January 2011 Archives

1975: 3M VQC Copier Art

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The photocopier was invented for graphic arts, so when great technical improvements occurred in the 1960s and 70s, artists were immediately attracted to copiers as a graphic arts medium. One of the pioneers of copier art was Wallace Berman, he worked with a wet process known as Verifax. Berman's work was influential, but complex wet processes are barely an improvement over photo darkroom processes. 

Copiers were designed for reproducing text or line drawings, the high contrast copies made it difficult to reproduce photographs or continuous tone artwork. But in the 1970s, a photographic quality copier was in widely distributed, the 3M VQC Copier. Artists loved it, a coin operated VQC copier was available at a local public library, artists like me lined up to use it for hours at a time. 

One of the great features of the VQC is that you could run copies through multiple times, overlaying images. Each pass through the copier had a different tonal quality, and you could change copier settings for more effects. You could also draw on the copier paper with markers or silverpoint before printing on it, the copier toner would not adhere to the drawing. Direct manipulation of the copy process was easy, but the results were unpredictable. 

Here's an image I made sometime around 1975. It's a copy of a bold graphic poster from Japan, run through the copier twice. The second impression is gray, offset from the first. If this artwork turned out well, it was probably because of the graphic artist who made the original poster.


Copier art was a revolutionary technique in modern mechanical reproduction. Some graphic artists started using copiers to enlarge images, rather than using projector systems like the Lucygraph. Some artists even turned copiers on their side and used them as cameras, foreshadowing the digital camera. But in the Postmodernist aesthetic, copiers were used to produce flat images, reducing the world to two dimensions, stamped out repetitively.

Here's another copier artwork I made. It's taken directly from the VQC copier repairman's test image. This is just an intermediate stage of preparation for the final artwork, made by cutting up copies and gluing them together. You can see the image is produced with halftone dots, It's line art so it's not really photographic and not much of a challenge for the VQC. But it's easy to chop up any old image and change the meaning by multiplying it. You might be able to tell the eyes on the left have more detail than the eyes on the right (a second generation copy). You could manipulate detail and add noise by making multiple generations. 


Here's the final artwork, run through the copier over and over, in different orientations. Each generation added more grainy noise. I thought this gave the final print some richness that was lacking in the original line art.


Each of these images are the width of a sheet of copier paper. I wish I could reproduce them larger, so you could see the rich detail, but alas, I can only provide thumbnails, to prevent my images from being pirated. Note that these images (like all original content on my blog) are copyrighted: Copyright © Charles Eicher 1975-2011.

It wasn't a great leap from the copier artists of the 1970s to the desktop publishing revolution of the 1980s. But perhaps some of the fun went out of the medium. LaserWriters with digital input always gave you the exact, precise results. You never knew quite what you were going to get with the old analog copiers like the VQC. 

2011: Life Drawing

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Last year I did some life drawing sessions with a local artist co-op. It had been a long time since I did life drawing back in art school. I forgot how much I enjoyed it, and I discovered how much I had improved since I was a student.

A few days ago, a friend asked to see my drawings. She loved them, she said, "now draw me!" and took off her clothes. I did a few quick sketches in soft graphite, she liked this one the best. I always have problems drawing accurate portraits that look like the model, but despite my very rough drawing, she said it looks just like her.


She couldn't sit still for more than about 5 minutes, which makes it hard to fix all the details. But for the short time she modeled, this is a fairly good effort. That was always my problem in the drawing sessions, I wanted to do 30 minutes per pose, everyone else wanted 5 minutes. I like to work longer sessions, that's probably because of my painting background, I take longer to work out all the details. But it's hard to find models that will sit for an hour, day after day, until a painting is finished.

This drawing is about 8" x 14" and was done in graphite stick, with lots of smeary erasing. Graphite stick is really versatile, but alas, you can't see its best qualities just from a low rez scan. It can be shiny or matte, smooth or rough. In a lot of these forms, I'm trying to just "suggest" the form rather than make it clear. This type of drawing relies more on the energy and expressiveness of the line and shading, rather than accurate draftsmanship. I captured a few important anatomical features that help create the shape, but only as minimally and as sketchily as I can. I am rather pleased with this drawing. I can see a few things I'd like to fix, but inevitably, I always ruin a drawing by trying to fix it after the fact.

1976: Life Drawing 101

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I was going through some folios of old artwork and found this little sketch from my oldest Life Drawing classes. This must date to around 1976. I was a total rookie at drawing, this is kind of embarrassing, but I can see some good qualities here. This sort of artwork would be considered "juvenilia," work done as a young artist who hadn't quite figured out what he's doing.


Now obviously I'm struggling here with the proportions of the leg, there are some erasures and I probably had it better before I erased it. The leg and torso are presented flat in the picture plane, so I did have some sort of idea of what I was trying to do with this drawing. The left leg also has problems, but it is shaded in a way that pushes it back from the picture plane. You can see it took me a couple of tries to get the round shape of the wicker chair, but it's shaded rather nicely. There are two or three different pencil hardnesses in use here.

But I am rather more pleased with the torso and shoulder, the proportions are right and it forms the front plane with the leg. It's hard to indicate the roundness of forms when you draw in these sketchy strokes, executed so rapidly. But the sketchy strokes work well when just suggesting the shape of a shoulder blade, the shadow under the upper arm, or the shape of the hips and buttocks. The round curves in the back of the chair pull the picture inward, while the square front of the chair helps establish the front plane of the model.

The problem with this sort of life drawing is that the poses are only a few minutes, so you don't have time to work everything out. The classes are designed to help you work out your issues with proportion and lighting, but you can only work on a couple of things in a single drawing. It's almost impossible to get it all right.

This drawing is about six inches across, in the corner of a large 18 x 24 inch sheet of paper. The full page is taken up by an unfinished sketch in large, rough, black chalk, working out the composition. It is obviously abandoned but has the same composition as the sketch. I can tell I did a quick chalk sketch but didn't like it, and didn't want to waste the whole sheet of paper, so I did this little sketch in the corner.

I am not an artist with natural draftsmanship skills, it's hard work developing those skills. I still have poor draftsmanship, which is pathetic because I have a BFA degree in Drawing and Painting. Obviously being unable to draw well is not an obstacle to an art degree in Drawing. I recently did some Life Drawing studio sessions and I can tell I still struggle with the same problems of body proportion and how to convincingly portray it. Now I have other qualities that help my drawing rise above the level of just another poor draftsman, and I can see some faint impressions of my current drawing methods in this old drawing. That's why artists sometimes keep juvenilia, to compare it to their current work, and see where they came from.

It's interesting to compare to what other work I was doing in art school at that time. I might have been at the cutting edge of computer graphics at the time, but I still had to take the basic Life Drawing classes, like every art student. Today, every art student wants to do computer graphics, but I've done that. Now I'd rather do Life Drawing.

Body Temperature

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Last winter, I caught the Swine Flu, I was sick for a whole month. I went to the doctor, they took my temperature, it was 96.5F. I didn't know your body temp could drop like that, I asked the doctor about it, he said, "it's within a normal range." Ever since then, my average normal body temperature has been 96.5F.

This winter, I caught a terrible cold, I've been sick for over a month. I went to the doctor, my body temperature was recorded at 93.5F! I thought any body temp that low meant the time of death was within the last 4 hours. At one point, I had a terrible fever, my temp shot up to 97.5, I felt like I had a fever of 104. But I must be getting better, my temp has stabilized back to 96.5.

Next winter, I hope I don't get a cold like this. I don't know how much lower my body temperature can get. I'm already at the edge of hypothermia.

Sox 3, Charles 0

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I have a problem with socks. I have a problem with women and socks. I remember once I was doing the laundry and I found a lost sock. It was a little women's footie, I thought maybe my girlfriend left it behind, it was the kind of socks she wore when working out.

So the next time she came over, I gave her the sock. She looked at it and was immediately enraged. She said, "This isn't my sock. It must be your other girlfriend's sock," and she stormed out the front door. I was stunned, I had plenty enough problems with this one girlfriend, I sure didn't have (or need) another one. But she was convinced another woman left it at my house, and she wouldn't speak to me for a whole month. The sock's original owner is unknown. I can only guess that it was left behind in a dryer in the laundromat, then I threw my laundry in that dryer.

That was years ago, but I've had some recent sock problems too. A woman friend came over last winter on a cold, wet day. She asked if I had any dry socks. I gave her one of my best pairs of socks. I had two identical pairs of my warmest socks, big thick black woolen winter socks, I wore one pair and she wore the other. She wore them home and I never got them back.

Now the other pair of black woolly socks is gone too, thieved by another woman. Another friend came over and threw her jacket down on the floor by my shoes and socks. For reasons I will never figure out, she took my socks when she picked up her jacket and left. I asked her about it, she said, "oops, I just swept up my jacket and stuff and I guess I grabbed your socks too." I demanded the return of my favorite socks. She said it was too late, she was doing laundry for someone else and gave my socks to them. No getting them back. Now I have no good winter socks at all. And someone else is now wondering where the hell this pair of rogue socks came from.

Update: Sox 3, Charles 1. I found a third pair of my favorite black socks. So now I have the one pair left.