Sunday, April 3, 2011

True Life Story: The Gypsy Mystery Arts Studio and My Evolving Method

There be dragons here!
Our house (known fondly as the 'Technicolor Cottage') has become a fine art screen printing shop. 

  It’s everywhere.  In the living room are folding work tables, paints, inks and other art supplies, shipping tubes, a mat cutter, a printing press, and silk screens stacked against the walls.  The sofa and TV manage to squeeze in as well.  The bathtub is used as much for cleaning screens as it is for cleaning us.  The ‘dining room’ is half-filled with shelves and racks to store finished art and more art supplies. Dore’s garage has become an ever-evolving facility for coating and exposing screens. 
a fresh sheet of paper
          We are getting better at the process, but it can be complicated – lots of little things can go wrong, and have.  So far, we have both made more mistakes than perfect finished products.  But the ones that do turn out are turning out great, and we’re getting better with every try.

     My initial choice of substrate for my screen prints was heavy (140 lb.) watercolor paper, on which I hand-painted a background in acrylic paints.  After many frustrating printing issues, which I determined are 
painting the background with pastels
caused by the heavy paper warping slightly and sticking to the screen (ruining numerous painted backgrounds in the process), I decided to try a different substrate.
        I’d done a small run of prints on colored fine art paper (Canson Mi-Teintes) and the printing had gone much more smoothly, especially when I sprayed the press surface with a temporary adhesive that held the lighter-weight paper securely in place (the adhesive was not quite strong enough to hold onto the heavier paper). 
      The Mi-Teintes paper comes in a variety of colors and has a nice texture and was perfect for working with pastels.  I decided to try painting my backgrounds on this lighter paper with pastels, and it seems to have solved the printing problems I was having.  

the finished background
            For each piece, I trim the paper, then measure out and mark the image area. I mask off the edges of the image area, using scrap paper to shield the paper beyond the tape.  Using soft pastels, I layer colors over the paper’s base color, blending and smudging to create a background that has variation and interest, but is not too distracting.  The background needs to maintain a certain value level in order to let the metallic gold ink really shine.  The pastels actually enhance this effect, as they have a very matte, velvety finish that contrasts beautifully with the shimmering gold of the printed design.
   Once the pastel work is done, I spray it with a fixative to prevent further smudging, and remove the masking.

            Next comes the actual screen printing.  Dore built the press, which is a sort of box with a laminated surface and a pair of Speedball clamp hinges.  He has also taken charge of making the screens (a process fraught with its own technical difficulties and nuances to master). 

gold ink along top of screen
            The screen is clamped into the hinges and I determine how to line up my paper to center the design within the square of background. I mark the corner position with tape and spray a light coat of spray-mount to secure the background paper.

            The screen is pulled down and ink (which is about the consistency of creamy peanut butter) is applied along the upper edge of the screen above the image.  Using a wide squeegee, the ink is pulled down across the screen, pushing a thin layer of ink through the stencil.
Final print

The gold ink gleams against a vibrant field of swirling color.  Each print is then numbered, titled and signed.

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