Saturday, February 21, 2009

Process Post: Time to go Shopping!

I have the next three days off and will be holing myself up in the apartment making screen prints. The snow is back in SE Michigan (boo) which will make a pajamas and coffee lifestyle much more appealing during my off days.

I have enough materials to get started, but will be ordering again from Dick Blick this weekend to take advantage of the 5.95 shipping deal they haphazardly host every so often. So it seems appropriate to discuss the next stage after ideas: materials acquisition. But! In order to talk about the materials needed to make screen prints, its important to shed some light on exactly what screen printing is, so that's what I'll try to do below and talk about materials in one big convoluted post with lots of non-sequiturs. Ready?

The basic premise of screen printing is stenciling. Remember in the 80's and 90's when stenciling was all the rage and people bought those plastic stencils and tappy brushes and stenciled country kitchen borders everywhere?

(I'm having mauve flashbacks!)

Here's an example of a pretty awesome and refreshing stenciling job in case you're interested in seeing this process work in a more modern way:

(mm... tone on tone goodness. Unfortunately, I've had this photo saved on my computer for eons and have no idea where it came from-- maybe Design Sponge?)

Martha is leading the charge in bringing stenciling back to home decor in a hip way (another story for another day) but I use this example to illustrate the idea that screen printing is really just making a rather complicated stencil-- the methods involved are much more precise though. Instead of the spotty tapped-on look, screen printing results in a smooth, graphic application of ink and can be printed many times with consistent results.

Side note: Here's a Crafter post on freezer paper stencils if you'd like to get your hands on this method without a lot of start up costs.

Obviously, I could talk about stenciling on walls all day, but I'm a renter and doing so makes me sad, so I'll leave it at that!

The most obvious tool you need to stencil is some kind of plate or buffer where paint can be pushed through the exposed areas to create the image. In screen printing this tool is the actual screen frame-- a wood frame with thin mesh stretched tight across the back. Some people make these, some people buy them. I've done both, and am ambivalent about which is better. My DIY spirit says 'make it!' but the cost differential isn't huge. You can get a decent sized screen for under $20.

(from dick blick)

The mesh stretched across creates a sort of blank canvas of tiny open pixels. If you've ever examined a screen door or window closely you notice that there are tiny little negative spaces created between the criss-crossing strands of wire. In the screen frame mesh these spaces are very small, so when ink is pushed through some and not others the results are very precise.

If you printed off the screen right out of the box, you'd get a flat even coat of ink across your surface because all of those spaces in the mesh are open. You create an image by controlling those open spaces. You control the open spaces by blocking parts of the screen so that the ink can't get through.

There are many methods for blocking the mesh in the spaces you don't want printed, and they range from very simple with little investment to very complex with lots of light bulbs and chemicals and fancy machines that burn your image into a screen coating.

I use a very simple method because I don't have the setup for the the other stuff, and I don't like using all of the harsh chemicals to clean the screen afterward. I also like the method I use because it forces me to create simple images. I have a tendency to push an image 'too far'-- the reason why I was, in my own opinion, never that great a painter. If I have direct control over the image I don't know when to leave well enough alone!

Rather than burning an image I've drawn onto a screen, or using drawing fluid to apply it directly to the screen, I use a method where I cut my image out of a film that is applied to the screen. Cutting forces me to think in simple terms. Its a restriction that helps me.

Which leads me to the next supply item: clear Contact paper. I capitalize the Contact because Contact brand works the best. As tempting as it may be to pick up a roll on your next trip to Target (they carry some other knock-off brand) don't do it! You can find it in the housewares section of most department or hardware stores and it looks like this:
(look for the brand Contact! I swear they're not paying me!)

You cut your image out, stick the paper onto the back of your screen and viola! The mesh is open in your image. This will make more sense when I post about the actual process.

You'll need something to print on. I use canvas for the most part because its sturdy, looks great and stretches nicely. You can find canvas on the bolt (also known as duck cloth) at any fabric store for around $8 a yard. I'm not a big JoAnn's fan but I always buy a bunch there when they mail me a 50% off coupon. Do not buy it in the fine arts section at an art supplies store: they charge way more for virtually the same thing.

You can screen print on anything you can get your screen under. Tote bags, t-shirts, furniture, wood, paper-- the possibilities are endless. The ink will do different things depending on what you're printing on. Canvas is great because the ink actually seeps into the thick fabric-- if you print on paper it just sits on top of the surface.

Here's a chunk of my banner-- you can see how the ink reacts to the canvas and pools a little in the valleys created by the weave. I feel like this method provides an extra layer of texture and softness that isn't there when you print on paper.

So next you'll need ink. I have a fun and inexpensive shortcut here, too. You can buy little jars for ink for $5-10 a pop, but I feel like the color is too strong and abrasive. I buy what's called an extender base (a clear fluid with a snot-like consistency) and then tint it with acrylic paint. You can pick up a big ol quart of Speedball Extender Base for around $12.

So you'll need paint too if you go this route. Here's quite possibly the only instance I've ever encountered where craft paint works better. Its more fluid and mixes into the extender with greater ease.

You'll also need:

- a squeegee (like the window washing kind-- Target has an awesome one with a clear handle and black rubber)
- spatulas
- little plastic containers (save your yogurt cups!)

Next time I'll cover the first part of the printing process!

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