Angel O’ Death Masks Take Two

“Show more wing,” said the peanut gallery on fecebook. To make the Angel O’ Death’s face slightly smaller to make room to show a little more wing, I had to make all these paper prototypes. Each one is different. Resizing the image is an extraordinary PITA because the distortion increases at the center seam and I have to manually adjust it, print it, cut out the pieces, tape it together, turn it inside out, and then look at it head-on to see how bad the distortion is. The smaller Death’s head, the wider I have to make it, proportionally, going through this process over and over.

Finally I sent a new image to Theo, who laser cut new printing plates.

New plates shown drying in dish rack after washing. So much of this project is washing and cleaning things.

Unlike the first batch, these don’t have handles, making them easier to charge with ink, but much more difficult to use with the registration frame. So I just printed them on the uncut cotton yardage I picked up and laundered (to pre-shrink) this morning.

Looks pretty good, I think. I slather on a lot of screen printing ink with the brayer (rubber roller) to get a dark impression with swirly texture in the large flat areas.

I give the block a few whacks with the rubber mallet, because I read that traditional wood-block fabric printers hit their blocks with a hammer. I got all these impressions with no finger burnishing, so some labor was saved there.

But alas, labor was added when it was time to cut them out.

Cutting is time-consuming and fraught, which is why Theo uses his laser cutter to save vast amounts of production time. Even if we get it screen printed, it’s not certain the Angel O’ Death design on fabric can be laser cut, because the image needs to be aligned so precisely. For all-over fabric patterns, you can cut almost anywhere, but just a few millimeters off will make Death’s face all wonky.

Today’s test batch yielded enough for 8 masks. It looked (and felt!) like it should be more.

After cutting, I ironed the 16 pieces to heat set the ink.

Next, my Momz will sew one into a full-fledged mask, and if it looks good design-wise, I and/or Theo will prepare an image file to be screen printed this week or next (by the only local screen printer to answer their phone! I called 3, multiple times). Screen printing will also require a lot of work prepping and cutting, as well as money, but it’ll be less labor (for me) than block printing. It will also look less “artisanal,” but some people don’t want artisanal, they just want a big black and white Angel O’ Death on their face in a pandemic, and that’s what I aim to deliver.

UPDATE: Here is Version 2 sewn together by my talented Momz and modeled by me:

I’ve made one more modification, to make the Angel O’ Death even smaller and the wings even bigger. One more test and it’s off to the screen printers.

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Angel O’ Death Mask Project

UPDATE: Momz just sewed the first mask prototype!

Here she is modeling it:

Here I am modeling it:

We look similar, right? Must be that huge Angel O’ Death covering our mouths and noses.

This mask is sewn from the unbleached pre-cut cloth:

Even though I got better ink impressions on the bleached white sheet, in the end we couldn’t use it because it was too soft and floppy to work with. It was literally from an old white sheet I cut up when it got holes in it. The pre-cut is PaleGray Labs’ quilting cotton, which is stiffer and crisper and easier to cut and sew. In the end, though, the off-white cream color has a nice worn look with the hand-print ink texture, and looks as stylish as any mask can be on the face.

More tests to follow.

*******

A few days ago, Theo Gray implored me to design fabric for the high-end masks he’s producing here in Urbana Illinois, using his laser cutter to precision cut the fabric components. The Angel O’ Death was an obvious choice, so I got designing:

Because the mask has a curved center seam, the art had to be distorted. I don’t have a single “distort” button (but there are very nice point distort tools in Moho) so I went by instinct. The paper test here is scratched up because I turned it inside-out after taping, which crinkled it a bit.

Now, how to get it printed on fabric? In the past I have used Spoonflower, but they currently have a 15+ day three week delay. Plus the size has to be accurate to fit the masks, and it’s really hard to get that right with Spoonflower, especially given the uncertainty of laundry shrinkage. Because my design was black and white, I realized it could be silkscreened!

But we’re in the midst of a pandemic, so when I called the local screenprinter no one answered the phone. I emailed them but still have no response. Then I thought, “why not block print this sucker?” After all, I’ve used a laser cutter to make Angel O’ Death block prints before:

But where to find linoleum blocks in the midst of a pandemic? Theo doesn’t like using wood in his cutter because it “gums it up.” He prefers acrylic. So I thought, “why not block print using acrylic?” So Theo made these:

I was able to get screenprint fabric ink and a brayer from the local big box chain art store, by ordering online and getting local pick-up; I got special block print fabric ink from the local local art store, once they finally answered their phone (no pickup, so I got the $5 home delivery). This morning, I did my first tests.

The good news is, acrylic is a perfectly viable material for block printing.

The bad news is, block printing is very labor intensive and probably not the best medium for this project. I got enough decent prints to make 3 or 4 masks out of this batch. The impression below is about the best I could do:

Second test, with Speedball Screen Printing ink for fabric

The screenprint ink actually worked better than the block-printing fabric ink. I applied both with a brayer. I was able to load more screenprint ink onto the block, and the fabric seemed to accept it a little better.

First test, with Speedball Fabric Block Printing Ink

The image looks better on bleached white than the unbleached “natural” cotton I thought I’d prefer.

Theo made a system for registering prints on pre-cut fabric, which saves the work of cutting out with scissors later.

But it adds more labor “burnishing” the fabric onto the block with your fingers.

Impressions using this system came out lighter than my tests on uncut white fabric, even with all the finger burnishing. I’m not sure why.

The handmade, ink-textured look is hopefully charming and valuable. Maybe it’ll look cooler than silkscreen, but I’m still gonna try calling the local screenprinter again today.

 

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Muse Symbol

I’m looking at and thinking about religious symbols all day – ok, I admit it, CHRISTIAN symbols, those symbols I’m surrounded by here in Western Civilization, but which have always been forbidden because I’m an atheist Jew. Well, I’ve lifted that internal prohibition recently, and my symbol-loving mind has been wallowing in symbols like a pig in shit ever since.Crosses are everywhere, including the Venus symbol, also known as the Woman symbol. Some say the O represents the womb, and the + represents a man hanging off it. Obviously the cross symbol predates Christianity, and its meaning goes well beyond that religion, although it can’t shake its association in the West.

While I don’t strictly believe in any God of organized religion, I do believe in my Muse – at least I try to. So I made a symbol for Her. It looks just as occult and disturbing as any other religious symbol I’ve seen, which was the objective I guess. If I were the tattooing type, I’d consider it.

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Resurrected Mosaics

Working on new tessellating animated gif tiles led me to revisit my older tile experiments, and repurpose for website backgrounds. I originally made these animated mosaics in Macromedia Flash 8 for my section of the feature film The Prophet.

I tried recreating the mosaics in Moho, but quickly became frustrated. Moho’s masking is very unlike Flash’s; in fact Moho’s everything is very unlike Flash’s, and where Flash excels at this type of mechanical construction, Moho favors the organic. Rather than figuring it out anew, I fired up the ol’ 2007 PowerMac and dug into my old Flash files. I exported as Quicktime Video with an alpha channel and copied to my less-ancient 2014 Mac Pro. Moho couldn’t read the old Quicktime format, so I exported again as Apple ProRes 4444, dropped it into Moho Pro, fiddled about with sizing, and eventually exported this transparent gif that will permit cartesian tiling even though the underlying shapes are hexagonal.

In the process I discovered this cool website that will generate a “sprite sheet” from your uploaded gif. This would have been convenient back when I was designing morphing tile fabric patterns, but back in those days – the days Flash still worked – I had to do it manually.

Speaking of Flash, Adobe just announced it’s dead forever. Wouldn’t it be nice if they released Macromedia Flash (you know, the GOOD version from before they bought and ruined it) so others could develop it?

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