I am beyond excited to be teaching my Screen Print Basics class at Asheville BookWorks this weekend! This will be the first class I teach as the official new owner of Starfangled Press. In anticipation of the class, I want to share some details from one the first projects I completed under the banner of Starfangled Press. Hopefully, I can demystify the screen printing process a bit along the way. If you are completely new to the idea of screen printing or printmaking in general, I recommend you start here with, What is a Print? from the Museum of Modern Art.
This small but mighty 6.5" x 6.5" Mountain Laurel screen print required a deceptive amount of effort to create. Each print includes seven separate colors printed from six different stencils. All of the stencils were hand drawn, exposed on a screen using a photographic emulsion, and then hand printed one color at a time on Rives Lightweight paper.
The final edition size is 50, plus a large number of test runs and artist proofs. So if you are keeping count - and you are better at math than I am - that means that to create this edition I pulled a squeegee across a screen somewhere in the ballpark of over 400 times!
But how did I plan and assemble this image? Where did I start?
I think that one of the most difficult parts of learning how to screen print an image is simply learning how to start. What makes this more difficult is that there really is no one way. There are multiple ways, and, of course, they are all legit!
So, as I recount the process of how I developed this image, please keep in mind that this is only one of an endless variety of ways to accomplish the task at hand. And it is not the easiest way, because, well, I'm me.
This project began with a lot of scrap paper from a book binding project, and a desire to make a simple print depicting one of my favorite plants that blooms all across the hills of WNC in early spring - Mountain Laurel. I just love its weird little spaceship flowers.
First, I made a rough pencil sketch of the image I wanted to use. Then I made two versions of that sketch using only black india ink.
When planning an image you want to screen print, try to keep in mind a few general guidelines:
- Screen printing is a type of stenciling, and it is binary - either the screen mesh is open (creating a passageway for the ink) or closed (meaning no ink can pass through)
- When using a photographic emulsion, you create open areas of screen by blocking the emulsion from the exposure light. You do this by using a hand drawn or computer printed positive film. The black areas on your film positives create the shapes that you will be able to print - no need to worry about negatives or mirror imaging here!
- Your positive film (hand drawn or computer printed) of the image you want to print must completely block the light in order to work. Place the film on a light table or against a window on a bright day to check.
- If you are printing positives from your home computer or at the local copy shop you will probably need to print two and tape them together to get a solid black.
- For hand drawn positive films, I use tracing paper or acetate with india ink. When using this option, you will need to draw the image on both sides of the substrate.
- The negative areas of your image must allow light to pass through. Use a clear transparency or tracing paper as a substrate for best results.
- Typically, you will only print one color at a time. That means you will need a positive film for each color you plan to print.
Looking at the sketches that I developed in black india ink, I started to think about color and how to deconstruct the image. I wanted to have a few options for how I could pull this image back together, so I broke it down into several parts resulting in the eight positive films shown below. You will notice I've chosen to use the ink sketch with the stippling as one of my films. Each positive film below was created using india ink on tracing paper.
After many trial proofs, and many horrible color choices, I decided to use the stencils and colors represented below to create the final print.
Let's take a look at the printing process step by step. On the left, you will see the hand drawn positive film I used to create the stencil for each step of the process. On the right, is a representation of that stencil as it is printed in the progression of layers that come together to create the final print.
First, I used this stencil to lay down a solid white base for the flower blossoms on the cream colored Rives Lightweight. You can barely see it right? Trust me, it really helps the colors pop later on.
Next, I printed a layer of transparent pink to add some depth and color.
For the third layer, I used a bright green as a base coat for the leaves and for some details on the flowers.
On the fourth layer, I used a darker green to fill in the leaves and stems.
The fifth layer was printed using a very transparent grey with pink undertones. This layer brings in line work and stippling to the image.
The sixth layer was used to add some hot pink flare to the inside of the flowers, one of my favorite characteristics of this plant.
On the seventh,and final, layer I decided I wanted to tone down the contrast between the two greens on the leaves. To do this, I returned to the stencil I used to print the bright green in layer three. I didn't want to alter the bright green on the interior of the flowers, so I blocked those open areas of the screen prior to printing using screen filler. Then I was able to print only the larger areas using a very transparent red. Subtle, but important.
And that's it! I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have any questions!
By the way, if you are new to screen printing, this tightly registered, multi-color print process is exactly what I would tell you to avoid. Be loose and have fun!