Be Kind Online
For the second time, BT Livermore and I decided to make something together. And for the second time, we were faced with laying out parameters for the project. Over a quick beer, we decided the collaboration would yield:
- a poster
- in the style of the WPA
- concerning a contemporary subject
- using no computers.
That’s right, no computers. If you’re thinking, “well, fuck, how are they gonna do that?” then you know exactly how I felt. I’ll get to that in a bit.
Whereas our first collaboration was determined by subject first and style second, this project would be the reverse. We decided to pay homage to the WPA posters of the 1930s and 1940s.
The Works Progress Administration (renamed in 1939 as the Work Projects Administration) was the largest and most ambitious American New Deal agency, employing millions of unemployed people (mostly unskilled men) to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads. In a much smaller but more famous project, Federal Project Number One, the WPA employed musicians, artists, writers, actors and directors in large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects.
The WPA provided nearly eight million jobs. And some of those jobs were filled by 10,000 artists and artisans during the Great Depression, just to tell folks not to get syphilis or drink and drive. Well, and also to create murals, easel paintings, sculpture, graphic art, posters, photography, Index of American Design documentation, museum and theatre scenic design, and arts and crafts. Thanks, FDR!
Via Library of Congress:
The posters were designed to publicize exhibits, community activities, theatrical productions, and health and educational programs in seventeen states and the District of Columbia, with the strongest representation from California, Illinois, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
Some of the posters were downright scary. The communication was direct. Stripped of text they could clearly state: THIS IS BAD. This high-impact design solves some fundamental problems inherent in poster graphics.
Some of the posters were more pleasant, even comical. The abundance of artists made for a hodge podge of styles. While graphically very different, More Courtesy still feels like Forging Ahead’s cousin, Forging Ahead feels like Don’t Mix ’Em’s cousin, and so on. It remains evident they’re all part of the same family.
The full washes of color, the humanesque penmanship and the immediacy in the messaging are all elements BT and I were ready to combine. We just needed to figure out a subject matter.
“Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”
— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
There’s a lot of negative shit online, and we consume heaps of it. Our tiny-screen devices provide myriad outlets to regurgitate and perpetuate anger, cruelty and panic at any hour of the day.
Rather than criticize a particular message, we resolved to address a behavior.
Fortunately, WPA poster messaging is ripe with a balance of positive and negative reinforcement, which allows room to encourage the good vibes of onscreen communication as well as shame the bad vibes.
Of course, Be Kind Online is the good vibes tag. Do You Text Your Mother with Those Fingers? is the shame tag. The play on an old expression is simultaneously familiar and curiously askew. But the word fingers is the kicker, no? It sounds so disturbing, and menacing fingers are really fun to illustrate! So that was settled.
So…how do we do that?
After we decided on colors (black, red and mustard yellow on white paper), so we needed to create components for each layer. We divvied up duties—BT did Do You Text… and the mobile phone skull, I did Be Kind… and the fingers—and created a composite of the image with tracing paper.
Note that we had to design everything to scale. Without computers, we couldn’t blow up our sketchbook scribblings. It’s still kinda loose in this stage, allowing us to adjust placement, kern the lettering or, in this case, draw the left hand completely differently.
Drawing all of it with a marker wouldn’t do — the fills would turn out streaky. So we decided to cut everything with rubylith. We place a sheet of rubylith over the composite and start cutting.
Rubylith is a two-ply film. The top layer is translucent red, and the bottom is clear. You cut the red layer (lightly, with an X-acto knife) and leave the clear layer. You can then peel away the unnecessary bits of red and the image stays intact.
While the process takes longer than a computer-generated piece, it is still forgiving enough to allow for error. And the WPA aesthetic is super conducive to this technique. Rough edges, crooked lines and various other imperfections become happy accidents. The handmade-ness shines.
When we forgot to draw the phone on our red screen, we painted screen filler to fill it in. For the black layer, we drew the hand contours and skull with a grease pencil and created shading by flicking ink from old paintbrushes. How cool is that?
The only major hiccup was when we also totally biffed on the red layer silkscreen. Some of the screen filler dripped onto parts it shouldn’t have, so we had to re-burn the screen. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
One really great moment was while BT was working on the skull. He looked up and said “You know what would be great?” We looked at each other and both exclaimed “if the screen was cracked!” The crack was added at the last minute and it came out perfect.
Time Well Spent
This print demanded more hours than we are accustomed to spending. But it felt good. We tried some new things with old techniques. We shared a lot of high fives. And it looks freakin’ great! We hope you agree.
Whether it serves as a gentle reminder, a new year’s resolution or decorative wall art, BT and I had fun making these for you.
12" x 18"
LIMITED EDITION OF 60
Printed on 100-lb. Whip Cream Pop-Tone paper from French Paper Co.
BT and I encourage you to download a FREE PDF of the poster. It’s hi-res, so you can print it pretty big. Hang it in your office, plaster it around town or just make it your desktop background.
I have never used rubylith before—all this was new to me. I found out while we were numbering the posters that the last time BT used this process was 20 years ago, when he was 13. He made this: