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mockups / proofs …?

November 7, 2009 at 5:52 am

Well, I’m in the middle of trying to fend off a known issue in a way that I’ve never tried before.

Relatively often, I find myself working on stuff that needs to look semi-“realistic” or have a semblance of representation of a specific thing. (And yes, what exactly that means should entail a further digression, but I’m not gonna go there right now!) I don’t particularly like this territory for working — it is a little boring — but here I am in it at the moment: this is a commission & to fit the needs of the organization, it has to to achieve a certain level of beauty and pictorialism. To create the right sense of space and form and depth and distance, all that stuff, the illusion of reality, the colors all have to work together well, and have values and intensities that reinforce the illusion.

Getting this right is more or less easy if you’re drawing the outlines, then coloring in the shapes. Here, however, the colors go on the paper in reverse order: lightest to darkest, fills to outlines. The super-professional way to make sure they all look right together would be to do proofs before printing of all the different colors — but that would require setting up the four screens multiple times, instead of just setting them each up once.

The less labor-intensive way is just to test the colors, give them your best guess, then start printing and adjust each color when you get to it, crossing the fingers all the while. But, what if I print one of the earlier colors, say the light red of the bricks, the wrong color, or too dark or too light of a value…? By the time I get to the last color, the dark red/brown that will be the outlines, I might be asking it to play too many roles in the print, to be darker than some colors, but not too dark so that it diminishes others… THIS HAS HAPPENED BEFORE. Multiple times. And it’s usually meant that, to maintain the desired illusion, I have to mix another batch of ink, shoot another screen, and print one more color than I planned to.

So, the solution that I am trying now? Making a color mockup on the computer. This involves the extra steps of scanning the transparencies, messing with their contrast, & aligning them all on the computer… but that is much less involved than proofing all four colors/screens multiple times before printing. Also, the image doesn’t have to look perfect on the computer, just imitative of the real thing enough to give me a sense of what the relative values should be. This is not a “beautiful intermediate stage”, like some of the drawing stuff I usually put up here, and it’s not really going any farther than this: I think I’ve got more or less what I wanted to get from it.

color mockup attempt

Yup, it looks kind of terrible, and no, it will not look like this when printed. Computer images: not my strong suit. However, it is very helpful to get to look at the whole thing as a color image, instead of just as black & clear & red transparencies that I am trying to imagine in my head as various colors, holding all their possible interactions in my mind’s eye together… Not only does this let me think specifically about the values of the colors I want to use for printing, but I can modify the transparencies to make their interactions better, before the screens are shot. Hooray! Purposes are served!

All right, let’s look at something that actually looks good: how awesome is the drawing of these letters? Working out the letterforms was my probably my favorite part of this project. Drawing is the best!

detail of letters - click for full image

As I am clambering laboriously back into work mode after a summer of making very little art or work, I am realizing that drawing might actually be the best. At least, it’s what keeps pulling me back in, the flickering & elusive candle flame that I am following through the darkened building. I don’t know where it is leading me: what kind of drawing I need to pursue, and what its application should or could be, are still unclear. Do I draw to make plans for the construction of buildings? to figure out how to build furniture? to design fonts? to create images? to pay attention to, reflect, and understand reality? full-scale with a sharpie and a utility knife on sheets of drywall? I don’t know. But, for however purpose… it feels the best, makes the most sense, and is the most immediately engaging of any activity that I do.

In other awesomeness: New Urban Arts was just recently given the Coming Up Taller award, which means that some folks decided that it is one of the top 15 youth arts organizations in the country, and that Jason & Rosalia got to go to the White House and hug Michelle Obama! Tyler wrote about this, and the culture of awards, really thoughtfully on the NUA blog. I’ve known Rosalia since 2006… it’s really amazing to see her standing next to the first lady in that picture, with her smile of confidence and secret hilariousness. Go NUA!!!


  1. Stumbled upon your site from Twitter. Awesome posters! I have seen some of these in the past but to see all of your work is great. I noticed in your store that you don’t have copies of all of the posters that you have done. Is that because you didn’t post them or because you don’t have them.

    Also I was wondering why you don’t have sizes on the posters? We are moving into a new space soon and I would like to purchase some of your stuff.

    Please put me on an e-mail list

    Comment by Gabe Francis — November 7, 2009 @ 7:53 am
  2. Hi Jean,

    Great to see the next stage in this project. I know you’ll find the right way through the puzzle of pre-adjusting the color.

    Yes, the letterform is beautiful. I think it really evokes the wonderful “industrial-artistic” (?) style that was prevalent at the time of the Home’s construction. When we moved back to Providence in 1982, there were still plenty of painted (not molded plastic) signs on wood or metal, surviving from, probably, the 1940s. Their letter style was often in that i.-a. vein (which would have been simply natural at the time, not forced nostalgia). Somewhere I have a photo or slide of the gorgeous 1948 oil tank truck that belonged to Hank David, who also ran a tiny gas station on Delaine Street for many years, on the lot across from Nickerson House.

    Keep going. The poster looks terrific. Working through the night seems to be the right ingredient.

    Yes, the NUA award was indeed awesomeness.


    Comment by mark sawtelle — November 7, 2009 @ 9:51 am
  3. this font (letterform? these are distinct somehow?) is tite.

    Comment by jacob — November 7, 2009 @ 12:03 pm
  4. Thanks everybody!

    I forgot that I wanted to write about how these letters are loosely based on / kicked off from old blueprints that Rob C. & I found. I also want to post pictures of those… the hand-lettering on pretty much every old architectural drawing I’ve seen is beautiful and decorative, even though they are just really pragmatic documents about construction of and modifications to buildings. Those images will show up in the next update.

    Mark, is it all right if I pass your email on to Johanna from Olneyville Housing? She is looking for stories & memories of the Polish Home, to present at the building’s re-dedication, which I think is going to be in the week of November 19th or so. Let me know — and if anybody else reading this wants to tell their story about the building, get in touch!

    Gabe, I’m glad you found me! If I don’t have the posters listed in the store, that *should* be because I don’t have any of those prints left… But the reality is that at the moment, the store page is really out of date; I am going to be printing a bunch of stuff in the next couple weeks, then I will update it, take out old stuff, put up new stuff, etc. I’ve been meaning to put up the print dimensions on the store page as well — I have measured all the work in the past — but it’s just the perennial question of not having enough time to get everything done…

    Comment by jean — November 7, 2009 @ 5:46 pm
  5. Hi Jean.
    Many thanks for putting me in touch with Johanna. I’ve replied to that email separately.

    The lettering: glad to hear that there’s a direct connection between your beautiful forms and the building, via the blueprints. I just looked at the blueprint images that you put in your “yes.” update. Wonderful. There was such pride in every aspect of the project, then. I’m guessing it’s still true today (for commercial blueprints), though I assume they’re all digital now. Do you tend to hand-write in that block style that they teach architectural students? A close friend of mine trained that way did.

    Comment by mark sawtelle — November 8, 2009 @ 10:27 am

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