Tuesday, January 25, 2011

In Which I Describe How I Do What I Do

Hey there!

This is going to be a process post. Many curious people have asked me how screen printing works, since it's not the most common of artistic processes (though it's certainly been blowin' up lately). Then I launch into an overly detailed description of how I do it, their eyes glaze over, and nobody wins. I'm going to solve that problem riiiigghht... NOW. Here is a start-to-finish description of how I do my screen printing, though it gets a little wonky towards the end.

So! Today we will be printing thank you cards. Because we all need thank you cards from time to time, right? Remember Mom bugging you every day to try and get them out within 6 months after Christmas? Anyway, I like to have some around (specifically, some that I like) so I'm more inclined to send them out in a timely fashion.

My printing method is what I like to call the Art Store method: all of the required software (and some of the hardware) can be found at your local art store, most likely, and it's all water soluble and non-toxic.  Required software: screen drawing fluid, screen filler (sometimes I call it "emulsion," but I'm not sure that's really right), water-based screen printing ink - I've been using Speedball Fabric Screen Printing Ink. Required hardware: a screen, a paintbrush, a garden hose, a squeegee and some masking tape, a press (or something else to which your screen can be attached via hinge clamps), and something to print on, of course.

A quick definition: a screen is a wooden or aluminum frame with a very fine mesh stretched over it. The mesh on the screen I used for this project was 305 count, meaning in one square inch of the mesh there are 305 threads crossing. It's very fine, so it looks almost like a solid, translucent film. Moving on; I'll try not to be so wordy for the rest of the post..

Starting off with a sketch, of course:

And then a more refined sketch (more refined than necessary, probably):

Then this guy has to get onto the screen.  Traced or copied, I have to get the design onto the screen in screen drawing fluid, usually with a paintbrush:

I usually go over this step at least twice, to make sure I have a very thick, solid layer of the drawing fluid on the screen. Otherwise, it won't wash out properly and I'll have to start over. (This has happened. It's infuriating. I learned my lesson.) I can check by holding the screen at an angle and looking for a uniform glossy coat:

The next step is to coat the screen in the screen filler - a red liquid that hardens in the screen around the drawing fluid:

The drawing fluid basically keeps the screen filler out of the area where you want your design to be. I apply mine with one of these bad boys, but there are other ways to do it, I hear. I tried, at first, with a squeegee (I saw that one demonstrated on a how-to blog someplace) and with a big paintbrush, but those were both such unmitigated disasters that I bought a screen coater and never looked back.

After the filler's all dry, it's time to wash out the design. This is best done with a pressure washer, but as I do not have one of these, I go with the garden hose. Something with a lot of pressure and a concentrated spray is good, to force out any stubborn bits of drawing fluid. You might think a mesh made of such incredibly thin threads wouldn't be able to stand up to such abuse, but it's crazy tough. (Against pressurized water and hard squeegees, I mean. Not, like, xacto knives and irons.. not that I've ever... shut up.)

It's a little hard to see, but all of the blue screen drawing fluid has washed out, leaving an open space in the screen filler where the design is.

Here's where it gets a little dicey. Once I got to printing the darned things, I completely forgot to take pictures. I thought about setting it all up and printing off a fake one just to show you how I do it, but that's a lot of set up and clean up and... so I improvised.  Thanks Photoshop!

This is a shot of the screen attached to the press. The screen moves up and down on hinges, and there is a flat, stable pallet below it:

This is a photo of the screen from above:

And that's about it! Basically: put the card under the screen, put the screen down onto the pallet, pull the ink down across the design with the squeegee, and lift the screen to reveal your print! In this case: 


Plus a little watercolor doodling in the background. (I know.. watercolor! I can't help myself.) I had a little trouble printing over the crease in these pre-folded cards, the ink bled a little as you can kind of see in the photos. I don't really know what to do about that.. anyone got any tips? Anyway, that's it, my screen printing process.  There is another, rather different method involving a photo-sensitive emulsion and an exposure unit, which I've been wanting to get into, and it is the method that I suspect most printers use. Because it's better. (In my opinion.) Someday, perhaps.

Well, I hope that was interesting! The more you know.. right?

Thanks for reading!

p.s. I am in no way an expert on screen printing. This is just the way I do it, and it is definitely not the only way - or the best way - to screen print. This is really just a quick overview of how my printing process goes, rather than a how-to.. that said, if you're working on a printing project of your own, and you have a question, I'd be happy to help if I can!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

It's 2011!

And it has been. For weeks now. You didn't really expect a timely post from me, did you? Have we met?

Aaanyway, I did manage to squeeze in one last printing project before 2010 went on its merry way.  I needed Christmas presents, but money is a little tight; I needed a calendar, but I always make a big fuss over choosing one. I got this awesome calendar about this time last year, and in a miracle of thinking ahead more than a couple of days, I decided that I could print a calendar! And give it to people! Because everyone needs a calendar! Plus it would be fun to make, and a challenge.

Here it is!

blue on blue

light blue on muslin

It's printed on Canson Mi-Tientes colored drawing paper (available at your friendly local gigantic chain art supply store) and good ole regular muslin.  Ink colors include dark blue, dark purple (you may not be able to tell the two apart from the photos), and light greenish-blue. Printed on a bunch of colors of paper, most of which aren't shown here, and the muslin which is just beige with some nice little brown specks and texture. It was lots of fun despite a couple of setbacks (as usual) - but I finished them up just in time on Christmas eve.




Since I'm such a prompt and organized person, I have yet to get these out to everyone I wanted to Christmas gift-them to. That said, if you want one of these, I have plenty and can always make more!  Let me know - I think all you readers know me personally anyway, so send me an email or leave me a comment or something!  Here are some more pretty photos I took while I was printing:

I hope everyone's 2011 is getting off to a great start!  As for me, the little ball of anxiety in my stomach is fast growing; I start classes in -count 'em- 11 days! I'll avoid the potty mouth, but the phrase repeating over and over in my mind is pretty much "Holy *$&%! Grad school?! Keep it together.."

More news soon - a process post! Good times :)

Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Bad Memory

 I'm calling this post 'Bad Memory' because I hate watercolors.  And yet even as I type this, part of my brain is thinking, "Hey, it would be fun to mess around with some watercolors. Think of the possibilities! Such vibrant colors!"  This happens all the time.  I will sit down, pull out the paints and some water and some brushes that were probably not designed for such an application, and 20 minutes later I will decide to never use watercolors again.  So frustrating.

However, I recently fussed around with them long enough to complete a piece that looks like more than someone mutilating a rainbow on a piece of absorbent paper.  And here it is!

A bit of watercolor, ink, and acrylic on some kind of rice paper I picked up in China.  It will hang on my wall over my desk to remind me that maybe I shouldn't give up so easily.

(more on December/January projects coming soon!)