Thursday, August 26, 2010

Scratch that, lets make it a website!

So I finished up my website,, and it's all been splendid.

The site is built around a late 19th-century orientalist-ish theme, which is a subject I'm pretty fascinated by because of its post-colonial implications, and also from how often I encounter "Empire of Signs" by Roland Barthes.

I wanted to reference engravings from that period and earlier, as it gives it a sense of place, but the trouble is rendering it so it looks like an engraving. I'm not confident enough in my penmanship to make the perfectly parallel curves that are necessary, like the ones here:

So I decided to use scratchboard, since it seemed similar to engraving. I hadn't touched scratchboard since high school, but one trick I learned from painting and drawing is that if you can't get the edge of the positive space perfect, then draw using the negative space. Kinda works in Photoshop too...

Scratchboard is ink that is applied in a relatively even layer over a piece of paper (or board) that has a coating to prevent the ink from soaking in. Just a bit of scratching and the ink scrapes right off. The problem is having the correct tool to do that. Just about any tool would make a scratch, but most of them don't do smooth and substantial lines.

The main issue is that if you scratch too hard and manage to damage the coating, the white fibers of the paper would soak up any ink or dirt residue nearby (which is very likely since you had to produce a lot of ink residue just scratching it to expose the fibers). Also, the ink isn't perfectly even throughout, and sometimes it sticks to the paper more than it should. It'll still scratch off, but the lines that run over that rough spot would look inconsistent.

With all these concerns, I bought myself a pair of scratchboard nibs for my pen. They don't work, don't ever buy them. They are designed to dig deep instead of scratching a wide path, so considering how fragile the coat is underneath you'd be better off using your fingernails.

So I assembled an array of improvised tools *cue A-Team music*

From left to right: ball-tip pen, regular ink pen, #16 x-acto blade, etching scraper, etching needle, brush, and two improvised wire scrubber pens.

First, the #16 x-acto blade, which was the main tool used. I heard about its utility through google, and it is quite good. The regular x-acto blade has too sharp a tip, and the rounder blades don't give clean enough of a line. Also, you can feel the resistance from the surface of the scratchboard, which is necessary because you need to feel for an exact angle on both the X and Y-axes on the blade in order to get a good line.

Then there are the two wire scrubber tools. It's impossible to get a patch of total white on a piece of scratchboard with a sharp scratch tool, because scratching creates enough of a groove in the paper that there will be spots that are impossible to scratch off (the knife will keep trying to follow the last groove that it made). The wire scrubber is good because it clears off a large flat section, leaving no dents on the paper, and will never damage the coating. I taped a piece to a pen and another to a toothpick.

Then there's the work setup. I killed my back trying to draw on my desk, so I got one of those alvin drawing boards with adjustable legs and a ruler. One of the best purchases I've ever made, highly recommended.

First I did some trials with technique, testing all the tools and whatnot. The drafts didn't turn out that well. Obviously I drew them freehand without any measurement or tracing, so the faces are warped to all hell, but the "look" wasn't there, they just looked like scratchboard drawings.

I tried different techniques and I eventually just relied on being able to disguise double-stroking on the whites, so I can methodically fill the lines in as opposed to getting them with a consistent motion. Here's a comparison:

The final technique involved first composing the elements I wanted in photoshop, very roughly, and then printing them at the exact size.

Then I tape it down with the scratchboard underneath and then trace everything with a ballpoint pen. The pen applies enough pressure through the paper that it leaves an impression on the scratchboard. It's much easier than using transfer paper and the blunt tip of the pen makes sure that you don't accidentally scratch while tracing

These are some versions that I didn't think were entirely appropriate. A couple of them had inconsistent line density which looked completely bizarre (not really that obvious in these pictures), and some of them didn't have enough visual interest.

I'll link to the final images at my website, since this post is already filled with enough pictures. In the end I don't think I captured that theme very well, and wasn't willing to be as sarcastic as maybe the project needed. I don't know if I'll do more scratchboard in the future, since this was a very specific task, but I definitely learned a lot and it was fun to figure out

Friday, August 20, 2010

my domain,, finally has content after sitting idle for a year

go and see for yourself!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

In the End Summer

An illustration I did for Devin Kenny's limited-run mixtape cassette. I hadn't seen a tape in years, so I couldn't remember how the inserts actually worked, embarrassingly.

The illustration is an elaborate Henry Darger reference, though maybe a bit too heavy on the sarcastic tone. I've previously shied away from using traced elements in my work because I've always felt that traced lines are inferior to freehanded lines, but actually the issue is just that you can never make a traced line look like it was drawn freehand, or vice-versa. If I keep it consistent and trace everything (like Darger did) then it works fine.

It also took a while to get the right color coordination, and I don't think people give Darger enough credit for the amount of design that went into his color combinations. I couldn't just directly copy his chords, since his drawings were more landscapes than anything else, and mine are more focused on the characters (the characters also take up more space since they don't have child proportions). My version was passable only because I used the sunflowers to obscure the pictorial space, so I didn't have to worry as much about color contrasts disturbing my composition.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

SAK flyer

a quickie flyer I designed for my mom. Once again tried to do too many things at once and the tone is closer to "new restaurant in williamsburg" than "company picnic". Overall I think it's cheerful without seeming too ridiculous, which I have a hard time doing.

Also, Gotham is a real work horse.

Monday, April 5, 2010

NYC Film Food Festival

My submission to the poster contest for the NYC Film Food Festival. Pretty straightforward guidelines, and since it had to be over 24 x 36 and print-ready in an under-5MB pdf, I could only see it being a vector thing.

I've been watching Top Gear lately, and one adjective they repeatedly use to describe expensive cars is "vulgar". Not necessarily in a bad way, just as something that is shamelessly decadent and overdone, but through that it becomes an honest appreciation of what makes cars great. I tried to do that with both food and films, and just make the most erotic illustration of food and film with the typography that describes them.

It's actually not what the event is about at all, though. It's not the energetic and shameless cliche in the poster, but more a post-starbucks smugness (stuff like bacon fads). The poster's pretty unfeasible anyways, so I don't expect it to win, but I sorta like how it turned out.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

clopen studios

A flyer I designed for Devin KKenny's show on the 19th. Very close deadline on this one, so it's not as polished as I would like. Originally I just wanted to expand on the pun used in the show name, but it eventually got a bit too much into referencing prescription label design. I had some info graphic-ish colors originally but it became difficult to balance everything out, but I hope the contrast with the yellow and red highlighting provides enough visual interest.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pure Fish Has No Water

The paintings from my senior show, Pure Fish Has No Water

Ching Chong Chinaman

the postcard for a new play coming to NYC, Ching Chong Chinaman. On this one I followed the client's exact instructions, so it wasn't as much about designing the postcard as illustrating it. I can't really explain how any of this works conceptually, because I don't really know, but I tried to make it look nice. It's loony enough to work, I think.

New York Korean Parade

Another sketch that went nowhere, this time for the Korean Day Parade, but it was ignored (therefore rejected) without any reaction at all. That ticked me off more than I thought it would, because working for free is okay if I get some kind of work experience out of it, but without client feedback a day's work more or less evaporated.

I tried to reference the Korean fan dance, which I thought was culturally representative without being stereotypical or trite.

Manhattan Cardiovascular

these are the initial sketches I did for a new logo for Manhattan Cardiovascular. The issue here is that I couldn't think of a way to make them a logo without using a cartoon heart, but I still felt like a logo for a heart practice needed a heart in it. So these were exercises at making abstractions of hearts that don't look like the typical cartoon hearts.

Children's Athletic Training School

These were some logos I sketched out for the Children's Athletic Training School's website redesign the firm was doing. This was one of the first projects I did there and I think I learned a bit about how to make logos people would actually use. These, while visually appealing, were too busy and conspicuous to make good logos for a child sports gym.

One Hundred Black Men

These were two drafts of a folded postcard I designed for One Hundred Black Men Inc. while I was interning at Fresh Concentrate. I designed them with no info about the event and very vague direction from the client, so I think I instinctively tried to make them challenging by trying not to make them racist or stereotypical. Ultimately it didn't really matter and I never worked on the final design, but it was interesting to figure out.

Inevitable Duh

Wow, I really haven't been taking good care of the blog.

Inevitable Duh, Devin KKenny's show on February 5th.

Maybe I tried doing too many things here, and I think I should've put all the show info underneath everything else like the credits on a movie poster or something, instead of trying to go for pictorial consistency. Having that be legible is probably more important than demonstrating that it's about fertilization.