The first thing to say is that with few exceptions, what's currently posted here was done between the ages of 13 and 15 (the majority of creation dates for what's up here range from January 1977 through March 1979). So on the one hand this was early work; but on the other, not much came after. This was pretty much my period as an artist, certainly of my heaviest output as one. I do ocassionally return to it, and am always pleased to find I haven't forgotten anything; I've just been off doing something else for a while.
None of this was done in art classes, it was all for personal enjoyment and expression. My training consisted of discussing ideas and techniques about art with big brother M., (he being a terrific artist- check the Paper Bag covers, ads, flyers, etc.); of reading books; and of just throwing myself in and seeing what I could do.
About a year before I started making my own art, I took a brief foray from building model kits into doing paint-by-number kits. One day M. saw me fooling around with one and explained to me how they mapped out the colors- they drew around the outlines of shade and color in the original and then reproduced the map, which you then painted in. He showed me an example of this by taking a pen to a picture in TV Guide and drawing patterns around the different shades. I thought this was fascinating. I didn't do anything with the information just then, but stored it away for later.
One very dark and stormy morning in September of '76, I was stuck in the library at school- I was to waste an hour in there each morning as part of a "special assignment". By the front door, they had a Xerox machine and a floor to ceiling shelving unit for magazines. First, I found myself leafing through the magazines; and I believe at one point I found something I liked in"Popular Photography" and tried to photocopy it. The result was disastrous; the copy was too light and you could barely see the picture. And of course I was out of change. I took it back to my seat and stared at it for a while, despondent. And then it struck me that I could have some fun with it by outlining the few remaining scattered bits of picture that had come out, as with a paint-by-number kit, and then fill in all the blank areas with whatever I wanted to.
The result was dramatically good, way better than I possibly could have expected, and I knew I was onto something. Not only was I able to add new things to the picture in the blank spots, but even the parts of the picture that remained were radically changed by the outlining process, and could be taken into whatever strange territory I chose, there was nothing that said I had to leave things remotely photographic.
I'm not sure if it was that morning or later that I chose to call this thing a Xerograph. Xero for Xerox, Graph for picture. Eventually someone broke the news to me that there was already a similar process called Xerography used in animation; and so without skipping a beat I changed the X to a Z and the Zerograph was born. The sound of the word didn't change and the negative connotation struck me as funny.
I found there were two ground rules for producing a successful picture from this process. The first was that the worse the photocopy, the better the canvas. Obviously there were limits, you didn't want it to go completely white, but the point was to make sure that large portions of the original image didn't transfer. Hopefully only the highlights (or less) remained. Thankfully this was 1976 so that was no problem. (By 1978 photocopiers had advanced to the point where getting a poor enough quality reproduction had become a real problem- which was one of the reasons I stopped doing it. But back to the point...) The other thing was the choice of pens. I found that nothing but a certain type of free-flowing nylon-tipped fine point pen did the trick properly. It was called a Niji Stylist and my father could get them from work. I tried all sorts of other pens and either the ink or the point or something went wrong. Regular felt-tipped pens bled like water, offered no real control, ball-points required too much pressure, scratched the paper and smeared. The few sharp-tipped nylon pens they did have available had problems with the ink flow and would leave you scratching at the paper one minute and flooding it with unwanted ink the next. Useless. This was in the days before things like Pilots and Sharpies, there are a million things that would work all right today, but back then, these were it.
For the next couple of years then, I launched into doing these on a very consistent basis; you'll notice that some of the dates of creation on these pieces are within days of each other. I tried all sorts of variations: different colored inks, colored pencil, black on black (light and dark). I experimented with the source material, from altering the originals before they were photocopied, to using my own photographs and in one case my own hand and jacket.
And so, more than 20 years later, here's a good selection of my artwork. While this is early work, I'm still proud of it today. I hope you enjoy it.
Return to the Art Gallery
Return to the Greg Segal Home Page