HOW THE PRINTS ARE MADE
[NOTES ON THE SILKSCREEN PRINT PROCESS]
I thought this would be a useful addition to the site to give those who are not already familiar with my work an idea of how its produced. It's all well and good showing a selection of finished prints for sale from the archive, but what that lacks is the story of how the work comes to fruition. The energy that goes into it. The thought processes and even the mistakes that are made along the way. The perpetual cycle of developing and refining ideas in the hope that i'll eventually be satisfied with the outcome..
Truth be known, i'm never completely satisfied with any of it. I think i'd give it all up today if I were. I enjoy the exploration of ideas too much. Don't get me wrong there's always some temporary elation after going through the cycle once again. Having developing something new that i think is interesting and hopefully others will like. The parallel's a bit like certain drugs i suppose. Experiencing that temporary glimpse of utopia before reality seeps back in around the edges all too quickly and begins to bite just as hard as it did before.
Exploring this process however, has become my drug. And its one that's got that particular signature that never quite scratches the itch. The temptation is always there to go for it again. See what magic this process reveals this time around....... Your waking hours tend to become a bit of an experiment.
Most of the pieces you see on this site started out as a rough pencil sketch, like the one you see below. No matter how low tech this method seems today in a world of technological overload this is how the germs of ideas begin their life.
These sketches tend to live in the back of my mind whilst working the printing press. Often trying to figure out how they can be constructed and built into new forms whilst visualizing how the end result will eventually look. I guess its that rhythmic cycle of laying down ink's that ends up being a form of meditation. Screenprinting is quite a physical process and the mind definitely wanders whist doing this. It's when a lot of the ideas tend to flourish before some form of digitization has to occur before they can develop.
Computers are phenomenal tools, that's a fact. However I see them as somewhat of a double edged sword these days. After spending more time than is healthy chained to them during my lifetime, I try to limit their usage as much a possible. When it's necessary to use them I like to have an attack plan mapped out for my own sanity. I find they are nothing but a drain on energy levels. Its a difficult balancing act though as they are an important part of the pre-production process.
The image you see below is a film positive. These are made on the studios image setter, once i'm confident the artwork for any new image i'm developing has been thought out sufficiently and is ready for working up some physical wet proofs on the printing press. These are used when creating the screens I print with which could loosely be described as a form of high definition stencil.
Before the physical production of any new work begins, the studio's black out curtains are drawn and we head into dark room mode. Each screen is then coated with a photo sensitive emulsion which reacts to certain frequencies of light. Once coated they are speed dryed and stored in light proof bags.
The next phase is laying down the film positive inside the studio's exposure unit, sandwiched between the screens mesh and the glass. The unit has a bank of ultraviolet tubes inside which when illuminated exposes the artwork from the film to the emulsion which coats the screen.
Once the photographic emulsion has been exposed sufficiently, it is washed with a high pressure hose which blasts away any of the underexposed emulsion leaving the physical image open as a stencil.
The screen itself is made from a high tensile nylon mesh which has been stretched over the metal frame. The ink can then be pushed through the open areas of the mesh which creates the final printed image. I tend to use some of the highest mesh count screens available which can reproduce extremely fine photographic detail.
This is where the process beings to get interesting and for me is the most enjoyable part of the cycle. Pushing the ink through the open areas of the screens mesh in order to create the first wet proofs. The photograph below is one layer of the altered states series of prints I produced. They were 10 layers in total on some of the finished variants, which means one unique screen needs to be produced per colour applied on the printing press.
This means literally days of proofing, mixing inks and experimenting with opacity levels until the desired image definition and colour balance is achieved before this final artwork can be printed. A dog eared notebook as thick as a telephone directory resides in my studio and keeps all the colour percentages at hand as reference. Without this I would be lost as it contains over a decades worth of knowledge harvested from these print experiments.
Its water based inks for me all the way these days, as the whole clean up operation is easier and I no longer like working with toxic solvent based chemicals any more. I've probably done myself enough self induced damage over the years without my professional vocation trying to finish me off as well. I tend to have a preference for speedball and permaset brands of ink.
Once a new production really starts to get underway, things tend to get complicated. One wrong move by adding too much ink to the binding agents and the whole batch of prints can be ruined. What should be subtle will then appear vibrant and vice versa. This can be enough to throw a complex productions colour balance out entirely and ruin the dynamics of the finished piece. I've done it before. Hard lessons learned. A little bit of paranoia can be useful in this game.
Tight registration when working on complex artwork on the printing press is essential. I eventually ended up engineering my own press last year. The studio's old machine had the frustrating habit of constantly going out of sync every ten prints or so and needed constant re-calibration as i was working. The new linear motion press was a big undertaking and swallowed up several months of development time but has proved to have been well worth the effort.
The individual prints are held down whilst working on them using the metal suction platten (below), its attached to an industrial vacuum pump with manual lever operation to control the pressure. This has got production running very smoothly. Its funny now looking back to when I originally started making prints years ago, each one had to be held down with spray mount adhesive as the layers were applied. These were toxic fumes, absolutely noxious. Thankfully those days are long gone.
The possibilities and options with this process are infinite. I've explained the very basics so far of how it works. Its down to imagination and energy after that. I thought it important to give people a better idea of what they are investing in when they buy my work. Its not just about adopting a new piece of artwork or a screenprint for their walls. There are plenty of commercial print shops online they could go to for that.
Each purchase from this site represents an investment in an individual artists future development and practice. Adopters of my work afford me the ability to push these ideas further as I feel there is still no much to achieve. The aim is to eventually break the size restrictions on the press I work on and start developing some large sale versions of the works you see. I nailed my colours to the mast with Glass Siren Studio a long time ago and have ridden the waves for over a decade. This is definitely not a nine to five job, Its a full on obsession. It will be interesting to see where this leads.
These photographs (above and below) are a good example of the screenprint process when its taken to its more complex extremes. These were both heavy duty production runs that swallowed up weeks at a time, and very often the studio's air was blue with bad language due to the sheer amount of mistakes that occurred whilst the final variants were being developed.
The learning curve has been steep and highly frustrating at times but fortunately the knowledge amassed can always be put to good use for future productions. There's always more ground to cover....
As well as working with the more traditional types of silkscreen print techniques I've also developed a number of other unique printing and imaging processes along the way, i'll include details of some of these at a later date when time permits.
This text is most likely peppered with errors and typo's, its a work in progress. i'll come back to this soon.