Pencil Cop

Screen Printed Protest

The call for entries asked “creatives of all walks to craft posters of empowerment and discourse.” It was for a late summer show organized by AIGA Toledo. Pitched as The Design of Protest, there would be an opening party; a one-night showing with a silent auction. Looked like a fun opportunity to design some cool prints.


We have a small screen printing shop here at Madhouse. It’s all very grass-roots and manual and we like to make posters with our hands. Medium runs, not too many colors, mostly in the 25”x19” range. For a show and auction like this to make sense, the print run had to be a super limited edition. Like… three.

Ideas came pretty fast. Easy targets, lots of words, Russians. Objects or people on fire, big bold letters, confusion. It was all a little too obvious. As the resource folder started to fill up, a winning image emerged of police in riot gear. Pretty topical, this could make for a statement. Iconic. Anxious. Anonymous. Technically we could cut one out for a full body shot. Do a little retouching and there’s our central image.

Here’s one technique of successful poster design: paradox and juxtaposition. For example: construct an image that contains an element of anxiety with a detail that invokes peace. Think of rats and balloons. Or guns and roses. Safe or sorry. And for this, let’s ditch the words. Say something with a clever illustration. Let the viewer complete the piece.

Cops and pencils.

The pencil works on a lot of levels. We could talk about the written word as a tool, mightier than the sword. It could be read as a defense of writing. Or a commentary on cops in schools. A giant pencil is funny.


We’d have to make the riot cop a halftone. A photographic process whereby a grayscale image is reduced to a pattern of dots of varying sizes through a screen. This is crazy easy with Photoshop, but we have to keep the dot screen really coarse for screen printing. Say 20 per inch.

The pencil is just a splash of Ticonderoga #2 completely overprinted by the cop. That went down first. The paper is a sheet of Butcher Off White from French Paper Company. A bit lighter weight than most of our posters to give it a little street feel. The cop went down dark warm grey, halftones in our shop can get a little too contrasty, and that also gave it a worn down vibe.

The auction and party at Handmade Toledo was a huge success. Lots of wonderful designs and executions, but the Pencil Cop stole the show with a winning bid of $150. Thanks AIGA!

And! You can have one for your very own. Head on over to Handsome Prints and get you one.