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Ugly Art Possesses Charm and Character

Written by in Color & Texture, Features

The crude, messy nature of screenprinting is exactly what attracted designer Ryan Duggan to his craft of making what he calls, “Ugly Art.”

In Chicago, where the temps are currently freeze-your-ass-off frigid, the print scene is hot. “We have more pro-level screen printers in this city than anywhere else in the world, and yet it’s not an ugly competition. Everyone helps each other out. I love it here,” says Ryan Duggan, a one-man screenprinting machine, churning out posters, invitations, and art prints in the Windy City.

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Photos of Ryan Duggan by Winter Beach Productions.

He’s printed hundreds of gig posters since 2006, when he came to his senses after studying advertising copywriting at Columbia College in Chicago. “I realized I had zero interest in working in an ad agency,” he says. I’m sure his parents were thrilled. Fortunately, in high school he learned how to screenprint from a temperamental guy named Zim. Duggan recalls, “He would absolutely lose his shit if you called ink ‘paint.’ To this day, I cringe when people use the wrong term, expecting Zim to jump on a table and scream.”

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So he decided to try his hand at design and printmaking, after delving into the art scene and becoming friends with some local bands that needed posters. His set-up in the early days was more akin to a meth lab, which is how he came up with the moniker, Drug Factory Press. Working out of his two-bedroom apartment that he shared with a roommate, he created screens in his closet (the only lightfast room in the house). “Then, the printing was done hinge-less on a drafting table, and all washout occurred in our bathtub. Screens would inevitably clog within a few uses and I would stretch new mesh on the frames because I didn’t own a pressure washer (or much common sense),” he notes. Those early days are far behind him. He has since bought a house, expanding his set-up. “I have an exposure unit and washout booth downstairs, and I cut paper and print upstairs,” he notes.

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A true craftsmen in every sense of the word, he enjoys the entire handmade process, and the planning that goes into printmaking. “I really like working in multiples and there’s something appealing to me about the task being split in two very different phases. First, the creative work, and then the formulaic work of actually making the prints,” he says. He draws most of his stuff to scale, doing the lettering by hand, and then making the films. Duggan’s prints are decidedly crude, which is just the way he likes it.

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In 2015, Hozac Records published a book of Duggan’s gig posters called Dare to be Stupid, which sold out. He’s now self-publishing an updated edition which will be for sale in early February on his website and in local record and book shops.

“Fine art is pretty and all, but the ugly arts are more fun.”

Duggan book spreads