In March of 2011, I was commisioned by Curlee Holton of Lafayette College‘s Experimental Printmaking Institute to create separated color plates of the painting “Oprah We Love You” by famed artist Faith Ringgold. The individual plates were then used to create a limited set of 25 serigraph prints honoring Oprah Winfrey when she retired from her syndicated talk show.
Here’s a bit of the process from the point of view of the background production guru…
I started with a digital photograph of the original painting and broke it down into several colors. The digital photograph provided was not of the best quality, so I could only use it as a template and basically redraw the entire piece. Each color is an individual layer in Photoshop. One of the tricks was to create tinted screens of certain colors, so full strength and the tint of any given color could be done on one pass, reducing the amount of screen necessary for printing. I created a dot-pattern screen by copying the color image, opening it as a bitmap in Photoshop, and choosing the ‘screen’ option and applying a screen strength depending on the lightness or darkness of the tint. Then copying that bitmapped image back into the RGB painting (adjusting for PPI differences etc so it came in at its original size).
Another creative adjustment was trying to recreate the looseness of certain color areas. Some of the colors were solid blocks while others seemed to be scribbled in. I wanted to try to preserve some of the scribbled in areas in order to keep the final piece more natural and freehand and not succumbing to digital exactness. My trusty WACOM tablet helped me here. Although the final image of the scribbles was not line per line exact to Ms. Ringgold’s original, it created the same effect and preserved her style.
Per the instruction by the Director of EPI, Curlee Holton, I fixed certain irregularities in the original image. The diamond-shaped boxes containing the four words were not symmetrical, and Prof. Holton wanted the line work very clean and symmetrical. Ms. Ringgold has completed numerous projects at the EPI studio, and was very familiar with the process of re-interpreting a painting into a serigraph print with limited colors and the changes that take place during that process. Ms. Ringgold is an exacting artist and I am proud that she ended up approving and being quite pleased with the final version.
I also redrew the actual words ‘Oprah We Love You’ using the original as a template. Since it was just repeated over and over, I created just a few and copied and pasted them into their individual quadrant within the diamond boarders. I them went in and erased a little and redrew a little here and there to get some variation throughout. So even though I made the diamonds symmetrical, I successfully preserved the hand drawn look with variation in the letter shapes and line thicknesses.
I also redrew the words encircling the entire piece using my WACOM. However, I traced the handwriting very carefully in order to preserve Ms. Ringgold’s personal handscript and did not create variations, but kept each and every stroke intact as it was scripted by Ms. Ringgold
Once all the plates were created , I did a ‘select all’ on the black, and increased its thickness by 3 pixels. This created a printing trap to spread the black over the other color plates to avoid white paper showing through if the plates were misaligned when printing. I did the same to any word outline. I then turned all the color layers into solid black, so each one could be output on an EPSON 7800 large format printer and used as negatives to create the serigraph plates.
The final serigraph was printed at EPI by students under the direction of master print maker Jase Clark and EPI Director Curlee Holton. To read more about this the EPI participation in this print, please visit HERE.
To read about Faith Ringgold and her print via a blog by Faith for BLACK ART IN AMERICA (web version), please visit HERE.