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Feature: Artwork for Fly Below The Radar

By Malcolm Cross

Malcolm: I wanted to write some stuff about the artwork on the cover of the new record, because a lot of people have said stuff like 'nice drawing' or asked 'what's an intaglio print anyway?'

To clear things up a bit, I'd like to introduce y'all to Mr Brett Bolander, our wonderful designer friend (see pic 1.) For those of you that don't know, BB worked on the first record - notably designing the original Minibar logo, as well as a bunch of layout stuff - and has gone on to work with us on each subsequent release (the EP and Radar) as well as our merch. He and his wife Heather now have their own design company Paver - I seriously recommend checking out their site! (

So, on the 'Radar' project we wanted to try something new. We both have an strong interest/background in traditional printmaking - a very archaic thread of fine art that includes lino and wood cuts, screen printing, lithography, dry point and etching. Each of these kinds of printmaking have very specific flavors and can acheive very unique, organic visual effects. With so much graphic design created entirely on computers from start to finish, we've got pretty used to seeing 'perfection' in album artwork; we wanted to use printmaking both to showcase a lesser known artform and make a cover that had a real handmade character.

The form we settled on was etching (as in 'come upstairs and see my...'), something we both had plenty of experience in (me at school, Brett at college.) Here's the process in a nutshell: take a metal plate (in our case, zinc.) A 'ground' is applied to the surface - a sort of varnish. The planes and faces were then engraved by me with a 'needle' (a scraping tool) which cuts through the ground and makes a fine line on the plate below.

Next is the etching process itself; you submerge the plate in an acid bath which 'bites' into the lines made by the needle and makes them deeper. The ground is resistant to the acid, allowing for a flat, clean surface everywhere else on the plate. After you're satisfied with the depth of your line, the ground is washed off.

Now you apply the ink; Brett rubs it into the whole plate, then strategically wipes it clean. There are options here - how much ink you leave on the flat plate surface and how much in the line itself. (i.e. the engraved faces and planes.) On the cover version, the lines are slightly over-wiped, giving them a softer, ghostlier quality (look closely at the faces to see what I mean.)

For the background color we used ink rollers (see pic.) We were intentionally going for any imperfections/character that we could create - in our case, the rollers themselves were old with flawed rubber surfaces - perfect! (take another look at the yellow background color on the album cover to see what I mean.)

For the print itself we laid slightly damp handmade paper over the print then ran it through the press (imagine an old fashioned mangle.) The plate is stamped into the paper at pressure and the ink/image tranferred. Nothing quite compares to the 'moment of truth' as you peel your final print away from the plate! (see pic 3)

Each print requires an enormous amount of labour (mainly preparing and cleaning of ink) - despite this we managed a good six or seven variations of color and tone. Hope you liked the one we picked!

-Mal x

Last updated: Oct 01, 2006 - 04:51 PM PDT

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