Jess Hutch.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


We went to San Diego this weekend; the primary purpose of the trip was to pay a visit, the secondary purpose was to hang out at the Comic Con. The first part went great, the second part not as well - we didn't buy tickets ahead of time, not knowing for sure which day we'd be able to make it, and arrived to find long, long (long) lines in the hot, hot sun. So we went home. After laying around and pouting for a while, we decided to go to an arcade, since it seemed the sensible, suburban thing to do.

Dude, we had the best time. It was a Dave & Buster's, which is apparently a chain - I'm not sure I'd make it my weekly hangout or anything, but it was an extremely fun way to spend an evening. There was beer! And games! I played a few of the newer, fancier games, including one in which you race a big rig (I ran over a few cars, whoops), but my faves were the older models, including Skeeball and Centipede. Centipede was always my game of choice, and lookit!

high score
Fourth place, baby! Or as I like to think of it, "the highest of the low" (that's quite a bit difference between me and #3, yeah?).

Here are some other photos from our evening out, I thought the bright blurriness captured the giddy atmosphere at the arcade.

A game celebrating the sinking of the Titanic, naturally!

This one had to do with candy. A big pile of candy.

So, if you ever want to go to the Comic Con, but for some reason you can't, head on over to Dave & Buster's. Tell them Jess sent you, they'll surely recognize me from my Centipede score.

Monday, July 24, 2006

screen printing

Hi there. I went away for a few days (I might post about that later this week), but now I'm going to share some photos of the screenprinting process. This won't be a tutorial, I'm not quite qualified to teach anyone just yet - there are many good guides online, however, and I'll point you to a couple. So I hope this inspires you to try silkscreening, just make sure to follow the instructions of a qualified professional! Printing is fun but can be pretty messy, and it involves a lot of strange chemicals, so keep that in mind if you have kids or pets (we put Chuy in the back room during a lot of these steps).

A few more points - I guess technically it's called "screen printing", since silk is not generally used anymore, but I like calling it "silkscreening" because it sounds cool and old-fashioned. It seems the terms can be used interchangably, at least that's what I've observed, so that's what I'll do too. Also, I recommend the Print Gocco kit if big messes aren't your thing - it's a quicker & easier way to do small screen prints - I just really wanted to make bigger prints and wanted to try the silkscreening thing. Both methods are marvelous.

Now for the tutorials. By far the best I've found online is this one at No Media Kings, by Shannon Gerard. The photos and written descriptions helped immensely. Speedball, maker of many fine screenprinting products, also offers an updated copy of its screenprinting manual online here, just click on "Screen Printing Instructions" which opens a pdf. It also helps a lot to have someone on hand who's done it before - I asked Jeff about a million questions.

So here are some photos of the process. These are pretty small - click on them to go to the flickr page for each.

Burning a screen (or rather, a stencil on a screen). You take your image(s) to your local copy shop, and copy them onto transparencies. Then you coat the screen with emulsion, let it dry, then expose it to light with the transparencies laying on top - the part of the screen under the image stays soft and rinses out. The emulsion on the part of the screen that was exposed to the light hardens, and creates a stencil. The ink goes through the open part of the screen and you have a print.

Here are the two screens I used with the images burned in. The blobby one with no detail was for the blue-green, the outliney one is for the red outline. There's a brownish-red box around the image on the larger screen because the glass I used to hold the transparency flush to the screen left a little shadow. No biggins, I just used screen filler to fill the lines in - that's the brownish-red stuff.

A lovely tip from Ms. Gerard - especially great for printing with fabric, which seems like it'd be hard to line up perfectly for multi-color prints - tape a sheet of acetate to your work surface, do the first print of the second color on that, then use it to line up each print after that. You need to make sure your screenprinting base is well secured, too.

Dabbity-dabbin' the ink. I used a spoon, but there are probably better tools out there. By the way, if you use red ink, prepare for a gory clean-up job. Yikes!

This is where the magic happens. It helps to have someone else hold down the edge of the screen to get a good solid print, but one person could do it no probs.

Here's a completed print! Stunning.

I laid all the prints out to dry (and kept Chuy far, far away from them). If you're printing on fabric, you'll need to iron the prints (or put them in the oven, whatever the ink instructions say) to set the image. The top middle print is off-register because I thought it would look neat; it does. I've been watching a lot of Pee-wee's Playhouse because the kind folks at Cartoon Network are showing it in reruns (bless them) - I think I was going for that look! So blame Gary Panter.

There you go! Process photos. More accomplished 'screeners, feel free to leave comments with suggestions, corrections, links to other tutorials, etc. And go ahead and email me if you have trouble getting started, and I'll try to help you out! It's really the most fun.

Many thanks to Jeff for taking the photos of me printing.

Monday, July 17, 2006


Okey doke, finally. Silkscreened toys! How long have I been talking about these without showing images? I was delayed by some technical issues, which I've often found to be the case when I learn a new skill. You get going and then realize that in order to continue, you need to take a trip to some out-of-the-way store to buy a weird little part. And then your sewing machine stops working... I find sewing machine problems to be so incredibly frustrating, I can't even write about it here without gritting my teeth. Anyway, the old machine was traded in, materials were purchased, and toys were made. Good times.

I'm planning to do a longer post about the printing process, because it really is so very fascinating (to me. And perhaps to you?). But I will mention that it took two screens to make these guys, one for the teal color, and one for the red outline. After I printed them, I picked out my faves, sewed them to a plain background, turned them inside out and stuffed them. Then I handsewed them close. Even with the new machine I found the sewing part a bit stressful, because that's just how I am, but I'm pleased with the results.

The toys are for the Plush You! show at Schmancy, in Seattle, which opens in October. I'm really happy to be participating in this show again this year.

I posed these guys on the base of one of two acrylic bar stools we have in the dining room. Our apartment is a retirement home for cool old furniture.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

toys by the yard

The other day I was thinking about that fabric you used to be able to buy with dolls pre-printed on it - you would just cut them out and sew around the edges, et voila, you have a doll. Since that's more or less what I'm doing with the silkscreened dolls I'm working on (more on that later), I thought it'd be fun to see some vintage examples. I did a short search on eBay, which of course led to some "buy it now"s and bids, and here's the result. I was so excited to find a book, called Playthings by the Yard, written by Frances Walker and Margaret Whitton and published by the Hadley Printing Co. in 1973. Unfortunately, all the photos are in black and white, but it's a great resource anyway!

Apparently, this type of doll was first offered for sale in 1886. Most of the early ones seem to be pretty realistic images of animals, dolls, Santa Claus, people of the world. I'd love to see one sewn up and stuffed - I wonder how many still exist? In the 20s and 30s, and even into the 50s, lots of companies offered these printed panels as premiums (send in 10 cents and 3 box tops, etc). This Oxol doll from 1931 is one of those - Oxol seems to have been a type of cleaner. I love how graphic and bold this doll is! I'd give anything to see it in color - the book says she was printed in red, black and blue. There are also some Kellogg's dolls, and ones depicting various comic strip characters.

Many of my favorites, of course, are from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. At the same time I bought the book, I bid on this piece of fabric with an incredibly 70s blonde doll printed on it (it's copyrighted 1974). This is really almost too 70s for me, but I love the colorful ginghaminess of it, and of course the blonde curly 'do (similar to Tracy, don't you think? Except without the 'stache?). I remember having a few toys made from pre-printed fabric when I was a kid in the 70s and 80s, including a strawberry pillow that (I think) my grandma made for me.

From what I can tell, this type of fabric pre-printed with dolls and toys is still available, or was until recently. Fred Flare offers a wonderful pre-printed dachshund toy that I'd love to get. The glorious legacy of toys by the yard carries on... beautiful, isn't it?

Monday, July 10, 2006


Here's a toy I made but didn't design. Well, I wrote the pattern but didn't do the initial design. Strange! A while back, my friend Michele Scanlon asked me to knit a toy based on a character her husband Dan created for a movie he's making. Dan's a super talented story artist at Pixar who's making this film in his free time - amazing. When I saw the character, whose name is Tracy, I knew he'd be a challenge (how to do a 'fro?) but a fun one. And so it was. Here's the completed toy. In Dan's movie, Tracy is, apparently, a 70s kids' show host - hence the 'fro, the 'stache, the jumpsuit, the rainbow. The hair was probably the hardest thing for me to figure out - how to create that spherical 'do? I was tempted to do some kind of loopy thing with the yarn, like a shag rug or something, but it's all about the simple, clean shapes for me, so I made a sphere, stuffed it lightly, and smooshed it on his head. It was very weird for me to do a toy from someone else's design, but it was truly a blast. I couldn't stop giggling once he was done - that hair! That eyebrow!

Michele and Dan are a fabulous couple who actually just finished a comic book about undergarments called "Unmentionables." They're going to have a booth at the San Diego Comic Con. Edited to add: Here's the official site for their comic!

Thursday, July 06, 2006


Jeff and I went to the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton, CA on Monday. It's always nice to get out of the chilly city and into the oppressive heat of the fairgrounds. Nothing a cold beer and a few air-conditioned exhibit buildings couldn't fix.

We definitely have our favorite things to do - mostly eat fried food, and visit the various exhibits and demonstrations. There's the livestock, of course, the horse races, and the ancient farming equipment - what would the fair be without them? The Young California hall features prize-winning 4H and school projects, mostly arts and crafts, and the hobbies building has dozens of glass vitrines containing the personal collections of various Alameda county residents. There's just about everything you can think of (this year our favorites were the beer cans, the rubber dolls, and the Ed Roth/hot rod models). My favorite collections are never the ones that get the blue ribbons - I wonder why? But my favorite thing, every year, is the model train exhibit, a photo of which is above. I don't even pay much attention to the trains, it's the miniature world they've created that I can't get enough of. Marvy.

Then, of course, there are the commercial/trade buildings, featuring everything you've ever seen in an infomercial and more. I love to look at this stuff but you can't gawk too obviously, or the salespeople will spot you and start up a conversation. Eeee!

Of course, at the end of the day, we were glad to be back in the blessedly cool city. But it was nice to get back to our rural roots if only for a day.

Sunday, July 02, 2006


Here's a wee painting I did in corel painter and photoshop - every once in a while I find it extremely enjoyable to sit down with the wacom tablet and create a strange little image like this one. Since I haven't created a toy in a bit (I'm preparing to do some silkscreening in the next few days), I thought I'd share it. Spooky.

I really intended to do a very respectable Golden Books style illustration but I couldn't help myself there at the end. Ha!