Bloomingdale Signs by Tomorrow turns a Chicago intersection into a massive art installation.
While city buildings can be massively beautiful thanks to inspiring architecture, these structures aren’t typically referred to as “colorful.” Looking to saturate building facades, sidewalks, and crosswalks in bold colors, Chicago artist Jessica Stockholder set out to transform the intersection of the city’s State and Adams Streets into a “three-dimensional painting” – one in which people could walk into and through.
The work was commissioned by the Loop Alliance, an organization dedicated to promoting the business district in the Chicago Loop, the Windy City’s historic commercial center. For the past several years, the Alliance’s Art Loop program has strived to energize the area by showcasing artists in temporary galleries that are open to the public. Previous Art Loop installations included 2010’s project, Tony Tasset’s “Eye and Cardinal,” a three-story eyeball smack-dab in the middle of State Street accompanied by 156 vinyl banners of the Illinois state bird. And in 2011, Kay Rosen’s “Go Do Good,” a mix of printed banners and painted murals told Chicago residents to “go do good.”
Color Jam – Stockholder’s vision of colors spilling out of windows, through doors, and into surrounding landscapes – would be the ideal Art Loop sequel. To tackle this dramatic makeover of one of the city’s busiest intersections, the Loop Alliance launched a search to find a qualified team.
Bringing the abstract to life
Bloomingdale Signs by Tomorrow (www.bloomingdalesigns.com) in Bloomingdale, Illinois, was chosen as the print provider to tackle the 2012 Art Loop installation, Color Jam. “We acquired this job through the Chicago Loop Alliance by a referral from a client we had worked with a few years back,” says Alan Schellerer, director of operations for Bloomingdale Signs by Tomorrow.
Color Jam would be Chicago’s largest-ever public art installation, and the art spectacular would require 76,000 square feet of media – enough material to make 50,000 vinyl records, wrap more than 130 city busses, or cover one-and-a-half football fields. “This would be the largest production by square footage that we had ever taken on,” says Schellerer.
“The artist rendering was brought to us as just a drawing of an idea,” explains Schellerer. Bloomingdale Signs by Tomorrow turned that idea into a reality, surveying the site and developing production files based on the exact measurements. The shop’s art department created a comic-book-like rendering of the intersection using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to show all of the sides of the buildings to be wrapped, along with all of the sidewalks in a single PDF.
“We presented the artist with our 3D drawing of exactly what the project would look like and a timeline of when each section would be completed,” says Schellerer. “Then, we did a lot of media testing to find the best material options, and presented printed samples for Jessica’s approval.”
The Loop Alliance provided Bloomingdale Signs with the Color Jam logo to be used in the shop’s design of the graphics, which were created using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. “We proofed all the concept drawings as PDFs, and then the colors were all printed and approved from the actual media,” says Schellerer.
Bloomingdale Signs’ thorough presentation ensured all the parties involved that the project could, in fact, be done. “Every work has its own challenges, but this project became a lot less difficult once we found Bloomingdale Signs. From the moment we found them, the whole project seemed possible. Before that, we weren’t sure,” says Stockholder.
Matching the media
The myriad surfaces to be wrapped – buildings, sidewalks, light posts, and more – meant that several types of media would need to be utilized to suit the needs of each area – four different products in total. “It was difficult to match three different colors on four different materials with two different types of solvent inks and paint,” says Schellerer. “We also had the additional challenge of two of the materials being perforated. This meant that whatever was behind those materials could greatly affect the final appearance of the graphics once they were installed. We spent many hours tweaking colors from material to material and actually bringing them to the site and looking at the colors on their respective buildings.”
The concrete buildings were wrapped in 10-ounce Supreme Mesh vinyl banner media from Ultraflex, digitally printed in 16-foot panels using the shop’s HP Scitex XL Jet 1500 then joined with a Miller Weldmaster to make five large building banners – one banner for each side of each building. “We also printed perforated vinyl from Clear Focus for the glass buildings,” says Schellerer.
For the streets and the sidewalk graphics, Asphalt Art, a foil-based floor graphic media, was used. “Typically this material is printed digitally on a UV-flatbed printer, but we found that for this particular application it was more cost effective for us to paint it. This also allows us to touch up the Asphalt Art after it’s installed, which we thought may be necessary since it will be installed for four months on one of the busiest streets in the city of Chicago,” explains Schellerer.
For the oval-shaped graphic in the center of the intersection, the shop pre-cut the shape using its Zund cutter to ensure they could install it as quickly as possible – so as not to interrupt traffic flow.
Lastly, General Formulations AutoMark Concept 230-54 conform vinyl was paired with General Formulations matte cast laminate and used for lamp posts, flower garden containers, columns, awnings, and more. Because they could not find colored vinyl in the exact colors specified for the project, the shop chose to print vinyl instead. The AutoMark was output using the shop’s 60-inch HP Designjet 9000. “The wrapped vinyl was a part of the project that would be seen very close up, so we refused to have any banding or visual imperfections on this particular material,” says Schellerer. “Even though it took 4-½ hours per roll for 30 rolls of the material, we got it done and done right.”
“The entire production time once we had color approvals was about three weeks; approximately 180 hours of total print time. Plus the three days it took to paint the Asphalt Art.”
Like wrapping a basketball
With production complete, the team was allotted eight nights from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. for installation. Fourteen Bloomingdale Signs installers along with 10 Chicago Loop Alliance volunteers took to the streets to install the monumental project. “On the fifth day, we were rained out, which cost us an entire night. So, the install was actually completed in only seven nights,” says Schellerer.
The installation included wrapping many difficult items like intricately designed light posts. “Anything in a round shape is difficult, kind of like trying to wrap a basketball,” says Erik Marciniak, a Bloomingdale Signs’ 3M-certified installer And with all of the intricate designs in the light pole, it takes a lot of heat, a lot of time, and a lot of patience.” On the final night of installation, the team wrapped up at about 4:00 the next morning.
Color Jam will be displayed through September, during which the Loop Alliance invites the public to participate in a series of programs – or “Jams” – taking the form of concerts, talks, and happenings throughout the Loop. In addition, several Loop businesses are offering Color Jam-themed specials, ranging from drinks called “color-tinis” to “jammin’” hotel discounts. Color Jam’s “Jam Cam” streams live video of the intersection on the Loop Alliance website (www.artloop.chicagoloopalliance.com) of pedestrians and traffic interacting with the installation during their daily commute.
At the end of installation, Bloomingdale Signs will handle wrap removals from all of the buildings and street objects, while Loop Alliance volunteers will remove the street graphics.