Process: Justin Santora

Justin Santora recently posted a fantastic process thread at gigposters.com showing the evolution of his new art art print Bad News for Naked Emperors. It’s an 8-color screen print created without the use of a computer.

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I asked Justin to talk a bit more about the story and technique behind the print. Here is what he had to say.

Does the image have a particular story?

“I’ve been interested in architectural structures for a while now. I’m also drawn to how man made structures eventually get broken down by the elements. I’ve had an intermittent fascination with billboards for the past couple of years for this reason. For anyone who’s ever driven across pretty much any rural part of the US or Canada, the landscape contains these decrepit billboards with mismatched or missing panels, rotting wood, and peeling paint.

I like the idea that the billboard’s message is unavoidably being obscured by natural forces. It’s like the ephemeral nature of these advertisements is on display.

“In that respect, I kind of see decomposing billboards as little visual metaphors for many of the pervasive and often disheartening messages we are bombarded with on a daily basis. As consumers, we’re told everything is okay; as voters, we’re told elected officials are working for us; and as citizens, we’re told war is just and that inequality is often simply “the way it is.” Fewer and fewer people believe the story anymore.

“But all of that aside, rural decay just interests me on an aesthetic level. When you’re working in ink, it’s kind of a common tactic to use variations in density of texture to convey value and depth. Drawing old, withered wood and hipping paint is one way to give some character and dimension when working pretty much entirely with little ink lines.”

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Detail of the final print. Loving the nice transition where the grass and sign meet up.

I love that you are printing a color and then deciding what happens next in certain areas, like in the cloud shading. Does the printing process help you to develop your images, or do you already have an idea what it should look like going in?

“I always have at least a basic idea of how an image is going to look. I start the color separation process with a completed drawing, so all of the colors are going to be worked with the key line film(s) in mind. With things like clouds, I just go color by color, usually thinking about what I’ll do next as I’m printing and looking at the prints.

The printing process is very much a part of the illustration process.

“It’s fun to work this way because there’s a lot of room to improvise or correct something by adding a new color on the fly, but it can also be overwhelming. It also keeps the printing part of the process very cognitive because each color is a reaction to the previous color, so I’m constantly thinking about what the next move is going to be.”

A printer’s print.

There is a terrific blend of creative and technical mastery on display in this print. Justin used two separate hand-drawn keyline films, one for the grass and another for the exploding billboard. Here is the finished drawing, which was then printed onto film and separated into the two keylines.

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If you are not using a computer to create your screen films, the image below is probably a familiar one. Here Justin lays out a sketch on his light table and cuts the cloud shape out of rubylith, and is drawing in some details with a marker.

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After printing that layer, he drops a piece of acetate onto the printed art and draws the next layer of detail. The process continues until ready to meet the first keyline.

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The background film of the grass area is created when Rubylith is laid down over the grass keyline, followed by some fussy x-acto bladework. The keyline is then used during proofing to make sure everything lines up correctly.

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After the grass is printed, Justin brings in the next keyline and cuts the background colors.

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Looking closely at the final print below, look at how the low contrast coloring in the cloud layers backed against the sharp wood of the sign really creates depth in the piece. The dark color is not a pure black, which keeps it from looking flat. The subtlety in the color palette really makes this piece a winner.

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Check out the full process thread at gig posters.com, which has twice as many photos and plenty of witty banter. Thanks to Justin for taking the time to chat about his work. You can and should buy this print at Justin’s website!