Pad and i: Part 4. Guttenberg Comes Alive!

Washington Square

The next big influence on my iPad exploratory was a tech innovation from centuries ago: moveable type. In Mid July, I took a week-long workshop in letterpress printing at the Center for Book Arts and it was quite profound.  I wrote about it soon thereafter.

In the process of figuring out how to compose the type, I first created a layout comp in InDesign. Then I tried to replicate it at the press with hand set lead type. It was impossible and, I realized, pointless to try to just mimic one technology with another. Sure, I could just hit “print” on my laptop and my laser printer would crank out the page with no-muss or fuss. But that defeated the whole point of the experience. And besides, it wouldn’t actually look the same. So, I decided to push my hand set type as far into its own domain as I could. I used big wooden typefaces and printed it in graduated colored inks. What I printed was too big, too organic, too imperfect to have been made on a Mac. And that’s what made it special.

This revelation started to haunt my iPad exploration.  What was I doing with this gizmo? Why was I trying to reproduce my 180 lb. sketchbook pages, my steel nibs and dip pen, Felix’s watercolors — with this $1000 tablet? It was so cheesy and lame.

Instead I had to embrace the way the iPad worked, go towards it — rather than trying to create a synthetic echo of the art I’ve always made. I’d have to be Dylan going electric. Frampton on TalkBox. Cher on AutoTune.

The next week, Tommy Kane and I did some urban sketching around town, perched on our little folding stools. I knew Tom was not impressed by the gizmo or my efforts so far, but I needed to push myself into a new way of seeing, to try to discover how to create something that I could only do on the iPad.

I started to work in block shapes in layered bright colors. In some drawings, I processed the layers to create unexpected effects. I even turned on brightly hues street scene in a study in shades of grey by just flipping a slider.

Two particular drawing that I did on while sitting on the curbs of the Village started to capture something new. One I drew of some NYU building on West 4th Street in bright cartoony colors. Then Public Theatre on Lafayette Street and finally a corner off Washington Square late at night.

They all had a hand-drawn, anarchic and unplanned feeling, sort of evocative of 1950s Ronald Searle inspired animation — but not quite.  And the thing is, they had colors that were impossible to create on paper, in any other medium.Print them out and they’d be dead. They were made of light. They were those amazing intense colors you only get by looking at a screen, utterly modern, and they made those street corners come alive.  They were unlike anything I’d made before, and I was very happy.

(To be continued)