Fighting Creative Block on the New York Brownstones Print

Brooklyn Brownstones Block Print

I originally titled this article ‘The Ugly Process Behind a Beautiful Print,’ because I liked the contrast between ‘ugly’ and ‘beautiful.’ But I decided that calling my own work ‘beautiful’ was a little presumptuous, even if I am happy with how it turned out. And believe me, I never thought I’d write those words, because making this print was SO HARD.

I’ve never had worse creative block on a print. I had a clear idea of the design in my mind. I’d already designed Amsterdam and Venice, so I had a look and feel established already. You’d think the New York version would be easy, right?


My first major issue was color. Venice and Amsterdam conveniently have unique architecture that sit on famous bodies of water. So although the buildings themselves were done in neutrals, the turquoise water added a pop of color and complemented the warm brown and cool grey really well.

Amsterdam Canals Block Print
The Amsterdam Block Print


Venice Block Print Brown
My first Venice block Print

No such luck with New York. Those famous New York brownstones are, well…brown. Standing over a grey street. Hmm…

I tried everything I could think of to incorporate some color. Yellow taxis, blue skies, green trees. I put the New York skyline behind the buildings. I added colored doors. Everything felt like it was trying too hard, and none of it looked right. Not to mention the fact that many of these options would have been extremely challenging to produce.

So, after many failed attempts, I put New York on the back burner and focused on other projects. I kept hoping the answer would appear when I least expected it.

Then, earlier this week, it hit me. Why was I being so literal about this? The style of the illustration is already an abstraction—so why was I married to brown buildings?

The line artwork is already whimsical and fun, so why not choose a color that is also whimsical and fun, but still reminiscent of the true color of the architecture?

And then I realized the answer had been staring me in the face. Reddish brown buildings in a more-fun world are obviously bright red! Plus the red is also a nod to the iconic ‘I Love NY’ logo by Milton Glaser (a famous graphic designer.)

Printing the Brooklyn Brownstones Block Print
Printing the Brooklyn Brownstones Block Print

After all that back and forth, I’m really happy with the way this print turned out. I snapped a picture on my phone after I made the first test print, and it ended up being my most-liked post on Instagram to date! All that work was definitely worth it.


Published by Alex Hughes

I am a graphic designer from Dallas who loves printmaking, travel, illustration, soccer, and psychology.

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