Thursday, March 1, 2012

They Always Come Back

Freddy and I have been dealing with lots of distractions from Death's Head, but on the positive side, I've written a horror story and self-published it on Amazon Kindle and in PDF form.

It has been very well reviewed here on this blog and it has nine positive reviews on Amazon so far!

I worked on the story with my friend and mentor, Jim Shooter, who edited it and wrote an introduction and this description for me:

The love of your life is knocking at the door. He wants in. He’s been dead for weeks. But he’s back. And he really, really wants to be together with you again. “They Always Come Back” is a deeply troubling horror story. It’s a romance, you see. 
Jim mentioned it on his own blog:

If you'd like to read it you can get it on Amazon for the Kindle:

Or you can direct download a PDF version:

I'm also recording an audio version right now. Which is way harder than I thought it would be. But I'm also looking to make it extra ginchy and having an original score written for it by the marvelously talented Joe James. If the preliminary opening music he sent me is any indication, it's going to be incredible. But read the story now! It's only 99 cents!

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Political Artist Award

We mostly produce our shirt designs for our own shirts that we silk screen by hand, but I also have many of my designs on Zazzle and Cafe Press in my shops.

Zazzle sent me an announcement today:

You've won a Political Artist Award!

Congratulations, JayJayJackson!

Your product, Liberal, Born to Raise Issues!, has been hand-picked as an example of creativity at its finest. Out of thousands of political products on Zazzle, yours was chosen for being one of the best!

The Liberal shirt has been a very popular one. We silk screen the design in one color for ourselves, but the multi-color version is for sale on Zazzle.

Anyway, it's nice to be appreciated!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A New Blog

When we go to shows and conventions people recognize that the things we make are different from most t-shirts and accessories. And many ask us about our process. We do all our own screen printing and many people are interested in doing that too. And we started out on very little and a lot of folks are in that situation, too.

So I’m writing “Adventures in DIY Screen Printing” and hopefully it will help some other artists who are looking to express themselves the way we are. I feel that the more artists there are doing this, the better it will be for everyone, artists and consumers alike.

Have a look. Feel free to comment or to email me. I always welcome suggestions and I’m always trying to make what I do better.

Adventures in DIY Screen Printing

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Thoughts about "Thoughts of Bed"

I've started writing down the stories behind the shirt designs I come up with. All of the designs come from influences or situations in my life, so I thought people might like to read about that.

The first one I started with is one of our most popular shirts... Thoughts of Bed.

This is a pretty simple one but there was a journey to get to the end design. As a freelancer and life-long “night person” I’ve struggled with being tired a lot. And maybe, sometimes, I might be the tiniest bit grouchy when I’m sleep deprived. So, I thought it might be nice to warn, um… let people know in a non verbal way, from a safe distance, that it was one of those days.

I started out with a kind of cartoon thought balloon with a bed in it. The basic idea was already there but it was too damn perky looking. So then I tried making it a little more distressed and fuzzy around the edges, but it wasn’t quite right. It just looked messy. Then I thought of an idea that might more accurately reflect my mood. I imagined dipping a square of potato in ink and pressing it into a design with my sleepy fist. So I translated that image into a method of block stamping on the computer in Photoshop. After some playing around with that I had a design that I felt reflected my “Hmn? Grr” mood.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Hard Way

I had a dream. It seemed a modest one, and yet… so out of reach. In 2007 I was already a freelance artist working out of my one bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. But I had wanted to start silk screening the t-shirts and posters that I had been jobbing out for years. You never get exactly what you want when you have someone else produce a product from your art. And it costs much more than doing yourself. But I couldn’t do it alone. Especially in the space I had. Or lack of it.

My dream was to do the kind of innovative stuff I could think up, but couldn’t get the screen printers I hired to understand. I wanted to do eco-friendly stuff, which is far from what most were doing at the time. And I wanted to experiment, try crazy things, play. You can’t hire people to do that for you.

I envisioned a lean, mean guerilla screen printing outfit, doing things better because we’re smaller and more hands on. Doing things the big guys can’t do, won’t do. Fat birds don’t fly!

So then Freddy and I met April 24, 2007 at the bar Otto’s Shrunken Head where we had both come to see a band. I commemorated the event with a hopeful diary entry that day which reads “he’s cute, seems nice.” It may not sound all that encouraging but you have to read between the lines of my diary speak. I was cautiously crazy about him. I always write cautiously in my diary. I’m sure that someone will get hold of it and read it. So I make it mostly boring to hide the occasional spicy stuff. Actually, it’s mostly just boring. We’ve been an item since that day. About 5 or 6 months after we met I popped the question and we started Deaths Head Designs.

So we set up the business in Freddy’s basement, hiding the operation from his landlord… we were secret screen printers. Silk screening in secret is a huge amount of trouble. Trust me on this. It’s not something that is easy to hide.

Then, a huge improvement! Those very same band friends of ours that brought us together gave us part of their rehearsal space to set up our operation, which was great, but the lack of heat in winter and sporadic to non-existent water supply to wash out screens caused some problems and delays. Fuses blew out regularly, it was a game of musical outlets.

And even though we did manage, with quite a bit of trouble, to put together enough money to buy the biggest piece of equipment we badly needed, a forced-air flash dryer which all those eco-friendly inks require, we found that the electricity in the building wouldn’t support the unit.

So we weren’t quite there yet… but we started looking for a new place to live that would also accommodate the business. That we could afford. I put almost everything I owned into storage and moved in with Freddy to save money while we looked. And looked. And looked. Almost a year of me living out of a suitcase later, we found our apartment. We had a list of requirements and a list of extras. It had all of the must-haves and a couple of the extras. It was $50 more than the price we had figured we could afford. Not too bad. So we took it. It wasn’t as convenient to public transport as we would have liked, but we had a car thanks to my friends James and Robyn giving me one.

Problems arose. One month after we moved in the car died. The basement has flooded 3 times in the less than 4 months we’ve been here. For 3 completely different and unpredictable reasons, mind you. But we’ve been buying plastic bins and building platforms for everything. And we kept continuing to unpack, settle in and set up our studio.

Well, today we finished our first silk screen job in our new basement studio. Yesterday and today we silk screened shirts and messenger bags and totes. And cured the ink, not with a heat gun, but with our forced-air flash dryer. Which did not blow a fuse!

We silk screened, came upstairs and made lunch and dinner and went back to work. We were warm and comfortable. We had what we needed and our equipment all works! We tried out some new inks I had ordered and they came out great! I just finished wash testing a few of the shirts in the washer and dryer in the basement (NOT coin-operated!) and they came out fantastic. I’ve wanted this for so long. And it feels good. In fact, It feels damn good. Getting what you want the hard way, is still getting what you want, right?

Now if I can only stop the fear monkeys in the back of my brain who are saying that this is all fragile and it could all fall apart tomorrow. Carpe diem. Noctem? I will live for today. Today, anyway. Stop it, Monkeys!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Market Research

The poor man’s product testing site: Café Press. Well, and Zazzle, Printfection, etc. For a while now, I’ve been putting designs up on Café Press to see if there was enough interest to rate screening them up. If I have designs I’m certain of, we go straight to screening, but for designs I’m less sure of or want to experiment with, it’s a way to do that for free and maybe even make a little bit.

Freddy has had a couple of ideas that I really haven’t been too sure about. He has good ideas and they are funny, but I’m not a fan of, um, bathroom humor. So today we set up a Café Press shop for Freddy. We quickly put together a few of his ideas for shirt designs and I drew up a logo and, viola! Market Research.

The design he is most delighted with is a silly one for shirts and boxer shorts that would seem to be a "male thing."

But Freddy's nephew came over this evening and he already wants to order one. So what the heck do I know?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Necessity - Mother of an Invention

On many of our dark colored shirts we use a type of ink called discharge ink. It gives great results by removing the dye from the shirt and simultaneously re-dying the shirt with the color of the ink. It produces a shirt that is soft and comfy, making the print a part of the shirt fabric itself. This type of ink requires heat to activate its magic. 320 degrees of heat for a couple of minutes to be exact.

Did you read before where I said we were on a tight budget? It sucks, but we are NOT going into debt to get our business off the ground. Been there. Regret that. So we can’t always afford the things we need. Like this really great, really expensive flash dryer. Really, really expensive.

So, We are still curing our shirts with a heat gun. Call us crazy. Many do. We don’t even disagree. It takes quite a bit of time to cure a shirt with a heat gun since you can only do a small area at a time. But Freddy has come up with an idea, brilliant inventor that he is. We call it “The Heat Gun Manual Conveyor Cure”. Ok, I just made that up, but maybe Freddy will come up with an actual good name once he builds it. See, Freddy reckons that he can build a stand that will hold several heat guns pointed downward at the proper height and we can slooowly drag a shirt under the array of heat guns to cure the ink faster and not hold up production as much since the ink has to be cured while it is still wet. This makes Freddy have to work really hard to keep the (water-based) ink from drying in the screen while I cure the shirts.

His idea could totally work if the circuit breakers hold out. I will keep you posted.

Friday, October 9, 2009


We bought a new shelf this week. A big, steel shelf to hold our screens and get them out of the growing number of boxes and bags we've stored them in until now. Now we can just flip through and find the screen we want instead of digging for them. A big leap forward in organization. Looking around our studio last night after we put up the shelf, I realized that this shelf is the only new thing we've bought for the studio, except our 4 color press. Everything else we have either made or found.

Freddy built the poster press out of materials in his basement. We scavenged a table off the sidewalk to mount it on, a book shelf put out for the trash to store our inks and a we found the desk to mount the 4 color press on when we moved into the studio. We have several large platens we've made from sink cut outs that were left as trash outside a kitchen counter top company. We bought our 1 color press used. The piece of glass we use to expose the screens was formerly the door to an entertainment center and it's mounted above an old light unit I bought used back in the 80's. We also have a scavenged locker and milk crates (turned sideways and zip-tied together to make them into a shelf unit) for storage, We bought used store fixtures that we use for our show booth backdrop and a clothing rack. We've saved a lot of money and we are so green! We even use environmentally safe inks and cleaning products, which work amazingly better than the non-environmentally safe ones. This is really what I wanted to be as a company. I love it.

"You must be the change you wish to see in the world."
— Mahatma Gandhi

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Our New Studio

When we decided to start Deaths Head Designs, we knew it would be tough. We didn’t have much money, barely enough to cover a little bit of equipment and a few supplies. Freddy even built the poster press out of materials that we scrounged up or already had. We didn’t have enough to rent a real art studio to work in so we started out printing secretly in the shared basement of Freddy’s apartment building in Staten Island. The landlord wasn’t crazy about the idea but we had to get started somehow. So we were illicit screen printers for a while, printing in secret and hiding all the evidence after we were done. It was a huge pain. But now all that has changed! Clandestine silk screeners no more. We are coming out of the closet.

A band we work with, The Saints of Pain (who are an awesome band, btw), have gotten a big new rehearsal space and generously offered to share it with us. We do all their shirts and stuff anyway and they even have paid us to learn on their shirts in the beginning! And we had a lot to learn.

I had done a little silk screening before. Back in Texas I worked for a silk screen printer doing artwork. And when we (Jim Shooter, myself and the crew) started Valiant Comics we had absolutely no money to spare so at one point I bought a Speedball hobby kit and screened up some t-shirts for us employees to wear to a comics convention. And when my friends David and Maria Lapham started publishing their own comic, Stray Bullets, we got together and screened their first t-shirts in their kitchen in New Jersey. All with great results! So I knew this silk screening thing was totally do-able.

For many years I’ve wanted to start a company that would allow me to use my art for what I wanted, instead of doing what other people wanted and not even owning what I do. I live in a tiny apartment in Brooklyn with too much stuff so doing it all myself just wasn’t an option. I tried doing some designs and having other silk screeners print them, but the results were just never what I wanted. Most silk screeners use that plastisol ink that sits like, well, plastic on the surface of the shirt. It’s very easy to print, but I don’t really care all that much for the feel of it. I had this one really cool shirt that was different… softer, more subtle and like there was no ink on it at all. And I knew that type of high quality style was what I wanted to do. But it was all just a vague yearning to create with no way to make it happen. Until I met Freddy, fell in love, saw Freddy’s basement and a few things clicked.

See, Freddy is an artist too. He used to draw and paint and do all sorts of things some years ago, but life got in the way and the art in his life had gotten edged out. But he has an incredible artistic sensibility. He has a keen eye for art and fashion and wonderful taste. And he’s as picky as me! (I do a little dance of delight) And he had mentioned more than once that his dream was to own his own business. Me too! So, in the fullness of time (we had been dating 5 months) I pitched my idea for us to start silk screening posters and t-shirts. I may have slightly exaggerated my experience to him but, c’mon, I’ve always been a quick learner and I am, after all, “Research Girl”.

So I figured out how that cool shirt of mine was made (it’s called discharge ink!), did ridiculous amounts of research on the internet (I have many homemade instruction booklets and printouts to prove it), got tons of advice from my helpful buds on (thanks especially to Andy and Luther!) and we bought instructional books and dvds and dove right in. A good many very frustrating mistakes later we started to get a clue or two and produce some good results. Freddy is turning into a great screen printer and it’s so nice working together. We both love it. He can always see just what needs to be improved in one of my drawings, too. Most of the time something will be bothering me about a drawing and I can’t figure it out and he’ll take one look and say “the flames are too wide” (or something similar) and it’s exactly what’s wrong.

Together we are greater than the sum of our parts. And isn’t that what a good partnership should be?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Creation and Death

Introductions: I'm JayJay and together with my partner, Freddy, we started Deaths Head Designs to express our creativity and bring it to the world.

So when I came up with the name for our company, Deaths Head Designs, it wasn't something I had thought deeply about at first. I have a clothing store in Second Life called Death by Design and that name was taken in the real world. So I searched for Deaths Head Designs and it seemed free and Freddy and I both liked it. But while I was coming up with the company logo, I was looking at "deaths head" images from history and New England tombstones in particular for inspiration and that led to my thinking about the symbolism.

Winged skulls were a popular symbol on tombstones in the 19th century and seem to represent the flight of the soul from the body. Like the symbol of the winged hourglass and the latin phrase "Tempus Fugit" or "Time Flees" the winged skull was placed on tombstones to remind the viewer how short life on this earth is. Instead of being a symbol of death, I see our logo as a symbol of life. An image to remind us to enjoy life while we can and make the most of our time.

It is said that "Those who fear death most are those who enjoy life least." To truly defy death, you would have to do something to fulfill your life. Some people seek pleasure, some seek to learn, some seek spirituality. There are as many ways to live a rich life as there are people. I personally feel like I was given the gift of drawing and writing... creating, I guess. I can entertain people with my work and I enjoy doing it. I feel bad when I'm not creating something. It feels like I'm wasting my life when I'm not working. Don't get me wrong, I seek my share of pleasure and I love to read and I enjoy discussing spiritual beliefs, but my creative work is my heart. I don't really fear death. Too busy, I guess. And I like skulls.

We have a new shirt based on these thoughts of mine that we are printing up next week.
Vitam ama quia mors sequitur - Love life because death follows.