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

constraint; delight

June 27, 2013 at 7:22 pm

The colors in the prints coming out of the “hand-cut stencils and transparent colors” class keep getting more & more complicated and interesting.


This is partly due to the students in the class being bad-ass & willing to explore possiblities… but ultimately I think it’s because the project we do is governed by a limiting constraint:

“Two layers of transparent ink, printed on lighter paper, create a third color where the layers overlap. Working through hand-tracing and hand-cutting rubylith stencil film, use these three colors plus the paper color to translate a photographic image into a silkscreened image. Optional: use variations in ink color or transparency for atmospheric or dramatic effects. Expand to a third transparent color if your image demands it.”

As the classes continue, I accumulate a reference group of prints (and test prints!) made with the same constraint, but different compositional / lighting / color strategies — visually demonstrating more possibilities than I (or anyone) could come up with on their own. These provide interesting examples and models for emulation/modification…


[Buck’s final print, final version, on lighter paper: this print became part of his show at Candita Clayton Gallery, visible till July 1st!]

The constraint allows us to focus on small variables, as opposed to exploring the admittedly infinite possibilities of silkscreen, and learn what those variables have to teach us. I include myself in that “we”; I’m definitely learning as much as anyone…

Katie Bedrosian’s final print:




Here’s Jen Hall’s final print from the first class, which I finally got a chance to photograph:


This one steps into the territory of three transparent layers; Jen decided that she needed one extra color to create the sky gradient *and* the shading / complexity in the elevated shack…

Lara Henderson’s print, which she worked on as part of the second class, also contains three layers: she wanted both a high-contrasty-shadow effect, and a subtle low-contrast folded fabric effect, and both of those couldn’t be achieved with just two layers. HOWEVER it’s not done yet! Possibly next week (so I hear)! When I can hold a copy of it in my (hot little) hands, I will write a further post & possibly ask Lara to write a little bit about her process & decision-making for it, it was really interesting to be part of that conversation.

If you’re limited to this one medium for creating your transparencies, if you can’t turn to halftones or cross-hatching or key layers to describe things in your image, if you can’t use the computer to help simplify whatever is going on graphically… maybe you feel out of your area of expertise, or like your hands are clumsy in a way they haven’t been in a long time, or like the marks you’re making are strange and unaccustomed. I would like to posit that those moments of seeming clumsiness and inadequacy, and the work that results from them, can be instances of delight and discovery possibly more powerful than those that stem from tools you feel like you already know how to use. Pushing our ideas through a material or a process that resists somewhat, that pushes back, means that evidence of the creation of the thing becomes inherent within it, that the process and the form are integral components of the finished object. I’m trying to find very specific language for this, and not get overly metaphorical… don’t know if I’m succeeding… ?

Some more pictures of humans holding prints:


Jen Booth, from the first class.


Katie Bedrosian & Buck Hastings, from the second class…

… maybe it will be you, in the third class???

Unrelatedly (or maybe relatedly, in terms of color/light/spatial worlds): I was psyched to capture this moment of cat in window inside building inside print inside frame inside Emmy‘s house… the print is by Dan McCarthy… the cat is “Stinkeye” aka “Baby Bunny” aka “Walker Mettling‘s Swiffer”…

meta cat

pushing away from certainty

May 15, 2013 at 7:22 am


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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

Everybody prints four or so copies each of four colors…



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

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


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


Different color combinations produce different “forest lighting effects”:


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


Some combinations that Lara picked out from her test prints:


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


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

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

personal note personal note:

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

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

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


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

April 27, 2013 at 2:22 am

[print by John McGarry]

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

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


[print by Soledad Soons]

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

[print by Ryan Dean]


[print by Jeremy Ferris]

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

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

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

[print by Jen Booth]

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

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

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

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


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


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

rubylith class & cool poster show!

March 7, 2013 at 4:26 pm

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

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


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

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

Class color mixing chaos scenario:


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


Froggy close-up:


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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

segments of a bunch of colorful posters

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

red chalk drawings on an interior building wall

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

“practical tools for shifting reality” – snapshots & statement

February 7, 2013 at 3:10 pm


The show is up! & I am on to the next projects (and of course finishing the things that I didn’t have time to complete for the show itself!). Here is an assortment of snapshot-based documentation, plus the artist statement — written the night before the opening, but based on ideas that have been rumbling around for a couple years now, as usual.



Practical Tools for Shifting Reality
artist statement

I was a nearsighted, nerdy, artistic, attention-hungry, weird little kid: fascinated by printed objects around me, terrified of losing unique things (and pretty much everything, even trash, fell into this category), captivated by odd dreams of creating my own brand of notebooks, and compelled to learn to draw horses realistically. The horses thing kind of faded away (for the better, probably), and I long ago stopped collecting boogers & dust balls (for the better, definitely), but the rest of it remained — along with all the drawing practice I had done, and the terror of loss — as a great recipe for becoming a meticulous maker of screenprinted posters.


Additionally, I was a boyish kid who didn’t really understand why she couldn’t be in the Boy Scouts, have short hair like her brothers, or be called “Keith” on a regular basis. In recent years, as I realized that I didn’t actually have to be “a girl”, and became aware of the validity and realness of my gender variance, I worried that much and maybe all of my single-minded, perfectionist, intense-work-ethic art- & poster-making had been born from the combination of the attention-hungry kid with the teenage girl who didn’t identify at all with her perceptible, supposedly “girl” body. This person figured out that if they could draw the most complicated drawings, make them into neat-looking screenprints, and distribute them, that people would pay more attention to the images than to the physicality of the human behind them…



This tactic worked for almost a decade; it was a good one! But it stopped working when I realized I had the chance to figure out an embodiment and a physical presence that would potentially feel more true to myself. The fact that the posters were no longer the point of my life revealed the fact that they had been: that much of my identity and even my physical presence in the world was wrapped up in the work I had made. For a long while after that, when I was working on art, it felt like I was actively avoiding having a gendered body — a continuation, perhaps, of the avoidance/distraction/dazzle-camouflage scenario that I had been constructing for so many years.



At the same time, I knew that that was not the only purpose my work had served. As a poster-maker with my art practice founded in my community of friends, I knew that screenprinted posters & prints, distributed as limited multiples, become important objects to other humans, and carry strong associations for everybody whose lives they touch: “that was the gallery opening where my partner and I first kissed”, “that was the last show in our house before we got evicted”, “that was my favorite building before they tore it down”, “that poster was above our kitchen sink for six years, I looked at it every day…”

These printed objects hold power for creating our lives & realities, for piecing our stories together, for sharing them with each other, based on memory, imagination, delight, the irrational, the impossible, the failed & beautiful. Shared self-made graphics allow our lives to be located outside of a dominant or market-logic paradigm, through a visual language that we teach each other & make up together as we go along. I realized that I wanted to turn this power towards furthering validity for trans, queer, and gender-variant existences like mine — towards making complexity visible, and by showing what I saw of it, to create chances for further complexity in the world.



I wanted to put visual tools in the hands of others like myself, who might occasionally need a reminder that they are real, when from many sides they are told that their existences are impossible. I also wanted to get to do more of the practices that are the most engaging & interesting for me — drawing, first of all, and also printing, but not printing epic, grueling editions (which I do enough of already): “fun printing.”

So, the work brought together in the gallery here is a beginning stab at both those projects. There are lots of hand-drawn words & letterforms, which hopefully reveal my discovery & delight in the drawing of them as well as the self-imposed limits (and also delights!) of following a system, creating a graphic space that is coherent and includes weirdness, and learning deeply from drawing things seen in the world around me.



The “word prints” (the ones in white frames, two of which are in the photos below) are a group in which there are no mistakes. Each one is different; every print that gets made is part of the continuing whole, and any strange or unexpected color layer simply presents a challenge to figure out what the next layer and color on that print will be, and/or a (parallel) challenge to understand the existing combination as complete and unified.



All of this work involves interference between patterns, scales & layers, as well as colors and images overlapping by chance and by intention. Language as action, graphics as tools, words as accumulated structures. Printed things as evidence of thought, of having an idea & making it real & sharing it with the people around you, providing them yet another piece of structural existence to build their own selves with. The dissonant territory between “reading” and “looking”, between up close & from across the room, between what we can see & what we can’t see. Creating reality, creating our bodies and existences, and the world around us, through strategic and/or magical language and significant objects — as well as through improvisation, accident, making do with what is there, making it into something else, making it into what we want to see in the world…

February 1, 2013



[from the wall with the letterform drawings on index cards, this text says: “To wrap something in stories rather than in theory is to let words work at its strangeness rather than at its credibility. — Robin Evans, Translations From Drawing to Building” … I couldn’t resist the (un-posed) reflection of a gallery visitor reading the hanky tags near the opposite wall…]


[I drew & printed the bandanas — the color is ink, the white lines are negative space, Liz Novak and I hemmed them all on the sewing machine! Somewhat impulsively, in the middle of a late night, I sent some emails asking the people who had requested a specific color how they wear their hanky (or hankies), what color(s), and why… It soon became clear that those statements would be a really crucial part of the project, and that the accumulation of different colors of hankies and of written statements of visible desires, attached to these significant, coded, yet potentially infinitely varying objects, is its own project and will probably go on for a while… If you’d like to contribute thoughts about how & why you wear a hanky, please get in touch!]


[“…starting the revolution by publicly announcing the object of your desire, and asking in public who desires you…” this Guy Hocquenghem quote was on the wall of hankies/bandanas.]





[this Robert Venturi quote has been kicking around on the bulletin boards in my room for about four years… I think I’ve finally made some of the work that can properly have this text displayed alongside it, in my general realm of “thinking about bodies like thinking about buildings”, and possibly even “thinking about words like thinking about bodies”…]


[A friend bought this little print, which is a rectangle cut from a chaotic test print that I have been printing on since 2010 or earlier… the orange curlicue & blue-gray rectangles are elements of a test from when Meg Turner was printing this poster in my studio a couple of years ago!]

[The “our complexity is the world” print, originally made for this portfolio, serves as the textual & conceptual backbone of all the work in this show, I hope…]

[below, a shot from while I was installing… (if you haven’t, please read Mark Aguhar’s blog.) These are re-prints of the stickers that Meg Powers & other friends & I made this summer; they’ve now been Risographed by Walker Mettling (and look beautiful but the ink is smudgy, so they don’t make great stickers as such — it was experimental anyways!)… BUT look how nice & serious & real things look when they are behind a little sheet of glass!]


giving all my (rubylith) secrets away…

February 6, 2013 at 8:17 pm

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

What will students learn & get out of this class?

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


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

[two-layer print by Rachel Speck]

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

*credit goes to Jacob Berendes for this astute observation!

Some more student work:

[two-layer print by Emmy Bright]

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

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

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

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

[transparent color overlay test strips by Li Pallas]

[two-layer print by Kitty O’Connor]

[two-layer print by Hannah Jegart]

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

late nites work nites

January 15, 2013 at 5:54 am

So nothing is stopping here, really quick here are some various process shots, as I just keep on task in a really kind of wonderful way preparing for this show (opening Feb 2, Saturday, 5-7, AS220, yes I’m mentioning it again!). When I’m really working on things, which I have been & it’s been awesome, I stay up till 4 or 6am and sleep till noon or 2pm, so A) don’t call me before noon unless it’s an emergency or we planned on it beforehand, and B) it’s really great to have a housemate who is also awake all night and practices beautiful/weird bass & piano scales while I mix colors…!

Sometimes the printed color is the same density as the hand-wiped color swatch (L)… sometimes not (R). The far-right test is closer to the ink these were actually printed with:

test swatches & printed test colors

Test prints usually look more dynamic to me than the “real” print (that’s why a bunch of these newsprint test guys will actually be part of the show…):

test printings of geometric letterforms

These are the first two colors on the four colorways (I know, four is too many) of the “Queers!” print:

different colorways of geometric letterforms

One thing that’s unusual for me is because of the deadline, I’m working on six (!) projects at the same time… I usually work on one thing at a time till it’s done. I am really, really bad at working on many things at once. But because of the scheduling, lots of different elements that need to fall into place, and different logistical things, this is how it’s rolling out — and I actually really like it. It means I have to really focus and set aside my evenings & nights pretty dedicatedly to working (and check out my organizational structures at the bottom of this post)! But it’s really rewarding & it’s pretty lovely to be in a color thinking / print thinking / drawing thinking mode a lot — though I switch back into an organizational / logistical mode often, cause it all has to get FINISHED!

Also, all of these projects were begun / conceived of / initiated sometime in the past two years… and are now seeing a final push towards completion for the show. I don’t know if I could be coming up with new ideas or new complex drawings on this kind of deadline and all in the same stretch of time… that might not be possible.

* * * *

This picture was taken as a “visual note” so I can remember how I might want to line up the next layers:

printed script letters with rubylith transparencies over them

Printed on my 5+-year-old plastic alignment sheet, as this gloss varnish dries, it seems to make the worn & scratched alignment sheet look clear & clean… hmm… oooh… gloss varnish… !

gloss varnish, printed on plastic, showing its anti-refractive tendencies

Harnessing the magic of the test prints to make cool unique “real” prints:

cool accidental/intentional color magic

Also I’ve been re-laying-out & adding a second layer to these stickers from this past summer:

screenshot of misalignment test for stickers

They are gonna get Risographed by Walker Mettling of the Providence Comics Consortium, which I am excited about, but the degree of my stress about getting the layout & alignment of the images set up for the RISO machine was totally out of proportion to the importance of whether these are actually well aligned. Walker was like “it’s just like a photocopier!” and I was like “waaaahhh I am scared of processes that I don’t have control over…” HA. hmm. Turning over control to someone else, it’s good!

Looking back at these photos of the earlier Queers prints, to figure out the next colors:

screenshot of looking through different variants of one print

Tonight, testing further colors (WHY CANT I USE ALL THE COLORS) for the Dissonance prints, and using the testing time to think about what order the layers should go in. (Anybody out there got color thoughts? I really kind of do want to use all the colors…)

color testing for script font print

… and… this is how all these things come together over time & in their logistical sequence: pages of basically illegible notes & calendars & details:

lists of scribbled handwriting

Note mediocre drawing at bottom center, of the orange cat sleeping on the mat in the hallway with all his feet tucked under! cat blob!

this is what a decision looks like

January 6, 2013 at 5:15 am

So I still need to actually mix & refine these colors, but here you can see the evidence that a set of decisions that I procrastinated on for almost two years has now been more or less made, over the course of the past seven or so hours!!!

sheets of paper with color notes and color swatches

I made 30 of these “Queers!” prints about two years ago and it was super fun to make them because I totally played around with the colors while printing them and no two of them were alike. This is from an unfinished blog post about them from April 2011, that was gonna be titled “not making multiples”:

… In any case, for me it is difficult to part with the objects of the world. I am now able to throw boogers, napkins, paper cups, and most things that other folks would consider actual trash into the trash! However, there are some odd folders and containers in my room/studio, of things that most people might not save: “lists”, “paper rulers” (little measuring strips I use in making drawings, that no longer have a purpose once the drawing is done, but while it was in process, they were tools that I touched thousands of times), “ephemera” (neat packaging), “pins I used to wear on my jacket” (that’s a good one, right?), “broken cups & bowls that have a sentimental value”, etc etc…

As someone who makes objects and then the objects go away from me, multiples are an easy thing to deal with emotionally, because they never have to leave me completely — I always have one left of each kind. I usually don’t sell my drawings; I’ve done it a couple of times, and probably will to a greater extent in the future, but I actually miss the ones I have sold and think about them relatively frequently. I know that the sold drawings are framed and loved and on someone’s wall somewhere, as opposed to hidden in a drawer in a flat file, and that is great to know. But… when I think of their lines and spaces, remembering the process of drawing them, I do wonder, with a certain sadness, if I will ever see them again.

… and I was going to write further about how the stress of parting with the individual unique prints was mitigated by how awesome of a time I’d had printing them.

However, even as I was making the unique “Queers!” prints, I knew I wanted to make some multiples of them too — in order to have some that I could distribute on the internet and sell for a cheaper price (the uniqueness of each one, and initially selling them through a ‘real gallery’, had pushed me to set the price kinda high). I had decided to make four different colorways… BUT I didn’t want to replicate exactly any of the colorways in the initial group… BUT I wanted to learn from the earlier color relationships as well… and that was in February, 2011.

So what happened today? First I decided not to procrastinate on this project anymore — which I can credit partly to having a deadline and partly to recently being back on medication for attention deficit disorder. Mental health care — it’s pretty crucial! First I made tests swatches of a bunch of different transparent colors that I had in the studio (previous post). Then I looked at the remaining original prints in complete confusion for about an hour or so. I finally wrote down some anecdotal notes on the color interactions… then realized I could consolidate those notes into a semi-analytical observation of what the different colors were doing in each of the original prints that I had a photo of (about half of them — thanks to photographer Pam Murray — having digital images & being able to flip through them on the computer screen really helped!). Then I looked back at my test swatches and thought about what I wanted to have happen in the four different prints, colorwise… and then through making notes and moving the swatches around, I was able to pick out, roughly, some colors that would make those dynamics happen.

paper with colored ink on it, paper with graphical diagram of color relationships

What began as a “super fun let’s play with colors yayyy” experimental project in early winter 2011, became a looming, terrifying “oh my gosh what colors am I going to use for these four editions what if they are not as good as the first ones uhhhhhngh” decision that stressed me out to the point of completely avoiding it for almost two years, and then turned into a “well I have to get this done this week!” necessary decision process. The strategy that allowed me to sneak up on the decision was making a bunch of grids & diagrams to “make sure” that I was making the “right” decision. Ultimately the crucial moments of working were just moving little tabs of color around on the table, noting down things about their roles & relationships that the charts had allowed me to understand, but really just looking at them together. Then suddenly I was able to look up & say to my housemate, “Hey, I think I just finished making this decision which I put off for two years, huh!”.

table with strips of paper, ink containers, and diagrams on it

I harnessed the momentum of that decision into another one — the two central colors here will (more or less) be the background colors for the two colorways of the “dissonance” print…

a selection of color swatches

…which you can see a very initial sketch for here, from back in July (also including my legs in Conanicut Island midsummer mode, beet-pickle juice was involved):

sketchbook balanced on knees of bare legs on a picnic blanket, with the word "dissonance" partly written on the open page


infinity of possible choices about letterforms

January 5, 2013 at 9:35 pm

…or really, about anything, for that matter. !!! No time to write much at the moment but here is some process preview for new work I’m doing for the show (opens February 2nd, 5-7, AS220, 115 Empire St. Providence). Lots to do, not a lot of time. My strategy is to do whatever it is I’m procrastinating on the most — ask myself what is the most scary thing, do that first. Ha!

a pile of postcards on manila paper with various handwriting on them

rsvp notecards from 1959-1961, from a curb in new york city to an attic in providence to my hot little hands (thanks Will, collector extraordinaire!)

process shot of desk

desk scenario — I’m referencing years of collecting ephemera & hundreds of pictures I’ve taken of fonts for letterform generation, and mining writings that I was doing (for performances this past fall) for text generation…

hand-drawn font in progress, reads

learning a lot about script fonts; the variation is so broad, anything is possible!

using an architect's adjustable triangle to create shading

architectural drafting strategies; these letterforms are based on the packaging from some fireworks that Jacob had…

letters in overlapping screenprints

print over test print, experimental zone

jars of ink and test color strips, laid out on a desk

transparent color testing for some seriously procrastinated-on re-prints that will be part of this show, and also for some new prints!

okay byeee time to make another sandwich, drink more coffee, & then back to work!

new color work

October 26, 2012 at 4:32 am

In the past I have been very frustrated, impatient, and (even?) bored when re-printing new editions of old prints. When you print something for the first time, there’s the moment of excitement when you see how the color layers are coming together, all these interactions that you had previously only conceived of in your head and tried your best to build into the transparencies. That moment can be super exciting, when it all works as you planned… super frustrating, when you realize how far off you were… either way, undeniably compelling.

That flash of totally new resolution, and the engagement & process & figuring out that go along with it, is missing from a second printing, and I’ve found myself just not caring about how a second edition of a print turns out. I don’t know if that’s a terrible confession of my artistic callousness — or if it’s actually okay, like it’s just not life-or-death anymore, and really it’s not life-or-death at all in the first place, it’s just ink on paper, it’s okay, and the second-edition-reprints make that clear (whereas the first printing of something is usually the culmination of a ton of work and stress and intense energy and carries all that momentum…).

But for some reason re-printing the Industrial Trust Building prints (first printed in 2009) was really fun and I had a great time mixing the colors and I think they are a lot better (or maybe just more confident and less conservative) than the original colorways… and I have developed a lot of control over the rainbow roll / ink gradient (most of which just involves doing lots of test prints on waste sheets when you can tell the gradient will not be smooth)… and I have somewhat better command of the transparent colors as well. Also I have this new technique for keeping my screen exactly in the same place which takes all the frustration out of alignment (!!!).

So! Very satisfying. There’s one “subtle” colorway, partly inspired by the personal fashion color scheme of awesome friend Christiane Marie, one “pink and grimy green” colorway for all those pink-lovers which now includes me I guess, and two more that are semi-converses of each other and are somewhat based on colorways from the postcards and are just bold & good. When sleep-deprived I have found myself saying that the colors on the blue-&-mint-green-sky print are “perfect”. Not sure I would totally stand by that when not hopped up on two hours of sleep. But it looks pretty nice.

Color mixing sequence. The first picture here appeared in the last post, but I threw it in for nerdy comparison purposes. Look at the two test sheets, one white, one ‘ivory’, that appear in all three of these photos, for context of “how many marks have been made since the last photo was taken”…

I took this picture for Buck Hastings so we can prepare to battle, I think he will win…

Chipboard is so not archival but it looks sooo good with silkscreen ink on it…

Your diligent correspondent, having just printed around 350 of these bad boys; that’s 2 pulls on each print, not counting all the test pulls on newsprint! I’m awaiting the day when someone says to me, “Wow, you really have the shoulders of a serigraphist!”

Here are some of the shelves I referenced in the last post: the new ones are on the right, at paperback-depth (upper) and zine-depth (lower)…

… and new ink shelves for all the transparent colors (the laser-cut background panel was scrap from a recent project by amazing Providence artist & friend Joan Wyand!).


Looking across the Woonasquatucket River valley, from the (newly cleaned up & organized) third floor studio:

and last but not least, happy Halloween from Buio!

Next Page »

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.