the screenprint process
I’m a contemporary printmaker who uses screenprinting as my preferred medium. There are several stages to my process: from the initial concept, through to the development of the composition, the planning of the layers, then the creation of the stencils, the preparation of the screens, the testing of colours, and finally to the printing itself.
Screenprinting is a stencil-based printing technique during which colours are built up in layers to create a final image. The starting point of many of my prints is a photograph that I’ve captured which I then work on digitally: deconstructing, reinterpreting, manipulating, distorting, simplifying, adding to, and generally playing with composition and colour. I bring in hand-drawn marks and other abstract elements too; or sometimes the whole image will be made up of these hand-drawn elements and a photograph will only be used as a reference, if at all.
This early stage involves breaking down the image into a small number of layers, each of which will print as a separate colour. This is a stage I find both challenging and exciting as decisions about composition and colour are made – bearing in mind that overlapping layers offer yet more colour possibilities – and unnecessary details are discarded in order to simplify the composition. Very often, it’s at this stage that the other design elements end up superseding the original image to the extent that there may be very little of the original photograph retained in the final print.
Once I’m happy with the overall composition I output the artwork which will form the stencils and the process moves to the print studio. The artworks are exposed onto a mesh screen coated with light-sensitive emulsion: one image for each colour to be printed. During exposure, the areas exposed to light harden, whereas areas covered with an opaque image remain soft. The screen is then hosed down and the soft emulsion areas are washed away with water - so revealing the stencils. The final stage is the printing, during which ink is pushed through the mesh of the stencil with a squeegee.
A critical part of the process is choosing and then mixing colours, and at this point I usually print test strips to check that I’m happy with the colours I’ve mixed, that they work well together, and that when they overlap the result is as expected. In fact, often it’s not as expected but that makes it all the more exciting! It can take some time to get the colours that I’m happy with, so I may do a few different variations before deciding on the combination that I want to use for an edition.
As I produce my screenprints as limited editions, I decide on the number of prints I’m aiming for in the edition and choose and prepare the paper accordingly. I then handprint one colour at a time, allowing time for the ink dry before the next colour is added. Building up the layers of colour in this way can take several sessions in the print studio, and creative decisions continue at each stage, often resulting in tweaks to colour choices or ink mixes along the way. After printing the final layer, the final print should have emerged.
Images: video of printing 'Through the trees'; an exposed screen; printing red and pink layers; detail of 'Bottles' to show how colour layers can overlap to create other colours; building up the 6 layers of 'Through the shutters'.