Four Color Process: the inner world of dots and comic books


Comic Book, detail. Four Color Process. From a blog by Half Man Half Static

My regular readers know I've been a bit obsessed with making and or blogging about large scale reproductions of fragments from printed ephemera, particularly chromolithography, stone lithography and other early to mid 20th Century color-print processes.


Needle girl face detail. Cowan ephemera collections

Mid 20th Century Needle book. Detail. Liza Cowan ephemera collections.

I recently discovered the blog 4CP (four color process) by John Hilgart, the blogger known as   HM/HS Half Man Half-Static, A Curator of lost items. (Great name, by the way.) HM/HS writes in an early early essay In Defense Of Dots: The lost Art Of Comic Books: 

"Who is responsible for this art? At the level of a square inch of printed comic book, no one was the creative lead. 4CP highlights the work of arbitrary collectives that merged art and commerce, intent and accident, human and machine. A proper credit for each image would include the scriptwriter, the penciller, the inker, the color designer, the paper buyer, the print production supervisor, and the serial number of the press. Credit is due to all of them, to differing and unknowable degrees, for every square inch of every old comic. The hand of fate created this art, and it guides our hand as we search for 4CP images: We move a tiny Ouija board pointer across mid-Century comic books, looking for beautiful ghosts."

4cp.posterous from
Comic Book, detail. Four Color process. From

Jello, door handle, chromolithograph, recipe, dots, enlargement, liza cowan ephemera collections,

Jell-O booklet. Chromolithography. Detail. Liza Cowan ephemera collections. 

"However, in the decisive, paradoxical twist, four-color process created a form of depth even as it fought against illustrative realism. Whereas contemporary reproductions of mid-century comic art are truly closed and flat, old comic books are visually leaky and deep. Four-color dots perforate the flat surface of the universe, opening onto nowhere – some uncharted cosmos."


Comic Book, detail, enlarged 4 color process, dots,
Detail of Comic, 4 Color Process, from


snapdragon seed pack, stone ligthograph, detail, pink, flower, abstract flower, detail,, liza cowan ephemera collectiosn
Early 20th Century seed packet, stone lithograph. Liza Cowan ephemera collections


windows, comic book, 4 color process, dots,
Comic book detail, four color process, from

Read the whole essay HERE and make sure to spend some time in the 4cp archive for amazing images and really well thought out and well written articles. 

Paint by number: anonymous work from mid-20th century America

Paint By Number, the craze of the 1950's, swept the nation in the era of Eisenhower, Levittown, post war prosperity and a post war concept of leisure time.


 Paint by number, paris in the rain
Paint By Number, Paris In The Rain

Most of the Paint By Number sets of the fifties and early sixties depicted nostalgic scenes, historic and pastoral landscapes, adorable or noble animals, sentimental glimpses of "exotic" cultures as well as copies from the canon of romanticized European figurative art. Critics at the time were disgusted with the mechanized mass produced nostalgia.

 Paint by number mona lisa
Paint By Number, Mona Lisa

But now, with our vantage point from the 21st Century, these vernacular, anonymous painting have acquired the patina of age and distance. Have they have acquired the aura that Walter Benjamin wrote about in his famous  1935 essay  "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Or are we just  nostalgic for the more innocent nostalgia of the 50's. Are we caught up in second or third order nostalgia. Probably both.

 Paint by number craftint color set original box
Paint By Number, original box, Craftint color set. Photo Liza Cowan


In August 2007, Pine Street Art Works held an exhibition of over 100 Paint By Number paintings. It took months to acquire them, mostly on eBay. In addition to enjoying the paintings, I was fascinated by the subversive allure - the tension created between the pleasure of viewing the work, and the original and ongoing horrified responses by the gatekeepers of High Culture.

 Paint by number, exhibition postcard, norman rockwell clown, design by liza cowan
Paint By Number, Exhibition at Pine Street Art Works. Postcard design Liza Cowan. Paint by Number set based on a painting  by Norman Rockwell.

Although Paint By Number has been the subject of a show at the Smithsonian (as well as here at PSAW) and show up regularly in design magazines and blogs, there is still the vacillating response: are we allowed the pleasure we get from looking at, or making, these paintings?

 Paint by number mad magazine sept 1958
Mad Magazine, September 1958, spoofed the craze with a PBN of Alfred E. Newman. PSAW ephemera collections.


 Paint by number farm by river
Paint By Number, Farm By The River.


 Paint by number, bull fight, torreador, red cape
Paint By Number, Bullfighter


 Paint by number exhibit pine street art works
Paint By Number exhibition at Pine Street Art Works. August 2007

All the paintings in this post were in the 2007 exhibit. All are sold.

Paint by number as seen on seesaw




J. Megan Mays is one of my favorite customers at Pine Street Art Works. She gets what I'm doing -  and shares my passion for ephemera. Last week she brought in a disc of scans from her collection of vintage needle books so I could share them with you. Yay Megan, thanks so much for spreading the love of mid century needle book graphics.

The first three are just graphically stunning and simple. They are unusual for the genre because they do not feature people. I've never seen another one like this homage to sewing accessories.

Needlebook, sewing illustration, pin cushion, sewing tape measure, scissors, pins  

Needle book. Collection of J. Megan Mays. Made in USA.

Needlebook Ideal Laundry (house) from J. Megan Mays 

Needle book -Ideal Laundry. Collection of J. Megan Mays

Needlebook, Woolworth, needle illustration, thread, needles in sunrise

Woolworth Needle Book - Collection of J. Megan Mays. Made in Western Germany.

Typical for needle books is the travel theme because a needle and thread can be so handy on a journey. Railway, airplane, ships, even rockets are common themes for travel in needle land. This family seems on a mythical trip through the Alps.

Needlebook, family travel by train, family 1940's, rail travel, needle case, mother father duaghter in train

The Silvertown, needle case. Collection of J. Megan Mays

Here is the same family in a different, probably earlier guise. You often see the same graphic worked and reworked by different artists and factories.

needle book, maple brand, family looks at mountains, train travel, child pointing 

Maple Brand Needle Book. Collection of J. Megan Mays

This family of four is traveling by air. Or maybe they are welcoming Daddy home after an arduous journey by propeller plane. Gone are the days when we dressed up to travel.

needle book, family with airplane, travel, 1940's, airplane, lady in gloves, father hugs children

Reliance Needle Book. Collection of J. Megan Mays. Made in Japan.

This couple is off to the stars on their own private rocket.

Needlebook, atomic, ride a rocket, man woman ride rocket ship, travel to outer space 1940's 

Atomic Gold Eye Needle Book. Collection of J. Megan Mays. Made in Japan.

Meanwhile, back home, we revisit the theme of women and children sewing. Or, in this case, Mom is sewing and the kids are fighting.

Needlebook, mother sewing, kids fighting, huge sewing needle 

My Own needle book, Collection of J. Megan Mays. Made in Japan

And here we are back to one of the endless variations of a group of women sewing and embroidering.

Needlebook, lovely lady, three women sew, embroider, sewing circle, needle and thread 

Lovely Lady Needle Book, Collection of J. Megan Mays. Made in Japan

So, thanks to Megan for letting me use her collection and I hope you enjoyed it.


This summer marks the 400th Anniversary of Samuel Champlain discovering  invading the body of water known by the Abenaki as Biawbagok - the waters in between, and by the Iroquois as Caniadari Guarunti, the door to the country. The hoopla over the quadricentennial of Lake Champlain now begins.

Ephemera fans can rejoice not in Native American images but in a bounty of European-American images produced over the last hundred or so years. Here are but a few I've collected:

Steamboat Vermont 1809 postcard 

Postcard. Steamboat Vermont. copyright 1909. PSAW ephemera collections

Steamboat Vermont postcard back 

Postcard back.

"This is a picture of the first Steamboat on Lake Champlain. (and the second in the World) It was built and launched at Burlington Vermont, in 1808, just 200 years after Champlain had entered its waters in a birch bark canoe.

The owners and builders were two brothers, John and James Winans; it was called the "Vermont;" and it was 120 feet long, 20 feet beam, 167 tons measurement; with an engine of 20 horse power, and commanded by Capt. John Winans"

Lake Champlain, steamer Ticonderoga, Lake Champlain, burlington 

Postcard. Steamer Ticonderoga.  Ephemera Collections PSAW.

Steamboat Ticonderoga web

The Ticonderoga is now at the Shelburne Museum, Shelburne VT.

"Built in Shelburne in 1906, it operated as a day boat on Lake Champlain serving ports along the New York and Vermont shores until 1953. In 1955, the Ticonderoga was moved two miles overland from the lake to Shelburne Museum in a remarkable engineering effort that stands as one of the great feats of maritime preservation."

Rock Point, lake champlain, huge rocks, tall rocks, rocks on shoreline, pink sunset, hand tinted postcard, vermont 

Rock Point, Lake Champlain. Postcard. PSAW ephemera collections

lake champlain, red rocks, auto 1910, women looking over fence, island lake champlain, burlington vt

Lake Champlain from Red Rocks. Postcard PSAW ephemera collections.

Red Rocks is about a mile from Pine Street Art Works. 

Diamond dyes, 1890's, children's clothing. clothing dye, burlington vt, wells richardson & Co, pug, girls with doll stroller, girls with little dog, girl carrying basket, park bench, sad girl, haughty girl 

Wells, Richardson & Co, Diamond Dyes Trade card. PSAW ephemera collections

Wells, Richardson & Co was a huge business in Burlington during the late 1800's up to the 1930's. I've always imagined that this image takes place at Red Rocks. See the Lake in the background?


For your viewing pleasure, some images from my matchbox label collection. 

Matchbox label, kali, made in india, calcutta, skulls

Matchbox Label, Calcutta. PSAW ephemera collections

Matchbox label, kali, india, calcutta 

Matchbox label. Kali, detail.

kali, matchbox label, skulls, india, calcutta, blue 

matchbox label. Kali. Detail.

Matchbox la petite sweden  
La Petite Safety Matches. Made in Sweden. PSAW ephemera collections.

I bought a slew of Swedish matchbox labels for Tove, of AO! Glass and Atelier Tove because she is Swedish and I thought she and her kids would get a kick out of them.

Matchbox sweden countryside

Countryside Safety Match. Made in Sweden. PSAW & Atelier Tove collections.

Matchbox swedishcockfight blue

Cockfight Safety Matches. Made in Sweden. PSAW & Atelier Tove Collections.

Matchbox swedishcockfight detail blog 

Swedish Matchbox Label, Cockfight, detail

And then there are the Japanese Matchbox Labels. Here are a few from my collection:

Matchbox japan dragonfly
Made in Japan. Matchbox label. PSAW collections.

Matchbox japan dragonfly detail blog 

Matchbox label, Japan. Detail

matcbox label. japan, fish 

Matchbox Label. Made in Japan. PSAW ephemera collection.

Safety match fish detail 

Matchbox Label, Japan. Detail

Safety match, swan, cupid. japan 

Matchbox Label. Japan. PSAW ephemera collections.

swan, red swan, blue swan, Safety match, japan graphic 

Matchbox Label, Swans, Japan. Detail


If you know me, or follow this blog, you know I'm a bit over the top about my Jell-O ephemera. I have almost every Jello recipe book ever made, starting at the turn of the last century. And I know that many of you come to SeeSaw for my Jello images. One of the top google searches that brings people here is "Jell-O and condensed milk", as well as searches for Jell-0 ephemera, Jello images, and the like.

Now I have some Jell-O images from my collections available as handmade handbags by Flashbags, and reproductions which are fine- art laminated by Silver Maple Editions, here in Burlington.

  • Hello jello silvermapled blog
  • Jello ice cream powder fine art laminated blog
  • Jello flashbag web
Jello flashbag web

Jello Desserts From Around The World.

In this week's mail: the great Jello book I blogged about recently.

This booklet, Desserts From Around the World, is from 1909, almost a hundred years old! It features very Eurocentric versions of people from around the globe and the Jell-0 recipes they've inspired. Here's the centerfold.

 jello desserts of the world centerfold. Liza Cowan Ephemera Collections

so you can see the details better:

Jello deserts from around the world centerfold, detail. Liza Cowan Ephemera Collections.

Jello. The model is Elizabeth King. Liza Cowan Ephemera Collections. Li


This one is the Paris Jello eaters. The Eurocentric version of Parisians is, of course, pretty accurate, Paris being a fairly European city.

Jello Desserts, Paris. Liza Cowan Ephemera Collections

The view of Eve in the Garden Of Eden- eating apple snow Jello - is a riot. I love her garment made of fig leaves. And the text - check out the embedded assumptions:  "Whether woman has always been privileged to prepare man's food for him or not, and to persuade him to eat, is a point on which history furnished unsatisfactory information." But hey, in 1909 women in the United States couldn't even vote.

Jello Desserts. Eve in the Garden Of Eden. Liza Cowan Ephemera Collections

There are additional pages for the Indians (i.e. Native Americans), "now a vanishing race," as well as natives of India, Hawaii,  Japanese, Russia, "oriental countries," and Holland. With enough encouragement, I will post some of these pictures.