Interview with Albert and Piccolo’s Cecilia Grimm
What does it take to become a successful screen-printer? I decided to start asking experienced printers to find out. Each month I’ll be interviewing a new artist to find out how they got started and what they’ve learned along the way.
If you haven’t checked out Cecilia’s line of ferociously humorous clothing, Albert & Piccolo, your life knows no joy. Her highly successful shirts feature a menagerie of hand-drawn animals masquerading as vampires, pirates and… whatever the hell they want to! Not only does Cecilia screen-print, but she also performs as a trapeze artist and is probably experimenting with cold fusion in her basement. I caught up with Cecilia at Home Ec to ask her where she gets her inspiration and how she learned to screen-print.
How long have you been screen-printing?
How did you first get interested in screen-printing?
In 1999, I got the idea to open a store in Brooklyn called Albert & Piccolo,
named after two dogs. I found a space in Park Slope on the up and coming 5th ave. I closed four years later after a huge rent increase and an illness in the family that surpassed my store in importance. During the time I had the store, Piccolo’s mom Lissa West (my creative partner) and I decided to make logo shirts based on our lovely pets.
We went to the library and tried to learn from a book, then bought a kit from Pearl Paint and tried to burn our own screens- not the easiest way. We then contacted our friend Burton who attended Pratt University to guide us through the process using Pratt’s equipment. Which leads to question #2…..
Did you have any formal education or instruction in printmaking?
As I had taken other printmaking courses (lithography, etching, mono printing) I had a wealth of knowledge about printmaking except, of course, silk-screening. Burton was instrumental in our printing education. The first thing he taught us was that you didn’t necessarily need an ID to get in to Pratt. As long as you looked the part, one could just walk in after hours and help themselves to all of the handy-dandy machines and emulsion that make burning screens so easy.
There was a lot of trial and error, but soon enough we were burning screens and printing in our kitchen. I now get my screens burned at Standard Screens, as it is much easier and the older I get I realize that time is money.
The shirt ended up being a big seller in the store, as most people just came in to see the dogs anyway!
What’s a usual work week like?
After closing the store, my good friends and fellow store owners Heather Falcone, Patti Gilstrap and Seryn Potter of Flirt, were opening their second store. I’ve been at Flirt for three years now and work there 36 hours a week. They’ve recently opened a studio called Home Ec for sewing, knitting, and pattern making classes taught by the owners of Flirt and some the store’s designers.
They’ve also given me space to set up my press and flash dryer, and hang my trapezes (another ‘hobby’ of mine) so you can imagine this space oozes with creativity. It’s quite lovely to look at as well.
How would you describe your work and what/who are you influenced by?
Since closing the store, Lissa has moved, sniff, with Piccolo to Maui where they enjoy walks on the beaches and surfing… eating mangos. I’ve kept the name Albert & Piccolo as my label, but my designs are now are based on my drawings. My degree from Pratt was in painting and my influences are mostly painters. From Henri Rousseau, Basquiat, to Philip Guston. All creating fantastical landscapes and creatures, somewhat dark yet pretty and funny. Oh, and I’m highly influenced by Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking.
Do you use plastisol or water-based ink?
In the beginnning it was all acrylic- printing, drying them, ironing them each to heat-set. I used the dryer method to heat set a few times, but it only took one time of the dryer not being hot enough and the designs rinsing out, that I went back to heat-setting with an iron. After fours years of this method, I heard that a friend of a friend was selling his press and dryer. I went to see it and met Adam Suerte who now owns a tattoo shop (Brooklyn Tattoo) on Atlantic. I felt like it was time to graduate to plastisol and, having an actual press, I also wanted a means of printing by myself.
My friend Christine Ryan of Challengher NYC taught me everything I needed to know about my new set-up and printing with plastisol. (My first set up) was in an apartment, so of course I was concerned about the toxicity of the inks, as were my roommates. I did some research online and found that plastisol inks are relatively non-toxic, maybe rating a one on the scale. Not enough to warrant caution labels, like those on oil paint tubes.
I also thought it would be worse for the enviornment, being a plastic-based product, but since the chemicals that one uses to clean plastisol out of a screen degrade the emulsion, I only use one color for a particular design. Also, you can leave ink in a screen for a long time (a year or more) as it doesn’t dry. So, the frequent use of the sink and tub that I had with acrylics was almost 80% less (I’m a bit of a mess and have to wash my hand often, even with gloves).
How did the ideas for the children’s books come about and how has it influenced your business?
I have a lot of projects going at once, none of them quite finished. I’ve drawn out three children’s books that aren’t ready for publishing in any way and I’ve been procrastinating finishing them for whatever reason. I have, however, taken some of the pages of them and turned them into shirt designs. One is about vampire animals, and the other a band of pirate animals. They’ve proven to be quite popular with my customers.
What’s something you’d like to do in the future?
In the future, I have this idea to have a mash-up art gallery with a rotating installation and a permanent one, a spot for local designers, and one for rare and small pressed books. The permanent installation would also house artwork that has been passed down to me from my mother, who was an amazing artist, and my grandparents, who were both art collectors and photographers, and traveled the world with diplomatic interests.