Thursday, January 31, 2013

FINAL Black Pirate Update

 We are thrilled to finally conclude our Black Pirate series! At the end of the last update we were almost finished with airbrushing. The last section that Aaron was going to work on was the ocean.

Pictured: This was the last photo from the previous update on Black Pirate.

 The ocean is one of the most complicated areas because of all of the different hues of green and blue, fortunately we had a decent reference for this poster. Gabe and Aaron started off by masking for the greener section of the water. I asked Gabe to give me a ballpark estimate about how many masks this poster got. He had to think back over the past two years, but felt that this poster probably had about 50 different masks all told.

Pictured: The brown paper protects the rest of the poster from the airbrush over-spray, while Gabe has opened up the green area of the ocean from the acetate covering the rest of the poster that doesn't have brown paper on it.

Pictured: Aaron beginning to airbrush the green part of the ocean.

Pictured: In our video blog Aaron explains that it is easier to start out with a lighter color and then go darker then to start out dark and try to make it lighter, so here he is beginning with a yellow paint. You can see Aaron talking about airbrushing in this video on YouTube:

 This poster has been at Poster Mountain for several years waiting for conservation and then when it was finally linen backed it was put on the back burner in restoration because it was almost a complete overhaul. Finishing this section of ocean was somewhat dramatic for us because it meant that the end to this project was finally in sight.

Pictured: And here is the finished section of the ocean.

I'm deliberately not showing you the last section of the ocean after it was completed to build up some drama. (Like this poster needed anymore?) Once the rest of the ocean had been airbrushed it was time for the poster to go to Melissa for detailing. What Melissa was working on with this poster were all of the small cracks not blended in during airbrushing and recreating tiny details that make a good poster. 

Pictured: Melissa detailing, the last step for Black Pirate.

Pictured: The ocean and the ship were two areas that got intricate airbrushing, but the trunk was too detailed to get a lot of airbrushing, so Melissa spent a lot of time finishing it off.

She also spent part of the time modulating some of the airbrushing with watercolor pigment to recreate the look of a  lithograph because one of the beautiful things about lithos is how soft and subtle the shading can be. Airbrushing itself can be soft as well, but because of the masks needed to shield other areas from over-spray sometimes the edges can be very abrupt. In order to accomplish this look Melissa softened the harsher lines of the airbrushing with watercolor pencils.

Pictured: Because of the tape needed to cover the blue grey area of the boot, the black lines are very harsh, so Melissa is using a watercolor pencil to create the softer lines you would seen in a lithograph.

Here is another example of blending to recreate the look of a lithograph. For some of the smaller areas, airbrushing just wasn't feasible, so Melissa filled those in by hand. For this particular area of the trunk that Douglas Fairbanks is sitting on she begins with an orange base and then stipples black over the top to match it to the surrounding area. And unlike most of our other projects there weren't just a few places like this, but miniscule details all over the poster that got the same attention.

Pictured: Melissa layering in the orange pigment with a water color pencil.

Pictured: Stippling in black over the top of the orange to blend it with the surrounding area.

Melissa spent days working on this. She would work on it for a few hours and then her eyes would need a rest and she would work on something else for a while before going back to this. However, the end result is well worth the time and effort that everyone on staff put into this project.

 And just in case you forgot what this project started as here are some pictures to remind you. This poster started out glued to a board and had to be taken off that board in pieces.

Pictured: This was the condition that Black Pirate was originally in.

When Lindsay and John removed it, they did their best to remove it in large portions, but because glue is not paper's best friend this was not always possible and it came off in a multitude of smaller pieces that they put back together like the worlds most difficult puzzle.

Pictured: Here is part of the poster during the demounting process. Look back through the other Black Pirate posts to see more pictures.

Pictured: These were some of the largest pieces of the poster that they were reassembling after it was demounted.

This was the definition of a collaboration between the entire Poster Mountain family to pull this one off and we are proud of the results and happy to have concluded the project.
It should be noted that several crucial steps in our process have been omitted. If you have any questions please contact us via email at or by phone at 818.882.1214. Also check out our websites: and Please feel free to leave comments or questions on the blog!

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Fragment of WWII History

Every once in a while something comes into our studio that is so unique that even we are in awe. A few weeks ago a man walked in with a fragment of a map. The fragment was a corner of a European map that showed Iceland and the Atlantic Ocean. More important was what was on the map which was the handwritten records of 36 bombing missions through France, Holland and Germany as a WWII B-17 pilot.

The pilot was Robert Kohler, the client's father, who had kept this map tucked away for almost 70 years. Robert Kohler was a lieutenant in the 351st Bomber group in the US 8th Air Force that was based in Northamptonshire, England and was a pilot in the 511th squadron.


Looking at this map and the photos the client brought in reminded us of many of the propaganda posters that Poster Mountain has worked on over the years.

WWII was one of the most prolific periods for American propaganda posters. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the US entered the war, many of them were meant to build the public's confidence in the military. 

Others were meant to encourage the public to buy bonds and encourage industry to support supplies for the troops.

This small scrap of paper that our client brought in seems innocuous at first glance, but it is a window into the mind of one man who was part of one of the most bloody wars in modern history. The map was originally torn into four different parts, but the client wanted to preserve it. We took a very minimal approach. It was humidified to help the creases relax and then it was put into the heat press to flatten it out completely. Once it was flat, tissue was applied to the tears from the back to stabilize all of the sections and hold them together again.  

Number 9 on the list is Sept 17th, 1944 - Grosebeck, Holland which was a key day in WWII. Lieutenant Kohler's squadron was flying tactical support for Operation Market Garden. Market Garden was the code name given to a plan that was hoped would shorten the war by 6 months, by allowing the bogged down Allied troops to quickly break through the German lines at the Dutch/German border around Arnhem, Holland. To aid the forces already on the ground, thirty thousand British and American paratroopers were flown into the region. 

Through a combination of lack of intelligence, chaos and over confidence Market Garden failed to punch through the German lines. Hindsight now suggests that junior officers had tried to bring to attention German troop movements and the increase in armored vehicles  in the area, but the commanders decided to move ahead. Paratroopers were dropped in over two days. Many were killed in the air, defenseless against German guns. Those that reached the ground became bogged down trying to take the 8 bridges necessary for the success of the mission. Eventually a retreat was called. All told over 50% of the Allied forces were killed, wounded or captured during this mission. 

What comes down to one succinct line on this map, was in fact one of the most disastrous operations of the entire war for the Allied forces. By the end of 1944, America had been involved in WWII for 3 years and the toll it was taking was beginning to show. This was reflected in some of the most brutal poster images from this era. 

 When air strikes first began, the British and ultimately American air force, were aiming for industrial areas and predominately attacked on Sundays. This was in the hopes of sparing civilian lives, to simply create chaos for the Germans to deal with and to dampen German morale. As the war progressed the attacks from both sides became more and more brutal, with each side hoping to break the other. Not to minimize any of the missions flown, all of which carried a great amount of risk of death or capture for those on board, but another key mission was December 12, 1944 - Meresburg, Germany.


This mission was one of 22 flown by the 8th Air Force to the Germany Leuna Factory, one of Germany's biggest synthetic oil and chemical producers of the war. It was heavily defended by German troops and was one of the riskiest targets to bomb, in fact the British RAF deemed it too dangerous, so it was only American planes that attacked this site. There is a YouTube video about these missions called Anywhere But Meresburg:

Before 1944 most flying members of the air force's tour of duty was 25 missions. In 1944, this was pushed to 30 missions. Many crew-members who had been counting down to their last few missions now saw their tours extended. With this came an increase in the ever present possibility of death. Even in the B-17s, know as Flying Fortresses, the chance of surviving was only 1 in 4 of completing a tour. That makes this map and and the 36 missions Lieutenant Kohler flew even more inspirational. 

And when the war in Europe finally ended and our Lt. Kohler got to go home, we then went on to fight the Japanese in the Pacific theater. Perhaps some of the most bloody combat of the entire war. The posters from the Pacific theater are particularly graphic and often disturbing. 


Not really sure how to end this one, except to express our profound gratitude not only to Lt. Kohler, but all of our service men and women who have fought, killed and died for our way of life and to preserve our ideals. 

It should be noted that several crucial steps in our process have been omitted. If you have any questions please contact us via email at or by phone at 818.882.1214. Also check out our websites: and Please feel free to leave comments or questions on the blog!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Poster Mountain Short Video Blog

We have finished the first project in our video blog series! They are on YouTube in 3 separate parts that are roughly 15 minutes each. We also did a shorter, compressed version of all three that is about 10 minutes long, which is the one I have posted here for your edification and delight. 

We have also added a new feature (new to us at least) You can now receive email notifications when we update the blog. If I may direct your attention to the right where it says "Follow by Email"  and small box where you can enter your email address and click submit. It will ask you to enter one of those weird number/letter combinations to check you aren't a computer. After that you should receive an email from FeedBurner that will confirm that you want to get email notifications when we post something new. Confirm that and you should be good to go!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Multiple Panel Poster Overview

Happy New Year Everyone! We hope you had a wonderful holiday season! We are going to start 2013 with an informational post about multi-panel posters such as three-sheets and six-sheets.

An interesting (or annoying) thing about poster sizes is that the size name does not have anything to do with the number of panels it's printed on. Thus, a three-sheet is not printed on three pieces of paper. It's just named that way because it's the same size as 3 one-sheet posters vertically stacked next to one another. Isn't that something? A three-sheet is usually made up of two pieces of paper, or "panels." One panel is the size of 2 one-sheets and the other is the size of 1 one-sheet.

A six-sheet is the size of 6 one-sheets, HOWEVER, and here's the kicker, it's printed on four panels. That is, each panel in a six sheet is the size of 2 one-sheets.

Interesting thing numero dos is that these are not universal rules. Sometimes a three-sheet really is printed on three panels or sometimes, like in the crazy 1970s, they managed to fit it all on one panel. It just adds to the fun.

In my mind this is the most interesting thing about multi-panels: there are almost always slight (and not-so-slight) physical differences between the panels in a poster. If the split is across the middle of some text, the letters will never line up perfectly. If it's across the middle of a large field of color, the color will look different from panel to panel. The widths of the panels are often not quite the same either. They usually didn't even try to make them look the same.

A given poster would not be printed using the same printing press. The larger panel of a three sheet would be printed with one press, and the smaller panel would be printed on another press. Thus one panel in a given poster may have been the first one printed that day, and therefore have thicker, darker ink, and the other panel may have been printed later that day, and the ink would be faded. Even if they were printed simultaneously, printing (especially back in the day) is not an exact science and so the panels still won't match.

Why, you may ask? Why would they print a poster that way? 

Because the poster did not start out as a work of art.

 It was made as a temporary advertisement printed on cheap paper with cheap ink using whatever method worked best that day.  If the panels didn't match perfectly, it was okay because not only was the poster meant to be viewed from across the street, but it was a totally temporary display. It was disposable.

 (Just a heads up, most of the examples we are showing you today are progress photos taken after conservation but before any restoration work has begun. So if they look damaged, rest assured we did not let them leave that way. Unless the client wanted it so.)

The first difference we'll look at is sizing. The example is a poster of the 1942 movie We Were Dancing.

A detail of the overlap (or split.) The difference in size is noticeable on the right side. This is very common for three sheets.

Look closer and you can see the color discrepancies in the black and blue of the dancers' lower legs

In this 1923 Our Gang poster the large green field makes the color discrepancies very obvious. The reason for this is probably the top illustration was a stock image while the bottom was printed with several variations in the text.

This 1958 Young and Wild poster illustrates the problem with text. There are usually registration marks that help us line up overlapping sections, but these aren't always perfect. Often we are using our best judgement to line up both text and image, but sometimes we just have to compromise and everything ends up slightly off.

For this poster we lined up the D in AND, but the bottom part of the Y is slightly too far to the right, while the bottom of the W is slightly too far to the left. This issue is just something that is part of large format posters.

Sometimes you get multiple printing errors in one poster. In this 1947 Love From a Stranger three-sheet, not only is there variation in the purple color, but every letter in "Richards" is skewed except the H.

We usually advise clients to leave printing errors as they are. Fixing them can involve some heavy and invasive restoration. Sometimes there's a poster that just goes too far with the printing errors though, and then we step in and come up with creative, minimally invasive solutions. A good example, this 1970 Tristana isn't actually a three-sheet but an Italian two-panel. 

The photo above was taken after the poster was linen backed but before restoration work began. As you can see there are pretty clear differences in the shadows on her face between the upper and lower panels. Also the background area right next to her face is purple in the lower panel and white in the upper panel. John joked with the client that the 2 panels must have been printed by different Italian fascists who were experiencing different levels of non-sobriety. We did restoration work to blend and unify the shadows in both panels, and then painted the white bit of the two-toned area to match the purple of the lower section.

So the moral of the story is: if you need perfection, you may not want a large-format poster. Barring a miracle, there will be differences between panels. But as Shakespeare says:

In nature there's no blemish but the mind.