A few weeks ago I shared my experiences of a fabulous online art course I did about building sketchbooks. Well I have been at it again only this time I have been rediscovering screen printing. I say rediscovering because I have worked with screen printing on paper at various times over the past 10 years, although it would be fair to say that until now I have never really pushed the medium, preferring instead to concentrate on relief prints. Recently I decided however that the time had come to explore screen printing on to textiles and this is where the amazing Dionne Swift (www.dionneswift.co.uk) and her truly fabulous online courses come in. I had fun creating the sketchbook, although it would be true to say that so far I have not built another, but Dionne’s style of teaching is relaxed and to the point with great video tutorials and an opportunity to interact with other course members via a Flickr group where you can upload images of your work to comment on/discuss with Dionne and your peers.
My initial work from the course workshops used a basic leaf motif and simple patterns to try the various techniques and processes, some of which were more successful than others and some of which I found I preferred more than others. Dionne teaches ways of making up simple paper stencils to attach to your screen and also an interesting flour paste process for creating a more ‘drawn’ image. By far my favourite process was monoprinting – more about this later.
From top left: stencil print in two colours; stencil print with flour paste ‘drawing’ overprinted; breakdown print.
Middle: Monoprint and ghost print; close up of monoprint
Bottom: Monoprint with second and third ghost prints; close up of monoprint
For working on textiles Dionne recommends using Procion MX dyes and in the first workshop session there is a detailed explanation of how to make these up as well as the ‘recipe’ for making up the Manutex which acts as releasing agent and binder. These dyes have the most amazing colours, but can be watered down for a somewhat less intense effect.
To try to get my head round what I have learned from Dionne, I have been working on a small image which uses some of the techniques from the workshop – monoprinting, stencils and flour paste. Of these the techniques I can see myself using the most are monoprinting and stencilling. I am less enamoured by the flour paste, but that may be because I have been a bit spoiled when printing on paper in the past and having been able to translate my hand drawn images to the screen by making a photostencil. (Perhaps I need to make up some sort of exposure unit?) Another way I have previously made hand drawn images is by using drawing fluid and screen filler, both of these chemicals are water based, but screen filler does require a specialist cleaning product in addition to water.
Screen printing using Dionne’s methods is simple and accessible, with many of the products used being found in the kitchen e.g bicarbonate of soda, plain flour, salt. The dyes are a little expensive, but no more so than buying good quality tubes of paint or indeed tins of printing ink. The best bit about using the dyes is that you can let them dry on the screen and they will simply wash away with warm water and a little washing up liquid without blocking the screen mesh – something you certainly cannot do with ink! For the course I did buy a small hand blender (Tesco £4.00) but this was the only specialist item I purchased. If you are new to screen printing you will need to buy a silk screen for textiles (the mesh size is different for textiles and paper), and a squeegee. Dionne can supply these or you could buy them online from art suppliers such as T N Lawrence and Son (www.lawrence.co.uk ), Great Art (www.greatart.co.uk),Intaglio Printmaker (www.intaglioprintmaker.com) and George Weil and Sons (Fibrecrafts) (www.georgeweil.com) who also supply Procion MX dyes and all the various thickening agents and additives such as Manutex and Urea.
For my new image exercise I chose a simple photograph from my immense archive (I do take hundreds of photographs every year) of a bright red pillar box in the snow. I chose it because I felt it could be broken down into simple shapes to make from stencils easily while the background really lent itself to a monoprint with some flour paste detailing. the whole image to be further finished and embellished with hand and free-motion machine embroidery. Below are some images of how I got on.
From left: original photograph; drawing from photograph made on to tracing paper; individual stencils ready to cut; cut stencils. (It is important to make your working drawing on tracing paper so that each layer of your final image is the same size and each component layer fits together properly).
Above left: fabric taped and ready to receive the first screen and above right: the monoprint on the screen ready for printing.
After making the first pull of the monoprint it was a quick blast with a hairdryer to make the fabric ready to receive the next layer, the first of two stencils for the pillar box. Again a blast with a hairdryer to dry the fabric between prints followed by steaming with a very hot iron to ‘set’ the image in place after which the work was rinsed gently in lukewarm water to release the Manutex residue and leave the image soft and pliable on the fabric. To finish the image I worked some free-motion machine embroidery to embellish the piece, adding in simple suggestions of foliage and snow as well as adding texture to the pillar box and post to which it is fixed. The following images show the work in progress…
From left: monoprint with stencil prints; partly embroidered with original inspiration in sketchbook; free-motion machine embroidery in progress
Sometimes a machine embroidered piece of work can look equally interesting from behind…
The reverse image reminds me of a photographic negative
The final result…
I am reasonably pleased with the piece of work and it does look better in ‘real life’ – the colours are more saturated and the moire effect caused by the weave of the linen fabric is not as obvious as it appears in a photograph. All that aside, it has been really helpful to put into practice the techniques I learned about on Dionne’s course and I can confidently say that I will be making more use of these techniques in future work. Once again, Dionne Swift has delivered a fantastic workshop and I can thoroughly recommend the screen printing workshop – great course content, friendly, relaxed and perceptive tutoring by the lovely Dionne and heaps of fun!