Skunkworks Print: Don’t Rush the Print Job!

Finished Skunkworks Print

Skunkworks, 18 x 24 inches. 5-color silkscreen print. First version.

A couple weeks ago I finished this design and printed it in a pretty short order. In retrospect I wish I hadn’t rushed it so much. It’s not awful and I still like the design, but it wasn’t quite what I had in mind. Here’s how it got started.

The Concept

Several months ago I watched some goofy documentary on UFOs and such. I’m not a UFO fanatic, but it’s an idea that catches my attention from time to time. The most interesting thing that I heard was the idea that Lockheed Martin currently has craft with capabilities like nothing we’ve ever seen before. If you asked me if I believe that aliens have been to Earth I’m not sure they have. However, flying saucers are for sure real. If you don’t believe me you just have to look at the information on the Avrocar at the Smithsonian. It didn’t fly very high or very far, but it was saucer shaped and became airborne.

Anyway, this documentary made me think it would be funny to do a print that simply said “Lockheed Martin Is Piloting Flying Saucers Right Now” featuring the Skunkworks logo, the alias for Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Program. I touched up a Skunkworks logo and largely forgot about it until a few weeks ago.

Initial Design

Initial 3-color concept

Initial 3-color concept

The first design that I shared with others on my Facebook page was this design. It called for three colors with the gray color being silver. The schematic comes from actual patents granted to Martin in the mid-50s for a Supersonic Aircraft.

The text kind of bugged me. I didn’t like the way each line was scaled differently so that each line would be the same length as the others. It seems this is a thing I’ve seen in a lot of text heavy designs lately and I wanted to get away from it. So I tried this:

Second concept with smaller type

Second concept with smaller type

In the second concept with smaller type I took the text past the edges of the page. It’s still apparent what is being said the now the type looks more like it came off a typewriter using one of my many typewriter fonts.

Third concept. Smaller text yet with a stroke.

Third concept. Smaller text yet with a stroke.

Not content, I monkeyed with things a bit more. The text got reduced yet again and a stroke was added around it to make it easier to read. At the time I liked this better, but now I’m glad I didn’t go with it.

And it was at this point that I stopped sharing any designs online altogether.

More colors

As you can see in the final version I ended up adding more colors. At first I inverted the sections of the fuchsia line drawings that intersected with the skunk to white. This was interesting, but I also liked the idea of making it cyan kind of like a blueprint. So that became blue and became the fourth color. Still liking the idea of having a design that was white and purple intersecting with the skunk I used the third page of the patent and added it. Some of that detail can be seen here:

Detail of the final print

Detail of the final print

If you look carefully you can see that the screen didn’t wash out perfectly. I’m still having some minor complications with washing out fine detail. You might not know it without having seen the original film.

Ink Shortage

If I’d stayed with the original three color design, everything might have been cool. Switching one of the schematics to cyan meant I had to switch the text to something else and another purple seemed right. However, I was short on process cyan and acrylic extender, both of which help make other colors transparent.

There was plenty of silver ink, but silver tends to stick to the squeegee a lot making fills difficult and is aided by extender. As I was short on that, I added various blues and purple to my silver mix. It still looks metallic close up, but doesn’t really pop like pure silver would have.

Enter The Fifth Color

When I got down to my last screen, the text, I tried some things on the computer and came up with this concept:

Faded text concept

Split fountain concept. Black to purple text.

There’s actually two things going on here. First on the first screen, the fuchsia color, I added a copy of the text and dialed it down to 40% and rendered it in offset halftones. Then on the text screen the idea was the print a dark color black on the far left and have it fade into purple sort of mimicking a mimeograph.

The text was also rendered in a new fashion. I banged it out on my post-war Smith Corona typewriter and scanned it at the highest resolution I could get.

Things were good and fine and even while printing I liked it, but I wish I’d looked at it more carefully and done some tests before deciding to actually print it.

In the first place the text wasn’t nearly as transparent as I would have liked. In fact, I’m not sure it was transparent at all. Secondly, after it dried the fade from black to dark purple was hardly noticeable. In the end I decided to print a fifth color, a lighter purple, on top of the near black text. Intentionally off register, it gives the text on each print a unique drop shadow.

All Done?

And that’s how the 3-color design became a 5-color print. I don’t hate it, but it wasn’t what I had in mind either. Is this idea so great that I need to print it again when I’m flush with process cyan and acrylic extender? I haven’t decided yet. So far I have only cut down two or three to the finished 18 x 24 inch size. I haven’t signed or numbered any of them so maybe I’ll print the “dream version” directly on the back. Or maybe that’s bad form. Paper isn’t that expensive.

Untrimmed version at 19 x 25 inches.

Untrimmed version at 19 x 25 inches.

Final Thoughts

The good news is that aside from a few very fine details not washing out as planned, actual printing on the press went pretty well. No prints sticking to screens. No prints too heavy with ink or wrinkled from moisture to stay flat on the press.

Before I’d finished printing this a friend said she’d like to see this as part of a series. I’m not sure what the other works would be. So far the only idea that’s come to mind is “I Went To Groom Lake And All I Got Was An M-16 Pointed In My Face”.

What do you think? Should this be called done? Should another version be printed at some point? Should there be similar prints in this series?

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