Saturday, October 3, 2015

Ellen Raskin: The Tattooed Green Potato

Ellen Raskin's third novel was The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues. I've written about the book's content before, but the Kerlan collection has the production materials for the cover, plus a bonus bit of fun history.

First is the black-and-white artwork Raskin created with pen and ink:

Note (if you zoom in) that the inking is done in the pointillist style used by tattoo artists.

Then there are the rubylith overlays, cut by Raskin, to indicate the color use. These would have been photographed by the printer and made into negatives, just like they would photograph the black-and-white artwork. (Red is seen as black by the camera.)

This is the yellow plate, covering the entire background of the book.

Here's the red (magenta) plate, which calls out the flowers, wooden base of the easel, and a few other items.

On this (and the blue) separation, you'll see there are blue pencil notes indicating different percentages of coverage -- 60 percent, 30 percent, and so on. (Blue pencil like this is invisible to the camera.) The printer would have dropped half-tone screens with the appropriate dot coverage into those areas on the negatives, rather than leaving them solid.

Note that if two areas of different tints were touching, then Raskin used ink to draw a keyline around the area, rather than cutting rubylith. For instance, check out the cloth drape that covers the left side of the canvas in the illustration -- she drew a keyline for the shape and marked inside it to indicate it should be 100 percent red (magenta). When you overprint that transparent magenta ink onto the 100 percent yellow from the other plate, you get a bright, solid red on the final printed cover.

Finally, the blue (cyan) plate. This also has heavy coverage over the background (with the 100 percent yellow, that will make a solid green background). Raskin has also indicated some blue tints to create lighter green colors for the back cover's plant foliage.

The overlays are taped on in layers over the primary black artwork. Here they are all stacked up (and held in place by the hands of Daughter Number Three-Point-One). The only parts that show through as white are the painting's canvas -- where the title will be printed -- plus the clock face and a couple of small parts on the pipe and the paintbrush. (I can't figure out why the title area on the spine, which is white in the printed version, is set up to be yellow on this rubylith. It makes me think perhaps Raskin changed her mind about that color use after she saw the final proof.)

When you print all of those overlapping inks, as in this printed copy of the cover... get more colors -- 100 percent yellow overlaying 100 cyan for the deep green, or yellow overprinting magenta to make red. Notice the darker orange in the spine banner and the lighter orange in the easel and flower.

The fun extra bit of history was a note, dated November 18, 1974, from Raskin's publisher that accompanied the artwork and separations in the Kerlan box:

In the note, the production department suggested that they pull back the blue from the background because they thought the green was too dark, and therefore "the color values are too equal overall." Instead of 100 percent cyan, they suggested changing the blue to 60 or 70 percent. This would be more attractive, they thought, "and not fight with all the other color values."

Raskin's response is written at the bottom:

11/21 - Called. No. I like it just as is. ER
Here's what the difference in the two greens would have been like:

That change would have been pretty significant, changing the look of the palette from primary colors to something that's more springy or hopeful or something... I think Raskin made the right call.

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