Screen Printing

How It’s Done


– what’s involved –

Click on the images for a closer look…
Fig. 1
Fig. 2
The third in this series of penguin designs is now complete with the Magellanics. From one of the many photographs sent to me from the Falkland Islands I’ve taken two main groups (ringed in Fig.1) for the main interest. Then I looked through my files to find a seascape (Fig.2) that would give me shallows, rocks and seaweed in addition to the wet sand of the original photo.
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Using the edge-finder tool on my computer I then cropped out this grouping – now including a couple more from other shots – and superimposed them all (Fig.3) over the new seascape. Next I made an outline drawing of the complete composition which I then scanned back into the computer so that I could print several identical copies. These are printed on A3 artists’ newsprint paper which is good for stencils because it’s thin enough to cut with a scalpel but robust enough not to fall to bits too soon. Each colour requires careful cutting of its own sheet into a separate stencil and Fig.4 shows the first stencil cut (and torn to give a deckle edge) for the first colour: the light blue of the sky and shallows and nothing else.
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
This stencil is then placed on the first sheet of print paper which itself is laid on the board to which the screen is hinged. The screen is then closed (Fig.5) and all margins are masked off with parcel tape leaving clear just the reveal of the stencil underneath. Parcel tape is the best because it will stick completely (even to wet mesh) yet leave no adhesive behind after washing. Acrylic ink in the consistency of thick cream is then drawn across the stencil aperture by a squeegee. The stencil is then firmly captured by suction to the underside of the screen’s mesh, and opening the screen (Fig.6) reveals the first print. The small cardboard ‘stops’ are to ensure that each sheet is placed in exactly the same position on the board so that registration is the same for every print every time.
Fig. 7
Fig. 8
This accuracy is further ensured by cutting a couple of ‘marker’ shapes at the bottom of the stencil for the first colour (Fig.7) and cutting these same shapes out of successive stencils as well. This helps to locate them in the right place each time. Fig.8 shows the second colour for the sea, the ‘waves’ were achieved by laying thin strips of newsprint over the first colour to preserve it in selected places. After each colour the screen is washed and left to dry completely, as any residual dampness would distort the next stencil and spoil its alignment.
Fig. 9
Fig. 10
Fig.9 shows the third colour – the first layer of distant sand and near rocks. This is the tranquil stage. It’s when the work is about five colours in that it gets a bit dicey: one wrong mix – too light or too dark – can destroy the colour of the whole edition. And these colours always dry a bit darker than they look while you’re printing them so there’s always lots of opportunity for messing it up! Fig.10 shows the second layer of ground and from here on – as the foreground gets darker – the first few colours will appear increasingly lighter by contrast. This is why it is imperative to mix all your colours at the outset and to create a colour swatch to show that this transition from light to dark is properly balanced.
Fig. 11
Fig. 12
Fig.11 shows the third layer of ground – the distance is now finished, the foreground still building. Fig.12 shows prints drying after the addition of the sixth colour – the pink around the eyes.
Fig. 13
Fig. 14
The decision to print the first dark of the penguins next (Fig.13) was to help show me how dark I could go with the rocks (Fig.14 – eighth colour.) You can see how the first colours are beginning to recede, how the blue of the shallows appears lighter than the sky (even though it’s the same colour) to give the impression of distance, and how the interstitial ‘darks’ give definition to the rocks and bring them forward.
The finished piece (Fig.15) shows that seven more colours were added in total: the second dark to the penguins’ backs, two greys to one penguin’s front, and four more colours to the seaweed and rocks.

In the snowy edition (Fig.16) – the last sixteen prints in each colour run – the snowflakes were ‘added’ by placing tiny torn pieces of newsprint to keep the paper underneath white. This required two essential cautions: 1) the need to keep the screen mesh from drying out during the time it took to do all this (achieved by pulling all the ink across the open screen to keep it wet), and 2) remembering not to breath out, blow all the little pieces away and have to start all over again.

You will have gathered by now that patience and precision are your only friends in this process, but even so it’s always one helluva ride…!