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

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…

idea appetizers

January 28, 2010 at 7:05 pm

Way too many of my thoughts yearn towards interesting projects that I hope to do sometime in the future. Most of them, I can’t even think about starting: I already have a huge pile of unfinished projects on my plate already, that I’m also really excited about. I’m not complaining: it would be way worse to have no ideas than to have too many ideas.

It’s risky to put up images of projects that are still in the realm of intention… but here are two things that I’m excited about right now.

First, this one is really gonna happen: the drawing below (a detail is shown, in progress!) is going to become a print for Tiny Showcase. This driveway and its surrounding houses are located in South Providence.

south providence houses

I’ve been talking with Shea’la for way too long about doing a print with them, and I’ve kept starting and stopping various attempts… this is for real. It’s going to be a digital print, not a screenprint! Shocking. I’m excited that it will reproduce the pencil drawing in all its messy precise detailed obscured glory… along the lines of my general recent interest in drawing over making color separations, and because other people seem to be getting psyched about the drawings too. I’ll put up some kind of advance notice when it is going to come out, so those who desire to do so can get the jump on the release!

Okay, then we have this stuff which is really just a germ of an idea.

st. teresa’s through the window

This is what I see out my kitchen window in the early mornings when I have stayed up all night. There are four things that intrigue me about making this view into a print:

1) The steeple is of St. Teresa’s, a Catholic church in a neighborhood that once was entirely Catholic… up till recently, there were four active Catholic churches, two with attached nunneries, within about an eight-block radius right around here. These all had different ethnicities, congregations, & cultural connections: French nuns vs. Polish nuns, etc. (Mark, if you want to add anything to the history here, jump in!) St. Teresa’s shows up in these postcards I made last year of the view down Manton Ave:

manton avenue & st. teresa’s church, fall 2008

and also in this anti-gentrification poster that I made in 2006.

A couple of years ago, St. Teresa’s was closed due to falling numbers of congregants and no revenues (this being a pretty low-income area). There are still a food pantry and other social services operating out of the church, but no religious activity. You can see from the photos that it has now lost the cross from atop its steeple…

Apparently, because of the building’s structural problems and the lack of congregation, the diocese wants to tear it down. Some people in the neighborhood are gearing up to work on preserving the building, and possibly finding another use or uses for it. I am not Catholic, but the church holds a very important place in my geography, so I would hate to see it disappear. It’s on a main street, at the center of the neighborhood; I pass it on my bike ride home once I get to the crest of the hill; it has great wide steps for sitting on; its steeple can be seen from all over and marks my house for me when looking out from Federal Hill or Smith Hill. It’s no great shakes as a landmark building or anything like that, but it has historical meaning as a monument to the working people of the neighborhood who lived around it, and whose contributions & donations built it. I would like to make a print of it that was not about its Catholic holiness or authority, but about its place in the fabric of the neighborhood and its role in people’s lives… This might become that print.

2) I’m drawn to views out of, and compositions framed by, windows seen in perspective (as in the photo above). In this case, it would fit well with the subject matter, because I am thinking about the church as seen from the neighborhood…

st. teresa’s church, olneyville

3) For a long time I’ve been interested in this kind of sky, how luminous it is, how the colors fade into each other and into the glowing white, and how the heck could you screenprint something like that and make it that beautiful? I have some ideas. I like the challenge.

4) I really like the split and the balance between the glowing sky and the buildings below it that are cast into dimness… they are dark, but they are not totally black, they have tones and shadows and colors. I want to do more work with subtle changes in value and hue, to create this pre-dawn landscape, and then to balance it with the luminous sky. Similar scenes can be seen to the west in the evenings… I’ve thought of doing a series of those hill-top sunset views…

Aagcgk. Anyways, so many projects. Some of them will someday get done. Keep working. It’s okay!

(this post is to tide you over, dear readers, while I work on finishing the web store, which is getting close to being done, but not there yet! I have learned a lot about wordpress & php in the past month; not entirely, but partly, by “looking at it and figuring it out”. it’s been fun!)

I’m headed to New Orleans again in a couple of days, which is crazy because I totally really can’t afford plane tickets, but you do what you gotta do! This time I’m crossing my fingers that it won’t rain the whole time, and that I’ll be able to make some drawings, work on a collaboration with Meg, and do some intensive screenprinting and maybe some wheatpasting. I’m also hoping to re-print some drypoint plates that I made in 2001 (!) and work on new plates. WE WILL SEE. Projects. Places. yikes!


November 8, 2009 at 6:14 am


Yes, you are not mistaken: I made some halftones on the computer, printed them out*, then traced/stippled over them with a rapidograph pen, modulating the size of the dot I was making with the pen to match the dots in the halftone gradient.

halftones on paper…

It’s true, Liz Girlhaus was there, she saw it all go down! Yes, THIS IS TOTALLY CRAZY and backwards from the way that anything in the realm of image-reproduction should be done. Also it’s incredibly obsessive & reveals my need for an ordering system to underlie everything I do.

more halftones!!!

But, when I got the gradient for the street finished, I had that moment that comes in every project where you go from thinking, “this totally blows and it is going to be the worst thing I’ve ever done”, to thinking, “hmm, this might actually looks pretty good… hmm… hmm! yeah!” Well, we’ll see how it prints.

[* thanks to the awesome tiny laserjet printer I got from Mike "Pants" Hernandez-Stern when he moved. Thanks man!!! It works great, and makes the dynamic between computer and paper SO much more direct. (I had to think hard to find a way to not to use the word "workflow" in the above sentence...)]

for Kate: building with rounded corner, Corbusian/industrial long windows, and another ridiculous neo-classical pediment over the door. Main Street, Pawtucket, RI.

maaco bldg

for Jonathan: “The sheltered prince escaped from the glamorous but stifling confines of the castle, to join his bold outlaw sister in the wild forest of the Amherst St. kitchen, where she and the two sassy orphan children that she had taken in lived happily in banditry, with their old auntie the teakettle looking out for them when they got into any serious trouble…”

the runaway prince…

thank you for the shiny new coffeemaker!

… and, those blueprints:

beautiful blueprint lettering…

more amazing lettering.

… the most prosaic stuff, in the most beautiful form. Thanks, Rob!

Their influence on my lettering for the poster can be most clearly seen in the N and the A, as well as the H and the E. My Os and M are following along the same lines of thinking, but end up in an entirely different place…

1869 tiny holes

March 6, 2009 at 4:03 pm

…or so.

tiny holes in formica-covered plywood

as of now I have 1110 done.

I am making a vacuum table which will (crosses fingers) make all printing much easier, and make large areas of transparent colors more reliably print smooth and evenly. However, it is taking me a very long time to drill all these holes.

I have never been sure if I accurately understand the word “boring”: even in situations like waiting in line at the DMV, etc, there is always something to be fascinated or at least intrigued by. Sometimes I get frustrated and angry — which is very different from being bored. However, with this project I think am getting the sense of what people mean when they say they are bored. The telling effect is that I just can’t keep doing it for longer than 80 or so holes at a time, I keep getting up and going off to do something…

So, the way I am thinking about it (to keep myself from getting “bored”?) is this: I am gaining a new understanding of the physical & temporal reality of large numbers.

seen in downtown providence, a couple of days ago:

the good news
(the headline on the single copy of the nominally Christian paper inside this box was a diatribe against the evils of homosexuals, gay marriage, and the liberal left…)

I made an etsy page as an experiment (and because Caroline Paquita convinced me to!), it has one thing on it, the little coffee maker print:

link to secret door etsy store

okay — back to drilling holes!

almost too busy to write

November 15, 2008 at 9:03 pm

buio cat rubylith

… but here’s a preview of an unfinished transparency for a small print that will be ready for Craftland. The transparencies for this print are now done, this photo is from a week ago. This print is actually gonna be tiny, the cat image is a little more than three inches high…

I’m working on about 8 things simultaneously, all in various stages of completion, and it’s nice, I can switch off between projects and tasks if one gets too tedious. Right now, it’s making me a little crazy to sit at the desk all day… but it feels really good to be working hard, and I think things will come together in good ways, at the appropriate time!

here’s the craftland website, it’s charming and informative! … all right. back to work!

craftland banner!

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.