produce different “forest lighting effects”:

classtwo_11

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!!):

classtwo_12

Some combinations that Lara picked out from her test prints:

classtwo_10

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”.

classtwo_08

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….

classtwo_13

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.

class_2013_12

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.

class_2013_01

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.

class_2013_02

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…

class_2013_09

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

class_2013_03
[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:

class_2013_14

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.

class_2013_10
[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:

class_2013_04
[two-layer print by Emmy Bright]

class_2013_05
[two-layer print, unfinished state, by Will Bowling]

class_2013_08
[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.

class_2013_11
[transparent color overlay test strips by Li Pallas]

class_2013_06
[two-layer print by Kitty O’Connor]

class_2013_07
[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!

duotone, finally

May 28, 2012 at 2:22 am

I’ve been working on this Recycle-A-Bike poster for probably a year… but I realized I hadn’t ever posted any images to this blog yet. So here goes! [n.b. I have actually finished printing this poster now!]

Here are the duotone transparencies that I prepared literally almost a year ago for printing out: the darker color is on the left & the lighter color is on the right. (There is a line grid in the background so that I could align the hands once I had cut them apart — Faces does the most accurate transparency printing in town as far as I can tell, and they do not underprice their work, so it was important to keep the printing area to under 8.5″x14″… so I had to consolidate the hands onto one sheet & then cut them apart to put them where I wanted them on the actual transparencies I used to expose the screens. Once the hands were in place & aligned with each other, I scratched the light lines off the plastic.)

(Oh yeah, when I do a duotone thing again, and thus have to figure out how to do it all over again, I will make a tutorial post… except my version of photoshop is 7 years old! but maybe it will still be useful to some…)

Close-up of duotones. This is confusing because what you’re looking at is the screen for the lighter color (open yellow areas on pink solid background) with the transparency for the next color, the darker color (black dots on clear plastic) top of it… so it doesn’t look at all like it will look when printed, since the lighter color is somewhat “in negative” here. But you can see that the angles of the halftone patterns are different, thus making a “rosette” instead of a weird-looking moiré pattern!

My mom would call this the “art shot” — macro-focus, looking through the screen at a light source, showing a closeup of the freewheel gears (exposed from hand-cut rubylith) and the hand holding the gears (exposed from digitally-printed transparency).

Okay, printing! This is the first color, it was a rainbow roll from one blue to another… I can’t get away from the multiple rainbow rolls over each other, it’s kind of a gimmick but it just offers too many possibilities… (like this, I mean, this isn’t a screenprint but look at Buck Hastings jacking my style/inspiring me all over again as usual!!!)

This layer is all rubylith, yeah I cut all those little gears out by hand, yargle bargle

Second color! Some people who’ve seen this print have said “it’s so flat, usually your work has a lot more visual depth & perspective in it…” and it’s true, that’s what I was trying to do! and/or just to change up my usual way of working… and/or to free myself from creating something that “looked like” what it was “supposed to”… and/or to make a lil homage to the Stenberg brothers who are kind of the seminal crowd faves in iconic graphic poster making, and were my direct inspiration for combining photographic collage with graphic solid color elements in this poster…

In the photo below, you can see really clearly something that Emmy Bright and I have been calling “halftone thinking”: using one ink color to get two tones, one of them solid, one of them made up of dots, dashes, lines, or some kind of pattern. You can do this by hand drawing, making those marks with ink… or by photocopying a pattern & collaging it… or by using an photograph made into actual halftones! In this image, there are four (or maybe five?) graphic tones created by just the yellow ink on the ‘natural’ paper, in different patterns:

Okay that’s it for now, more photos of finished poster soon, and you’ll probably see it around town if you’re here in Prov. Spring is choogling along, being physically alive is pretty awesome, swimming biking dancing doing movement exercises pushing the possibilities of my body getting stronger!!!


“Ferdinand’s” department store building, Roxbury, Mass. When faced with the question of “How will we make our dilapidated landmark building look like a really cool graphic poster image, and keep the pigeons out, while waiting to find out if we can get funding to renovate it or if we’ll have to tear it down?”, these people came up with the #1 absolutely correct answer! I don’t know anything about this project or building, but this is a quite stunning (hopefully temporary) solution to what must be a really frustrating situation… go Roxbury!


this work is copyright to jean cozzens | Secret Door Projects

Creative Commons License
most of it is also licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
for more licensing & copyright details, check out the credit page.