At a time that many high-end garment printers were struggling to produce realistic images in CMYK, an artist took an entirely different approach that would eventually take the industry by storm.
But instead of attempting to reproduce a photographic image through process color, Gardner developed his own highly individual approach. He would start with simple line art or a photograph and use a Rapidograph to make a master black-and-white drawing, from which he would then create individual color separations by hand. “No full-color art existed,” he explains. “It was all created with black-and-white plates, kind of in my head visualizing what the final art was going to look like. To this day, when I think about the work that I put in, maybe 40 hours doing one separation, I don’t know that I could do it now.”
Because the company only had an eight-color press at the time, Gardner realized that further creativity would be needed to achieve the spectrum of colors he envisioned. Significantly, he decided to use a brown underbase instead of the traditional white. Beyond freeing up a print station and flashing much more efficiently than white, the brown allowed Gardner to get greater depth of color by printing on and off the underbase.
To get around the limited number of print stations, he decided to print everything but the underbase wet on wet, an unorthodox practice with design advantages others had not yet discovered. “As they say, paradigm shifts usually come from somebody who’s got no clue,” he laughs. “To me, I was just creating an oil painting on a shirt. Other people looked at screen buildup with ink picking up on the back of the screens as a negative, and tried to flash it and control the dot; I looked at it more like a palette knife. It was something that was going to help me blend the color underneath. I used it to my advantage.”
Another of Gardner’s early Harley-Davidson shirts from 1984.
Coudray says that this wet-on-wet, “smashed dot” technique was a big factor in the success of Gardner’s work. “The thing that was really cool was that he understood the relationship of the underbase to [color] saturation,” Coudray explains. “This is one of the reasons he was able to get such great-looking flesh tones, because the dot gain that is normally really intense in the highlight areas was now mixing with wet white, and in the process, it caused the color to pastel back.”
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