About seven years ago, I had a bit of a career crisis. I was freelancing – working for clients I didn’t care much about on projects that I didn’t care much about, and feeling that there was a huge distance between the work that I was creating and my physical self. I was sick of computers, and was considering a range of (in hindsight) ridiculous vocational changes.
My rescue didn’t come from a new programming language, or a faster computer, or even better clients. It came, instead, from a return to the physical. I learned how to screenprint, and made rock posters for local bands, out of my living room. Every weekend, a friend and I would rack paper, pull squeegees, make an enormous mess – and escape from all of our pixel-based problems. We kept it up for a few years; after I moved into a larger, cleaner, less ink-friendly place I put my screens into storage. Even though I stopped printing, that time I spent screenprinting turned the rest of my career in a more creative direction.
Imagine how happy I was, then, to be asked by curator Christina Vassallo to be part of the inaugural edition of her Random Number Multiple series – a project that would produce screenprints from the work of computational artists and designers. Even better, this first edition would pair me with Marius Watz, an artist who has been a huge inspiration to me over the years, and whose work is exceptional in every way.
Marius and Christina and I spent three days at Bushwick Print Lab printing each of the 200 prints by hand. It was a fantastic experience, and the results, I think, speak for themselves. Marius’ prints are explosions of colour, vivid, dramatic pseudo-random that really capture the eye:
I made two prints. Both are abstractions of my word frequency visualizations that I created using Processing and the NYTimes Article Search API. The first, titled ‘RGB – NYT Word Frequency’, shows usage of the words ‘red’, ‘green’, ‘blue’ in the Times between 1981 and 2011 (you can see a series of details from the print here):
This print turned out even better than I could have expected. The fine detail is amazing, the colours are rich and vivid, and the half-toning on the individual bars creates a jewel-like halo in the center that is fascinating to look at up close.
My second print visualizes the terms ‘hope’ and ‘crisis’ over the same time period (again, more detailed views can be found here). This print was made with a semi-reflective ink, so it has a unique shimmer to it when viewed in the light:
Overall, I was surprised and delighted by how well this computer-generated work translated to the traditional medium of screenprint. I will definitely be looking to make more prints in the future.
In the meantime, a limited number of both of these prints are available for sale at on the Random Number Multiples site. Prints are $100, made with entirely acid-free media, and ship with a signed certificate of authenticity.