On Thursday, 8th June 2017, I managed to get a cancellation booking to do a screen printing workshop with Laura Slater at The Art House in Wakefield. A few days beforehand, I got the cancellation booking on the Monday morning, I received an email explaining that I needed to have my image ready to print. This meant having the master image and then separating it into the different colour layers that were to be printed.
At first I was going to do my screen print of my cute cartoon cat characters so then I could experiment with different colour combinations, but while I was sketching them out my little doggy Jeffrey kept looking at me as if to say “why are you doing cats when you could be doing a picture of me?” So I did a few sketches of him then painted my final master design and made the separate colour layers ready for Thursday morning.
The first thing we did on the Thursday morning was prepare our screens by applying a light-sensitive emulsion to the surface then leaving it to dry. While it was drying we photocopied each separate layer of our design onto acetate, doubling each layer up to make them even more opaque to stop the light getting through.
Once the emulsion was dry and the acetates ready we could then use the exposing machine to transfer the designs onto the screens. We did this by putting the acetate, with the design the correct way round, on the glass top of the machine. The screen was then placed emulsion side down on top of the acetate and the rubber lid lowered over them.
Next the vacuum was turned on so the rubber lid formed a tight seal over the screens, stopping any movement that could happen during exposure, then the shutters on the exposure unit were opened so the light could get to the coated screens. These were left open on a preset timer so that they were exposed to the light for the correct amount of time.
After the screens had been exposed we then needed to wash away the areas that had been shielded from the light by the design. This is how the photo process works, the light- sensitive emulsion gets baked onto the screen when it’s exposed to the light. Any areas that weren’t exposed to the light due to the design blocking it out doesn’t get baked. These areas can then be washed off to let the ink through when printing. That’s why it works better to do your design in black to make it as opaque as possible to stop the light getting through.
While the screens were drying, after having the unbaked emulsion washed off, the next job was to mix the inks ready for printing with. I needed a background colour, obviously I went for purple which I made light to contrast with the darkness of the black and grey, then I needed a black and a grey for the body. In my original design I had a black body with grey highlights for the ears and nose. Sadly I had to change this slightly and swap them round as the grey wouldn’t have shown up printed on top of the black, but apart from the eyes I don’t think that it negatively affected it too much.
Once the screens were dry and the ink mixed then we were ready to start printing. As the layers needed to print on top of each other I started by printing my background. I was doing edition printing, this meant that I’d been printing the same thing over and over again so I’d have a set of prints that were all the same. The joy of hand printing means that each one would still be slightly different though.
After the background was printed they were left to dry and I cleaned the ink off the screen. I could then set up ready for the next layer of printing. This meant securing the screen in the hinges that held it in place on the printing board, then lining up the background image to the screen so that it would print in the right place. Using masking tape on the corners of the paper to help register the next one in the same place.
You may remember from the blog post that I wrote a few months ago about my older work, read it here, that when I was studying A level printmaking I always felt that my registration let me down. So it was nice when Laura told me that it’s those things that make hand printing different to being perfectly printed by a machine. The so called mistakes or errors make each one unique even when it’s part of an edition. This made me feel a lot better and more positive towards that older work.
For the last layer of printing I again had to line up the paper with the new screen, using masking tape to help register the rest to the same spot. Also using the acetate print outs to help with this step too. Then it was time to leave them to dry and wash up the screens etc.
I really enjoyed the workshop, it was nice to go back to screen printing after the 15 or so years since I did it at college.
Till next time
Purple Faye x