Process: Digital Art Editing of the Guitar Playing Robot

Guitar Playing Robot Serigraph Comp

Digital color comp of guitar playing robot print in progress

For some time now I’ve been chipping away at this screen printing project. Earlier I shared some of the process of the original line art, but today we’re looking more at the digital art editing of the layers that go into making a screen printed image.

Update: This is part of a multiple process posts. See the following Process: What Counts As Cheating When Making Art? and the subsequent Process: Editing Separations (Again) For Print.

Screen printing is not like pushing a button on the computer and getting a picture from your inject printer. Single colors of ink are printed individually and layers on top of each other. Each layer goes through a screen. Ink is pushed through a mesh screen onto paper under the screen. It makes a lot more sense if you’ve seen it in person or at least a video. As soon as I find the most succinct video with the least annoying music, I’ll share it here.

Typically screens are printed with the lightest colors first and darker screens last. My studio is not ready yet so I won’t be printing this myself. However, I suspect in this instance red will come first followed by yellow. The reason for this is that the yellow is more transparent than the red and this print uses a technique called overprinting. The yellow and red intersect at various points to make orange. In this way I can introduce a fifth color without using a fifth screen. Below are what the four screens would look like if this were being printed today.

Color separations

Getting to this step can be a chore and in the case of this project, more work than I originally imagined. If you recall my original line drawing, there was a lot less going on.

Robot with SG in progress

There was no burst of energy from the hand, the guitar cord was much simpler, no cross hatching on the guitar or robot limbs, no segments in the spine, the wires had barely been penciled in, and there still weren’t any guitar strings. Since I didn’t have a super clear vision of what I wanted early on, it started to take on a new life and every added detail takes quite a bit of time.

Though I have Illustrator and Photoshop on my computer, a number of hand drawn elements were added along the way. Here are four different drawings I made with the help of my light box. The black screen of the energy explosion (top right) was drawn first, followed by red, yellow, and yellow delete.

Four layers of exploding energy

Clockwise from top left: red screen, black screen, yellow screen, yellow delete screen

You’ll note that the “yellow screen” (bottom left) isn’t yellow at all here. It doesn’t matter what color it gets drawn on paper because it will be manipulated in the computer later. In fact, black is easier to separate in the computer. The only reason I actually drew the red screen with a red marker was so that I could keep track better of the intersect between yellow and red on the light box. The yellow delete screen was used as a mask to cut out slivers of yellow and expose while below. This was a later change that I thought tied the bursts more closely to the bright white energy around the fist.

Here is a shot of some of the digital editing. In this case the original line art along with the black and red elements of the energy explosion are being traced over. Once upon a time I would have simply used the paint bucket in Photoshop, and that’s still good for some things, but now I prefer the Pen Tool of Illustrator. The image is being traced in green blocks to differentiate it from the red of the energy explosion. With a couple mouse clicks or keyboard shortcuts it will be turned to the correct color.Blocking being done in Illustrator

Part of what makes this project neat to me is the fact that it is designed to be an 18″ x 24″ poster, but at no point did I draw an image that size. The original line art was scanned at 600 dpi so that it could be dropped into a larger 300 dpi image without less loss of fidelity. Sometimes I would crop smaller sections out so that I could print them out to actual size and draw some full size detail. Although I could have done a lot more details right in the computer, I like the idea of working with actual pens and pencils as much as possible. Some of my techniques are inefficient, but I’ll adapt as I get used to designing in this fashion.

For kicks, here is what the image looks like when viewed at 100% on my screen. This is just a small slice of the whole image, but it shows the halftones in the energized hand and top of the pelvis in contrast to the hand drawn line art. This selection represents less than 3% of the whole image. [Click image to enlarge]

Smaller slice of the 7200 pixel by 5400 pixel image.

Smaller slice of the 7200 pixel by 5400 pixel image.

So there you have it. A small sneak peak into the process of putting this image together for print. As I look at it longer, I feel like it needs something more…

My introduction to screen printing was by Steve Walters at Screwball Press where no computers were used and it was done old school with rubylith. Many of the techniques I used in putting this image together were gained from DNKG’s Screen Printing online class on SkillShare. If you are already into screen printing, I highly recommend Andy MacDougall’s Screen Printing Today. If you have any specific questions about my process here, ask them in the comments below and I’ll try to address them as best I can.

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