Lois Reynolds Mead

Art and a pink monkeyflower in a native plant garden…

Printmaking 101…

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I recently mentioned my friend Chris Cozen’s new book that includes a project I did using a silk screen technique.

Silk-screen printed type on cotton, photo printed on fabric with inkjet printer

This is my opportunity to explain it further, but first some history:

My father was an artist (painter and printmaker) and part of our companionship was hours where I just sat watching him paint or draw in the small studio area he carved out in our house in Southern California. An organization called “The Printmakers Society of Southern California” gave an artists’ print to its members each year and the year it was his turn to supply the large edition to circulate to the members, I remember his rush to do the printing and mounting in the presentation envelope. To my amazement, I watched as he rejected some of the prints as not good enough for circulation and to my eye I could not distinguish what made them inferior. It was a good lesson for me in how an artist controls the destiny of their art and a good lesson on decisive decision making. This is the silk-screen image that my father made that year with eight colors, eight registrations, and eight times to misalign the screen, which is what probably caused the rejection of those that did not make the cut:

"Crow Country" by Chang Reynolds

I eventually became an Intermediate School art teacher and one of my favorite units was printmaking. When you are primarily defined as a teacher, rather than an working artist, you know a wide variety of processes, broken down to a level comprehensible to your 6th/7th/8th grade audience, rather than having a deep concentration in one area. I found it difficult to balance all the elements in my life and the part that got truncated was the deep concentration in one area. I do not regret it but now I look back and wonder what I would have done if I focused just on ceramics or if I had concentrated on printmaking which was my next favorite thing in the whole world. Since retirement it has been a little bit like making up for lost time.

I designed my printmaking unit to start at a place to give confidence to the widest number of kids in the class and then we moved up to more complicated techniques. Monoprints started the unit. Pieces of rigid plastic drawn on with water-color crayons ( Neocolor II aquarelle) or water soluble oil pastels (Portfolio) were covered with dampened paper and rubbed with the back of a wooden spoon (or, dare I say run, through the ceramics class’ slab roller—oh, perfect printing press!).

A photographic image of each student was taken with a digital camera and altered to high contrast black and white and then printed on transparency plastic. Lines were drawn over by the students with overhead projector vis-a-vis pens, covered by dampened paper which picked up the pen creating a beautiful feathery line. The requirement was for an edition of three that was embellished with other media.

Block prints using safety-kut and cutting gouges and, finally, the print rollers and brayers and ink, editions of six on a variety of cool and unusual papers. Learning how to write the edition and number correctly and which corner to put your pencil signature.

And at last, silk screening. A class set of “real” silk screen frames was too expensive for a public school budget. The screens became embroidery hoops stretched with cotton organdy and were handily thrown in a bucket of water for clean up. Stencils were newsprint or freezer paper and tempera paint for the ink so you had a fighting chance to get the screen mesh clean at the end of each class. With this method, your paper to print on is laid down, your stencil paper (torn or cut) on top, the screen is placed over it and the paint is scraped across the screen with an expired credit card or automobile club card. The newsprint stencil is held to the screen by the wet ink after the first pass so that multiple images can be made. These are really effective if there is time after drying for two or more colors on top.

I had always wanted to explore silk screen in a deeper fashion, but the chemicals I had to use in college classes put me off for “trying this at home.” I read about a process called EZ Screen which does not require chemicals but does allow for creating photo silk screens, which I was very interested in. Now that I was retired I wanted more complicated screens than were made with newsprint. I had started using some of my photos in fabric designs (printed by Spoonflower) so my photo of beets from the farmer’s market, had become the front of a pillow

Pillow Front

and the back had a companion fabric from a line design I had created from the photograph using Photoshop Elements. I thought it might work also as a silk screen. My mantra: worth a try! (galloping off into the sunset…)

Pillow Back

If I am not clear in my explanation here, the very latest issue of Cloth, Paper,Scissors, contains an article on this same process, but in a simpler form. The author includes some excellent tips and rather than the transparency plastic I mention (which is expensive if you have to buy an entire box-I had it leftover from the things I purchased to support my teaching habit and was happy to use it up.) The author of the article uses simple bond paper from a desk top printer and rubber stamps.

The kit looks like this:

Kit from EZ Screen

It includes a felt covered board, a piece of clear rigid plastic, binder clips and a piece of white plastic mesh that holds the screen material while you pass it under the stream of water from your faucet while washing out the un-exposed area of the screen. To expose a screen, the board with felt holds the screen material (which is kept in a dark bag in your refrigerator until use) the transparency image is on top and then the clear plastic. The binder clips keep it all together and not slipping while it is exposed to the sun for a mere 60-70 seconds. The screen is then soaked in water for 15 minutes and placed on the plastic grid for wash out. Gentle rubbing with your fingers or a soft paint brush removes the softened unexposed areas and leaves mesh. Some of my screens:

Blue is the silk screen made from the black and white transparency

The first screens are from plants I brought in from my garden and layed directly on my scanner bed. After scanning I used Photoshop Elements to convert it to a black and white image. The one on the left is a native fern and the one on the right is a bloom of a coral bells.

Living room chair


This photo from my garden became this silk screen:
This is the fabric book, again, showing words silk screened with this method along with photos printed on fabric with my inkjet printer and the screen print of the beets. I used Golden Open acrylic paint to screen with, so that there was ample time to get the screen cleaned before the paint dried and there was little alteration to the hand of the fabric (it was still soft). It is really a good technique with far less mess than you would think on hearing the word “silk screen”.

Interior of fabric book

So go out and squeegee something…

Author: loisreynoldsmead


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