Friday, May 31, 2013

Nostalgia in Silkscreens

The last post touched very briefly upon artist Laurent Durieux and his 1950s futuristic style. Today we are going to be spotlighting artist Rob Schwager of Tiny Bird Press ( His work captures those sun filled, scraped knee and happy moments of childhood.

 Coincidentally, I love when the universe works out like this, Rob has a print release today (Friday, May 31st!). Head over to his website to see his newest silkscreen, inspired by Doctor Who.

Apart from the images themselves, which are great, Rob does all of his own work from the concept drawing  to pulling each print by hand. Rob was kind enough to answer a few questions for me about how started making silkscreens and his own artistic process.

What was your first introduction to silk screens?
I used to see screen printed gig posters by guys like Frank Kozik and Derek Hess coming into the club in Chicago where I worked as a bouncer, a place called Cabaret Metro, (now, just called "The Metro"). I'd never really seen anything like them, so I asked around about what kind of process it was and found out they were screen printed.

Pictured: A 1992 SOUNDGARDEN gig poster by Frank Kozik

I first got started doing screen printed concert posters around 1995. They were for my favorite bands that would play at the club. See, up until that point, I had been doing B&W band flyers. I'd had a little bit of exposure to screen printing because I had done some t-shirt designs and 45" record sleeve work for friends of mine in a local punk rock band. I knew about the process of silk screening shirts, but had never really seen it applied to a poster. So, using those gig posters as inspiration, I just knew I could do that kind of stuff too. Moving from B&W flyers into color silkscreen posters seemed like a natural progression. So, then I asked the owners of the club and they gave me a shot.

What do you love about silkscreens?
The texture, smell, and most of all knowing that there is a physical process behind making them. A process which doesn't involve just selecting "print" on a computer.

How long have you been silkscreening?
Since around 1995.

Who are some of your favorite artists currently?
Some current folks right off the top of my head are people like Zach Landrum, The Two Arms crew, Neal "epicproblems" Williams, etc… Mainly people who print their own work. Plus, there's a ton of the old school regulars as well. Literally too many to list and I hope I don't offend anybody by not mentioning them.

A print by Zach Landrum

What do you have hanging in your own home?
Honestly, the only stuff that hangs in the house, is the stuff my kids create. My 3 little masterpieces creating masterpieces. It's awesome to watch and see the stuff they make.
Once I get another dedicated studio space, I'll be able to decorate again. I have bunches of stuff in my flat files and tubes. They're full of incredible art I've collected over the years….. all just sitting and patiently waiting.

As an art historian, I have to ask who your artistic influences are?
I think the people who's work has had the longest lasting impact on me have been: The gents from the Termite Terrace, The Nine Old Men, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Vernon Grant, and J.C. Leyendecker.

J.C. Leyendecker was an early 20th century illustrator.
Jack Kirby was one of the best comic book illustrators, who worked on the Fantastic Four and Captain America.
Tell us a little about how you come up with ideas for prints and start the process of creating the images?
I have a small Moleskine sketchbook that I carry around with me. My "idea book". I'll jot down anything and everything in there. From there, I'll sort through the chicken scratch and pull out an idea. I'll research the idea, pull reference from books, movies, the web, etc. and make a mood board. From there, I pull out my red pencil and just start doodling. I usually draw my elements separately and then "Frankenstein" them together via my light box and tracing paper.

How many hours do you spend on the drawings for each print? How many on production?
The drawing usually takes the longest. I have a day job, and occasionally still do freelance for various comic book companies. So, I have to try and fit in drawing time, doing color separations and printing, in-between all of that, on top of being a dad, etc… Usually, the printing goes the quickest, even though I do it all by hand.

In an age where humanity is rushing forward with technology and progress, your work looks back at simpler times. Most of your prints include an element of nostalgia, both in the content and the fact that you’re doing most of this work by hand, with very little digital help. Are both of these forms of nostalgia conscious choices?
Yes. I love anything hand-made. I also love the process of creating. There's something about doing your work by hand, from start to finish, that can't be beat. It's true craftsmanship. Something that's slowly vanishing, more and more, everyday. I wish more folks making prints these days would take the creation process, all the way to the end. Most of them just design the print, and then pass it off to a screen printing shop to finish. Sure the art is important, but the process of printing it, that's where the REAL magic happens. Learn how to burn the screens, familiarize yourself with and mix various inks, pull a squeegee, etc. Learning the process that goes into MAKING your prints firsthand, will in turn, make you a better designer and artist.
Of your own work do you have a favorite?
I'm tempted to say that it's whatever my current print is… but honestly, It's my tribute piece to Rosie the Riveter. Just something about it, the subject matter, the printing, remembering the process, etc… I just love it.

Head over to Tiny Bird Press to see more of Rob's work and check out what he has up for sale. And don't forget to take a look at his newest print!

We will be continuing our spotlight on silkscreens for the next few blog posts, including more artists who are working by hand and pulling their own prints.

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