making of ‘U$’

First, I’m still trying to make a final decision on the title. Not, as I have struggled with for other paintings, because I have no idea what a good title would be. Instead, because there are so many possibly good titles for this piece.  So, because it made naming files easier, I’m referring to it as ‘U$‘ right now, but I’m considering a lot of fun things, such as ‘capital G‘, ‘one nation under…‘, ‘religious symbol‘, ‘idol worship‘, et cetera.  Feel free to chime in with suggestions.

So, here’s where this one came from.  After spending the morning writing this post and thinking about money for weeks and days and hours, it was time to try to sketch some ideas for a new painting.  What I ended up sketching was the dollar signs you see in the image on the left, below.  I’ve been taught, somewhere along the line, that the $ symbol had originally been based on an uppercase ‘U’ and an uppercase ‘S’ overlapping, and had relaxed over time to an S with two vertical lines through it and nowadays often only a single vertical line.  Since I often associate the idea of the “American Way” with no-holds-barred capitalism, corporatism, and since I personally consider money itself an evil I would prefer not to have to touch, you can see that between these thoughts it was less than half a page of sketches before I got to the symbol I ended up with, including the composition of the final work.

After sketching the concept with a pencil, it did not take long for me to decide that the background / foundation upon which this symbol belongs is the “grey area” that allows corporate f_cks to think it’s okay to ruin people’s lives and the world in the name of “market forces,” “profit,” et cetera.  I got out my black and my white and I made sure to emphasize the darkness of the grey, and to give the background a feeling of murkiness.  I don’t personally believe in “grey” in the way other people do – but putting it on a black background would have been both boring and extreme.  While the grey paint was drying, I got to work in Photoshop, creating a mock-up of the symbol.  This is a sort of continued sketch, for me.  I can play around with the details, refine the image, the colors, the composition.  The image you see below on the right, which I used to make stencils for creating the actual painting by hand, took me over four hours of computer work.

U$ - process step 1 U$ - process step 2

U$ - process step 3I then proceeded to work for two or three hours without remembering to take any photos of the intermediary steps.  No photos of the printouts of the outlines of the individual color areas, no photos of the canvas covered in tape, no photos of the printouts taped to the tape, no photos of the faint pencil line on the tape, no photos of the shape carefully cut out of the tape with the X-Acto knife (or the tiny place where my brand new, very sharp blade went through the whole thing instead of just the time), no photos of the green painted onto the tape, and no photos in the midst of peeling the tape off while the green paint was still wet.  The photo at right was taken in the first moment after the nearly eight hour haze of continuous work which enveloped my mind from starting the sketch to getting the “green S with feet” (as I was calling it) finished first evaporated.  Sorry I forgot to take more photos.

That took all night to dry.

The next afternoon I remembered to take more photos.  So first we have the canvas covered in blue tape, with the pencil lines quite evident, and then … well, I painted on the blue for the flag and the red for the flag and the horns and was getting carried away in a haze again and was already pulling up the tape from the midst of the wet paint before I remembered to take another shot.  The canvas is upside down, here, because I was peeling the tape away from the top half of the painting, and flipping the photo looked weird because of the angle.

U$ - process step 4 U$ - process step 5

U$ - process step 6And at right is what it looked like when I’d finished peeling the tape.  Looking good.  Dozens of paintings developing my stenciling technique over the last few years has made this whole process relatively easy for me.  I mean, I went to bed in terrible pain two nights in a row from the hard work of painting this piece, but -especially for the red, white, and blue- I had very crisp edges with very little leakage, vibrant colors with interesting variation & visual texture.  I found the result very satisfying.  There was not a perfect registration between one color’s edge and another, since the whole thing is done by hand, but that would all be covered over by the outlining I had planned for the piece.

I worked on another piece next, with the red and blue paint I had left over from this one, and after about seven hours’ drying, judged that the paint was dry enough to do the next bit.  You can see the next layer of tape (each pass in sequence covers less area, uses less tape, requires more time to draw and cut out more detail) applied, below, with the carefully hand-drawn stars and stripes traced on at left and ever-more-carefully cut out and peeled away at right.  I assure you, the whole thing was painstaking.

U$ - process step 7 U$ - process step 8

U$ - process step 9Finally, I painted on pure titanium white paint, careful with my brush strokes to try to keep from doing anything that would “leak” or otherwise cause problems.  Peeling off the tape at this step was the most difficult, because of all the tiny details of the stars.  About half an hour to lift a roughly eight-inch square of tape.  But it turned out quite well, I thought.  A few details that only a perfectionist such as myself could be disappointed by, which the camera doesn’t even pick up, but otherwise quite nice.  I let it dry overnight again.

The next day, after spending an hour and a half trying to find a silver DecoColor paint pen, I put the finishing touches on the piece, outlining the “green S with feet” in silver and tying the flag and horns together by outlining them both in the same black line.

So that’s the basics of making this painting; a lot of photos and not a lot of new process, since I was using a lot of old techniques to execute a fresh idea. The painting currently, perhaps temporarily, known as ‘U$’ is now available for purchase at

U$ - finished

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Author, artist, romantic, insomniac, exorcist, creative visionary, lover, and all-around-crazy-person.

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