ATAK Entrance // Gateway // Portal // Mandala
Earlier this year a colleague and good friend of mine, Adrian Lee, called me up and asked if I'd like to take on another design project with him. This usually means a few things, as I've done my fair share of projects for Adrian before. First, it's going to be something I'm proud to have contribute to. Second, I'm going to curse a lot and it's not going to be easy. Third, pray that my wife is patient enough with me to take on another of these projects.
But, it's rare in a designer's career that you get such interesting and varied projects as I have and so you just can't turn them away when they are presented to you. If there's anything I've learned after twenty years in the field, cherish the fight and run at the enemies presented to you. There you'll find your greatest strengths tested and fortified.
Adrian and I sitting in front of the final entry way to the new Art Gallery and Tattoo Studio in San Francisco known as Analog Tattoo. A feature space for the Analog Tattoo Arts Kollectiv.
So Adrian started with a series of sketches that later he inked out, the challenge was that when he decided to produce this massive steel portal into the new space the vendor doing the water-jet cutting couldn't scan the drawing at a high enough resolution to cut the final piece. When Adrian needs technical graphic design support, that's usually when I get a call. I believe the conversation went something like "hey, so you're as good at Illustrator as you are in Photoshop right?"
After some discussion I realized that I simply couldn't trace his "mandala" art for the entryway and that I would have to draw everying from scratch working out all the measurements and calculations for the math on the rotations, the divisions, the patterns, the scaling, and more.

The greater challenge was that because it was being output in a way similar to a plotter, it meant the final file had to be ONE VECTOR OBJECT. No compound paths, no multiple objects, one seamless and fluid piece that the machine could cut. This was the most optimized way to deliver to the vendor who would cut the steel entryway.
This meant spending an unbelievable amount of time testing Adobe Illustrator's Shape Builder tool. Because Pathfinder can be "sensitive" when objects start getting complex I couldn't use it after enough complex forms were subtracted from the final single object. When I used Pathfinder random holes would get filled in various locations and so it turned out that the Shape Builder tool worked perfectly. I had complete control, even though it was more of a manual process there were less issues overall.
Once done with the file, the guys back at the water-jet shop were figuring out the best positioning and scale for the entryway to the whole gallery. It's a HUGE entrance and because there is some symbology to having the radal core aligning just perfectly at the peak of the doorway they couldn't be off by much.
Arranging the final vector file I provided them in their proprietary application was a breeze. Simply provided them with a working vector PDF and they could import it directly into their program. Now they could arrange how to cut the whole form, and then cut the tiles so that it could be mounted into the existing metal window panes that face the street. The risk is you're playing with thousands of dollars in materials, extremely expensive equipment, and there's no do-overs like printing in paper without taking a major hit to the project. 

These guys nailed it.
The rubber ducky mascot floating on the water tray while the machine does it's thing cutting out and subtracting pieces from the thick steel.
Water and sand sprayed through a final nozzle head trace the path lines from Adobe Illustrator to subtract the negative space forms that are later dropped out of the final piece.
The reality of the piece starts taking on a new life in it's real scale and form. I was getting updates from the guys via Instagram and text messages because I know longer live in the Bay Area, California. So from Austin, Texas I eagerly looked to my phone every few hours to see what was the next evolution. It took over two weekends of the machine cutting full time for the final cutting stage to be finished.
Adrian getting hands on with cleaning off the plate to check the quality of the cuts.
Lifting and positioning one panel.
Rinsing off the sand and material residue on the first plate as it's removed from the machine.
That's one panel, and he's not a short guy! When I first saw this I remember thinking "holy sh!t, how big is this thing I just designed?" I was always working to an aspect ratio of the art. The math, it's radius, it's outward scaling and growth. But I never knew the actual dimensions of the front of the studio/gallery. So as I saw images like this showing up in my Instagram stream from friends there in SF, I was blown away. Easily the biggest most industrious thing I've ever been apart of as a graphic designer / production artist.
Beyond the size of everything, remember that it was steel. This isn't some sort of flimsy tin, because it serves as not only an entry way, but security for the studio/gallery. Larkin street in San Francisco isn't always the "best" neighborhood so creating a security element that was equally beautiful was form meeting function perfectly.
The guys beginning the installation using small L-brackets where it's added to the tile of each window pane segment.
I finally made it out to San Francisco shortly after it was installed. I brought my camera to grab some shots of my own, and this guy came rolling by right through my shot. "Perfect" I thought, exactly the sort of characters we'll see in this neighborhood and now the entrance to Analog Tattoo in SF, is a beacon for the neighborhood in art and style.
The guys did some treatment to the material after it was all cut. They added a chemical that helps patina the metal by making it rust and blacken in various areas. Eventually it should have a gradient from a blackening patina on top and an orange rust on the bottom. It's already starting to happen thanks to the moist sea air of San Francisco.
Because of some of the shapes, I reminded Adrian that it's important to go in and round out some of the cuts. This was actually a real concern because we didn't want kids, or passers by, to put their hands or arms through the gaps and get cut or hurt in some way. The final touches helped age the piece just a little more and brought more character to the form.
From inside the shop, looking out, the silhouette is beautiful and I couldn't be more proud to have helped produce this piece. It was a massive undertaking both technically and creatively. But when you have a great partnership where everyone is led by the same cause and not by one "boss" you can accomplish just about anything.
One last image of me looking out through one of the many moons in the piece. Thanks again to everyone that helped produced this final piece. Adrian and Trevor, you guys are amazing partners in art and design.
If you want to know more about the gallery / studio, or the tattoo work of Adrian Lee you can follow his instagram here: or you can check out the tattoo shop's website at
ATAK Entrance // Gateway // Portal // Mandala

ATAK Entrance // Gateway // Portal // Mandala

An industrial design collaboration producing a massive steel entryway for a art gallery and tattoo studio in San Francisco, California. The visio Read more


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