Posts in Artist Life
The Screen Printing Process
 
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The screen printing process is considered to be a relatively contemporary technique, but it actually dates back to the Chinese Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD).

Screen printing is called many things (Silk Screen, Serigraphy, Stencil Printing), but the concept and methodology are the same throughout, and very simple. In essence, screen printing relies on a few basic ingredient that together form a streamlined process. A permeable fabric mesh is stretched very tight (like a drum) over a rigid rectangular frame (like a picture frame), to create the "screen." A hard drying liquid called "emulsion" f(like glue) is then applied to certain areas of the mesh and left to dry, making certain parts of the mesh impermeable to liquids. Ink is then spread evenly over the whole surface of the screen and pushed through with a large flat squeegee onto paper or fabric below. The ink evenly coats the paper below in only the areas that are directly below the untreated, or "open," sections of the screen. Make sense?

   This image    was created by    Harry Wad   .

This image was created by Harry Wad.

That's the short version, and the version that was likely being used in China during the Song Dynasty (with real silk fabric might I add!).

The technique made its way to Europe in the 18th century, but was cost prohibitive for most printers because silk was so expensive. It wasn't until early 20th century that screen printing started to become a viable method of commercial printing. With the advent of synthetic fibers that could replace silk, and light-sensitive emulsion that could reproduce images photographically, the technique found huge popularity in both artistic circles, and with commercial printers and advertising professionals. Screen printing became the primary technique for mass producing posters, paper advertisements, and public service announcements. Due to the new affordability of materials, ease of process, and low space requirements, screen printing became a popular form of independent expression, underground resistance, and political activism. The screen printed aesthetic became synonymous with political commentary to the point that it is often reproduced digitally in modern design to convey a youthful tone.  

 L to R - WPA National Park Poster (1938), Tenement House Department of the City of New York (1936), Poster for Culture and Resistance Conference in South Africa by Thami Mnyele (1982)

L to R - WPA National Park Poster (1938), Tenement House Department of the City of New York (1936), Poster for Culture and Resistance Conference in South Africa by Thami Mnyele (1982)

Screen Printing technology has improved with time, allowing modern screen printers to take advantage of a new host of tools to create a wider variety of printed goods. Light-sensitive emulsions mean that we can reproduce photographs or drawings instead of drawing our designs directly onto the screen with glue. To accomplish the transfer of a drawing, an artist creates what is called a "film positive" which is precisely the inverse of a traditional film negative (like in a 35mm camera). Film positives are generally created by printing a black and white drawing onto a clear plastic sheet of transparent paper using either a home printer, or a specialized printer that produces very rich blacks. You then coat your screen with a light sensitive emulsion (that hardens when exposed to UV light), place your film positive on top, and expose both to UV light. This is called "exposing the screen." Most screen printers use a specialized light bed for this, but some will use the sun.

At this point the hardened emulsion will remain in the screen, and the emulsion underneath the black parts of the positive will remain soft and water soluble, allowing the printer to simple wash it away with water. All that's left is to print!

 L to R - A Film Positive, An exposed screen (the pink area is emulsion), An exposed screen with tools, ready to print!

L to R - A Film Positive, An exposed screen (the pink area is emulsion), An exposed screen with tools, ready to print!

Printing could be a separate article all together. There are different types of ink, different things you can print on, and a myriad of different ways to mess up! But let's keep this simple...

You print an image by applying a thick ink to your screen, and pulling a heavy squeegee (yup, like a window squeegee) across the entire image, depositing ink on the areas where the mesh is open (yellow in the above photo). This results in an even distribution of ink, a smooth finish, and with luck, a perfect print! 

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Creativity is B.S.
 
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One of the most common questions that creatives get asked is this: “What is your process like?”

One thing I’d like to say about process is that it’s never the same. The process of making art, of building something, of carrying out a plan, of learning, of growing, of failing (yes, failing is a process too), of defining yourself, pushing yourself, letting go, or really DOING anything, is never the same. Process is rarely repeatable. Trying to repeat a process is like stepping in the same river, at a different bend, different time of year, and under completely different weather conditions. It’s the same river, but the surroundings have changed. The situation has changed. And you have likely changed too.

Another thing I’d like to explain is that people ask this question (and I do as well) to try to gain an understanding of how to invite creativity into their lives with the least possible resistance. How to lube up the creative chute and let the muse slither on in. In my experience, however, creativity (whether you are painting, coding, writing, or designing a marketing campaign) is largely a struggle, with very brief, very rewarding bouts of flow and inspired action. Those brief periods of embodied action are euphoric and keep us working, but in general? It’s a damn slog! It’s work. It’s repetition. And sometimes it’s capital B boring.

I could tell you about how I arrange my pens, the places I look for inspiration, the tools that help me, the podcasts I turn on, the rituals I undertake in order to entice the muse, but it largely doesn’t matter. Everyone is going to approach creativity differently and what works for me might be your worst nightmare. But for me, the most interesting thing about the creative process, and the thing that many creatives share, yet don’t talk about, is that every creative endeavor comes with a massive side helping of doubt, failure, and compromised vision. With very few, savant, exceptions, perfect execution of a creative vision is a myth. I’ve mapped out my average “creative process” above as a visual aid.

Why am I talking about this? Because I'm a teacher, and my students constantly tell me that they aren’t creative, and I think that’s self imposed bullshit. I solidly believe that everyone is creative and has the potential to put their vision into the world, but that “creativity” has become exoticized to the point of intimidation. So we ask others about their process in an attempt to demystify creativity when in fact, it simply comes down to this:

Creativity is having an idea, feeling doubt, and carrying it out anyways. Over, and over again. Getting a little better each time.

I don’t care if your medium is cooking, accounting, sculpture, or law, the process remains the same. If you have an idea, a moment of inspiration, a revelation, don’t dismiss it out of fear. Acknowledge your doubt and fear as passengers along for the ride, forgive yourself in advanced for the ways you are bound to disappoint yourself along the way, and do it anyways.

Tory // Slant Press