A Note on Print Technique

Artists have been making screen prints since the early twentieth century, but they were made more widely known during the 1950's and 60's as a new generation of artists sought to explore commercial printing techniques within a fine art context.

Sometimes known as 'silkscreens' or 'serigraphs,' they offer artists a great deal of freedom to explore their ideas and creativity. The 'screens' used in the technique are made by stretching a fine synthetic mesh over a metal frame. Areas of the mesh can be blocked using a variety of materials. When ink is pulled over the screen, it passes through the 'open' areas and prints onto the paper below.

Ways of blocking the screen vary, from simple paper-cut stencils to tape and specialist filler solutions. An alternative that allows the artist even greater flexibility when creating marks is to work on transparent drafting film with pencils, crayons, ink and paint to create an opaque image. Once complete, this 'positive' image is transferred to the screen through the use of a light-sensitive emulsion. The opaque areas absorb the light blocking its path to the emulsion, while the clear areas allow the light to pass through and cure the emulsion. The screen is then rinsed with water, and the uncured areas washed out. Using a rubber blade or 'squeegee' ink is then pushed through the 'open' areas of the screen and printed onto the paper below. In this way the image is built up in layers, with a new screen needed for each colour printed.

Each screen is printed one on top of the other until the image is complete. This process involves the mixing of individual colours and a degree of experimentation as the image takes shape. At this proofing stage, the artist can alter the colour and its transparency, change the order of printing, add to or block out areas on the screen or create new positives to enhance the image.

Screen printing allows for a surprising amount of flexibility when creating an image. Through the techniques used to create the positive, the transparency of the ink, the length of time a screen is exposed to ultraviolet light, the number of colours and the paper stock, it is possible to achieve a vast range of results. The artist and printmaker work in collaboration as the printmaker interprets and realises the artist's ideas until a proof is complete. The printing of the full edition then begins using the proof as a guide. Finally, once completed, the prints are trimmed before the artist signs the finished edition.

The result is referred to as an original print as it is not a reproduction of a pre-existing image. The final artwork, printed by hand, will never be reprinted once the edition is complete.