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    By Jenny Kiefer

    “Living in Louisville for 20 years, I felt like I had a good understanding of what the Derby Festival was,” screen-printing artist Ron Jasin says. “Now that I’ve become very intimate with it, I’ve realized I had no idea what the Derby Festival was.”

    The Kentucky Derby Festival has had an official poster since 1981, and this year Jasin designed it in the same style as his popular Louisville neighborhood series: chunky buildings identified by a playful script, dancing figures, iconic features. In the month leading up to Derby, KDF puts on some 70 events (from Thunder Over Louisville and the Pegasus Parade to the Chow Wagon and BalloonFest). Jasin depicted much of it on the poster. A Pegasus with flowing, lipstick-red wings is in the center. Marathon runners travel throughout the print. The Belle of Louisville is in the Steamboat Race. Bees represent the Spelling Bee. “The one thing that got cut that I was bummed about, but we just couldn’t fit it in, was the Bed Races,” Jasin says. “I think that’s insane that people build beds and do races with them.”

    Jasin, who’s in his early 40s and works as creative director at Copper & Kings brandy distillery in Butchertown, began screen-printing in his hometown of Detroit, making T-shirts and posters for local bands. When he moved to Louisville, he gave up his equipment. In the basement of his Germantown home, finished stacks of thick posters stand on tables. “When I was living in apartments, I wasn’t doing printing,” he says. “(With our house), we were really able to have a messy art space and then our living space too.”  

    Jasin, whose studio is called Madpixel, designs digitally, then prints each of the design’s layers as a film positive on a thin piece of plastic. To make the screen, he coats the plastic with emulsion fluid in a darkroom, then exposes the coated screens for four minutes in a homemade UV light box — a tanning booth of sorts. “If I’m burning a lot of screens, I’ll notice my hands are getting tan,” Jasin says. The dark spots on the film block the UV light, which allows the emulsion fluid to wash away, leaving a blank space for the ink to pass through. Each poster requires five separate screens: for blue, yellow, green, red and brown. “I’ve found that five colors is my sweet spot,” Jasin says. He prints each color individually, from lightest to darkest. “Limited colors is a fun design challenge to try to work within — how you differentiate things with those different palettes,” he says.

    In the corner is a large metal table pockmarked with holes, above which heavy-duty clips hang from the ceiling on thin ropes. This is “the vacuum table.” Jasin built it himself. “I put a little trigger on there, so the vacuum turns on and holds the paper tight to the table,” he says. Once he squeegees the ink onto the paper through the screen, the in-progress print goes to the ceiling-tall drying rack, each row opening like a mouth to receive a print. Once he’s filled the two racks, the early set is dry and ready for the next layer of color. Jasin did 100 hand-printed “special edition” posters ($75 each). In addition to that, KDF had 1,200 posters printed up ($30), plus 300 signed and numbered posters ($50).

    “The one thing that’s been challenging with this poster is, in the past, neighborhoods were always building-focused. I never did a lot with people,” Jasin says. “And people are such an important part of the Derby Festival. That forced me to look at how people would work in the print. It made me realize that not including people was kind of an oversight, because obviously people make a neighborhood cool. It was nice to have my process pushed in a direction that I hadn’t pushed it in the past.”

    All photos courtesy of Louisville Magazine

    This originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here. To find your very own copy of Louisville Magazine, click here. 

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