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

traveling — locally

July 17, 2013 at 4:21 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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some linkssss:

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

Meg’s print of the Pawtucket/CF train station

The Club Juventude Lusitana in Cumberland…

Festa de São João


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

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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.

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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…

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[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:

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Multiples!!

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

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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:

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Jen Booth, from the first class.

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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”…

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irreplaceability

June 18, 2013 at 6:32 pm

As hinted at earlier, I have been working on drawing the Manchester St. Power Station, for a commission design but also for my own purposes. Though I’ve occasionally turned to camera/computer as photo-reference to keep the work moving along, since it’s been raining a bunch this week, mostly I’ve been drawing outside, “from the real”.

stormy building

[n.b. most of this update was written in late May, please forgive the slightly fictional historicity…]

To get the view that I decided is best (I will write more about this in a further post on this project) this means sitting on the Point Street Bridge, on the walkway part but about three feet from the guardrail & the vehicular traffic. This is a very loud experience (I keep forgetting earplugs) and also vibration-y, as I’m pretty sure that bridge was not made for the scale of trucks that pass over it.

providence poses for its portrait

Today it was also a very windy experience; a thunderstorm was projected, I kept expecting a giant bucket of rain to dump down on my head (as it did earlier this week: I attempted to shelter for a bit under one of the bridge trusses, during which attempt I took the photo at the top of this post), and there was a consistent & very gusty strong wind from the southwest. I was using a complicated paper ruler to get a specific kind of simulated-perspectival-regression thing to happen — when you’re setting up that kind of a scenario, you do it trial-and-error-style: “does this look right? does that look right? okay, draw the line, make the marks, good”. Then that little piece of paper with a family of marks and lines on it is your reference document for creating semi-realistic perspective on any line in the building that is parallel to that line. (does that make sense? I’ll write more about this technique at some point.)

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And I guess that that is the downside of the paper ruler? Because if you have a windy day, and you are sitting next to a busy road on a bridge over a river, and your drawing is taped down to a piece of masonite board, and to keep the little paper rulers from blowing away you are sticking them between the drawing and the board, and if the wind then blows a bunch of grit & sand off the road surface right at you/your drawing and between the paper and the board, and to get rid of the grit so it won’t make bumps under the pencil lines you stick your hand between the paper and the board and try to brush the sand away….

…. well, then what happens is that you watch your dumb little scraps of paper, that you just spent an hour utilizing to make all these crucial precise finicky decisions, blow away across a roadway of speeding cars and in the inevitable direction of a grody body of water. My initial reaction was “Oh crap!”, my secondary reaction was “Ah, you know, whatever, it’s just paper, I already used them to note the perspective lines I needed”, my third reaction was “Oh wait I still need those to make some more perspective decisions for the rest of the drawing…” and my fourth reaction was a deep sinking feeling of loss, destruction, regret, stupidity, and sorrow, an emptiness in the gut, a disaster I had just made happen. All in the course of 30 seconds.

I did jump up, making sure to carefully set my drawing on its board flat on the concrete walkway, but the paper rulers were already blowing down the middle of the roadway — and the Point St. bridge traffic is not to be trifled with at rush hour (or any time, really — it’s one of the worst biking passages in Providence, I think…). Somewhat ironically, the real reason I didn’t run after them immediately is that my new (to me) computer was in my backpack which was sitting next to me on the bridge walkway… I couldn’t quickly pick up backpack & drawing at the same time, couldn’t really run with them, and I couldn’t figure out whether to leave the computer, the drawing, or my bike totally vulnerable to anybody who might be walking past while I ran on a risky mission after the rulers. Bike: crucial to my life, irreplaceable; computer: new & valuable money-wise & also work-wise; drawing after 3 or 4 days of working on it: completely irreplaceable and also now extremely valuable in terms of time spent on the commission & when I needed to get it done by, and also just as a beautiful object that I was attached to………

grubby & stained drawing
[click on this image for a higher-resolution view, so you can contemplate just how dirty this drawing is]

So I let the paper rulers blow away. They weren’t even in the river yet, but they were already gone. This was a weird decision, for me. I hate losing things, I think about everything I’ve lost for a long time, the memory of them keeps coming back to me with regret & sadness. But it was a passable day for drawing, & I needed to get drawing done, and I sat back down & kept drawing. Lines! You can re-draw lines… But I kept being washed over by a wave of the regret and loss feeling, the lack of physical existence of the objects that I had such a clear physical memory of holding in my hands, folding, drawing on, using as tools, with their smeared graphite dirtyness and their intense reality that had just become unreality, or at least a reality that I could no longer reach in the same way…

About ten years ago, I asked a teacher and friend of mine, Peter Stempel, an architect and designer, why he had stopped making pencil drawings and started making his architectural drawings on the computer — in the early 2000s, he had just recently given up resisting the universal switchover to CAD. I asked: was it taking you too long to make the pencil drawings? No, he said, he was really happy about everything about his drawing process — except the uniqueness and fragility of the paper documents: when he took those drawings to the duplicator, if they got caught in the machine or torn or some other freak accident happened on the way there, that was the only copy he had and all the information he had worked so long to develop and note down could be lost. The possibility of this loss — in a profession where no one else was risking it — was too grave to entrust his work to that process any longer……

some details

Drawing as object // drawing as information. That is the dual nature that makes paper drawings so resonant: they embody both at the same time. In a computer era, the printout exists and has a bunch of uses, sure, but that paper is already garbage the moment it comes out of the printer — the important information is in the file, the vector coordinates, a series of numbers…

In a paper drawing, the paper holds the information but is also where the information came to become itself, where the decisions were made, where useless or inaccurate or simply un-beautiful lines were decided against and erased, turned from marks into indentations, ghosts or echoes… The drawing object is four-dimensional, resonant of its past as well as its bumpy, grubby, warped, gritty, folded departures from the plane… it tells of all the things that have happened to it, and of the future potential for its own non-existence. The person holding the drawing in their hot little hands has also had a lot of things happen to them, so maybe they understand how the drawing feels? but unlike the drawing, their own non-existence is not a future potential but instead a future certainty… whereas— unlike both— the vectors will last forever…

So anyways… philosophy aside: now that I’m done the commission (more process notes later) and have turned in the vector files I made based on the drawing to be sent to a company which will print them on tote bags (!!), my conclusion about vector graphics is that using the tablet & stylus to drag little “nods” around hurts my hands a bunch and puts me seriously at risk of repetitive stress injury… in a way that cutting rubylith and drawing never has… BUT… in this modern world, there’s nothing like being able to instantaneously send someone a vector file which they can reproduce at any scale and at any resolution. I just have to not work on those files for too long at a stretch…. AND there’s no question that drawing is way more beautiful. DRAWING!!!

And, on the practical aspect, I did also find a solution to my specific windy-day, drawing-on-a-bridge problem. The *new* informational scrap of paper is attached by a length of blue masking tape to a rubber band around my wrist… awkward but secure?

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Hey remember this cool print I worked on last year with Noel Puello? Noel and friends (& fellow NUA alums) Carmela Wilkins and Sara Tolbert are working on another one this summer! Once again, for college fund-raising.

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Here we are drinking coffee & tea & strategizing (with their sketch and color-test-sheet) around my kitchen table… I’ve seen some photos of their printing process that were stunning… I met with them today to do a quick html/css/ftp tutorial… and now they’re working on an updated web presence for it… I’ll keep you posted on the further developments of this project!


different colorway

I promise I’ll write more about both my weird simulated-perspective method, and the rest of the process on the power-station image, very soon!


Also this update is dedicated to Puppy Bonesteel, a cat who passed away this past week. A unique & personable cat, he had beautiful spots & big eyes, he was a good friend to my dad and my brother (who shared in his ownership) and an adventurous animal. He is missed.

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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:

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(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.

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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):

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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:

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a selection of various sized rulers from the envelope:

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

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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…

pushing away from certainty

May 15, 2013 at 7:22 am

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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.

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(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…!)

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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:

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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…

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… 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:

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

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Different color combinations produce different “forest lighting effects”:

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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!!):

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Some combinations that Lara picked out from her test prints:

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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”.

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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….

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“what does that say?”

May 12, 2013 at 3:22 am

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It says: dissonance.

Here are the two colorways of the actual print, a green that’s somewhere between forest & olive, & a bright orange. It’s about 27.5″ x 12.5″, a large one. The below images link to the prints newly in the store!

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So… why “dissonance” ?

This print springs directly out of drawing (in mid-summer 2012) all the letters for the “our complexity is the world” print (some process details; buy one!); and feeling just a little fed up with drawing so many lowercase letters in the same form; and my handwriting slipping into sketchiness when writing “dissonance”…

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Then I realized that there was no need to pull those letters back into linear alignment, and that that was a word that I wanted to celebrate further in another print…

Late summer 2012 found me sitting on a rock on Conanicut, above the waves, mostly naked (as friends & I were a lot last summer), drawing it in my sketchbook:

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

(Here’s past process notes from some color decisions, and some color testing and weird-overlap-printing. More process shots from printing are below; hover over them for details.)

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“Sooooo….. uh. Why dissonance?”

The application of this word to trans stuff or gender issues originates with the awesome writer and scientist Julia Serano, in her book Whipping Girl:

gender dissonance:
A form of cognitive dissonance experienced by trans people due to a misalignment of their subconscious and physical sexes. Gender dissonance differs somewhat from the psychiatric term “gender dysphoria,” which typically conflates this cognitive dissonance regarding one’s sex with the mental stresses that arise from societal pressure to conform to gender norms.

When I was first reading about trans stuff, Whipping Girl (which I highly recommend), was really important to me, not least because of finding Serano’s definition quoted above. Her extended explication of her use of the word “dissonance” gave me a handle on the way I felt about my body, which I had had no words for before. I had felt that way pretty much all the time since my early teenage-hood, and, partly because of having no words for it, had assumed all women felt the same way about their bodies.

In the couple of years since first reading that, the word “dissonance” has continued to be super relevant to my existence. As time has gone on, through conversations and meeting people and the internet and witnessing the multifariousness of the possibilities of gendered existence in the world, I’ve relaxed some of my harsh demands on my own gendered existence… I’ve allowed myself to be a person who has a complicated gender & complicated body, and I’ve complicated that gender & body for myself further… and come to embrace the ambiguity and positivity that come along with the word “dissonance”.

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It’s more useful for wrapping around my gender or body feelings than the commonly used term “dysphoria” — which is all medicalized, seems decisively negative, and makes you feel like there’s something “wrong” with you. Dissonance is originally a word for talking about sound or music, it’s the opposite of “consonance”, which is “things sounding similar” or “things in harmony” — but neither consonance or dissonance are necessarily good or bad, they’re just descriptions of two states of existing or relating.

Sometimes dissonance can be really incomprehensible, confusing, and make you feel unbalanced & weird, when two notes are not in tune or two frequencies are not quite lining up & there are weird noises that you think you might be imagining…

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BUT when you listen carefully it might also sound pretty awesome and interesting, and more complicated than just some Mozart or whatever, and there’s a lot to hear there that you might not have listened for if everything had been all sounding-good to start with…

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BUT even if you’re making this music yourself, on purpose, cause you like it, it might still be hard or painful to listen to… BUT you feel compelled to make it and/or other music is just boring and/or it’s the only thing you’re interested in and/or you don’t know how to make any other kinds of sounds…

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SO you keep making it even though it feels weird sometimes. Or, all the time. Or rather, it feels TOTALLY WEIRD and TOTALLY AWESOME at the same time, or so closely alternating / simultaneous that you can’t actually tell how you feel about it. Even figuring that out is confusing & takes up a lot of your mental energy, but ultimately it’s worth it cause you don’t really know another way to be… you don’t have a choice. OR maybe you do — the “born that way” doctrine is kind of obnoxious & determinist, after all, and you are indeed making a choice — as this guy has said, your choice is to be here with us.

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So yeah, DISSONANCE. All right.

“ink and knife”-native letters

May 10, 2013 at 1:11 pm

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

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

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

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The full text is at the bottom of this post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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4. …and then fill in the final gap:

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

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

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

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

complexity_focus_detail

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

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

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

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

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3. epic squeegee (don’t drop it):

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

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

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


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Full text of the poster:


so you’re not comfortable with our complexity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

our complexity is the world


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

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queers edition // art sale today!

May 4, 2013 at 2:06 am

Via grainy cellphone camera, the finished colorways of the QUEERS! editions. As seen in progress here and decision-making process discussed here. Finally done, after being promised / procrastinated on for two+ years!

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I’ll be at the RISD Alumni Art Sale ***today***, Saturday May 4th (10a-4p, Benefit St. & Waterman St. in Providence) with these brand new guys, the new-ish “dissonance” script-font prints that were in the show, the new-ish colorways of the “complexity” manifesto print (and a couple copies of this purple/orange/gold one), the Recycle-A-Bike prints, with their cool silkscreen duotone, that I finished last year but somehow haven’t posted a completed image of until now….. and lots of other stuff! Tabling with Sam Merritt of Double Vision Embroidery who is super cool.

We’ll be accepting “credit cards” via a borrowed “mobile digital device” — your favorite Luddite screenprinting grandpa dips a toe gingerly into the 21st century…

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Okay gotta run & finish the last stuff! See you soon! Wish me luck with sleepin’ tonight!

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

April 27, 2013 at 2:22 am

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[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!)

soledad

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[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…

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[print by Ryan Dean]

photo(5)

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[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.

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[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.

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[print by Jen Booth]

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[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.

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[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!!

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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.

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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:

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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:

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

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Froggy close-up:

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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!

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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:

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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:

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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…

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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…

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