What are Prints?

Our fourth post in a series of five on Printmaking.

“Prints, Prints, and more Prints” is currently running at the WCI Arts Center until October 13th.

Serigraphy, more commonly known as silkscreening or screen printing, has been around in a crude but recognizable fashion since 2500 B.C. It is a form of stenciling utilizing three main ingredients: the screen, the squeegee, and the ink. The most interesting of these is the evolution of the screen.

The screen, usually woven mesh, carries the desired image and has been made from various materials throughout history. The Chinese used human hair across the frame as the screen and created the stencil by applying leaves as the resist for the ink. The Japanese adopted the practice using woven silk and various lacquers to create the stencil. Today the screen is commonly made of polyester woven into a fine mesh. Modern artists have access to specialty screens depending on the desired effect, ranging from nylon to stainless steel.

The techniques for creating the stencil on the screen has changed greatly since it’s advent. A trio of printers, Roy Beck, Charles Peter and Edward Owens, started experimenting with photo-reactive chemical processes in early 1910, introducing photo-imaged stencils to the craft. A photo-reactive emulsion is spread onto the screen and then allowed to dry in a dark room. Once the emulsion is dry, the “exposure unit” burns away the unwanted emulsion leaving the printed area clean on the screen.

The substrate is then placed under the prepared screen. Ink is placed on the back end of the screen frame and then a squeegee is used to press the ink forward through the screen, leaving the image inked on the substrate. The printed surface is then removed to allow the ink to dry. If the artist desires to make a multi-color image, much like in lithography, a new screen for each color must be processed.

In screen printing the substrate isn’t printed under pressure like other printmaking techniques, lending itself to printing on just about any surface. In the 1930’s the National Serigraphic Society was formed to separate the artisans from the more common industrial uses of the art. Screen printing was brought to the forefront of popular art in 1962 with the well known multi-image piece of Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol.

Screen printing today is used in many different industries on many different printing surface, from the ubiquitous t-shirts, to balloons, to decals or stickers. Artists today have a wide array of substrates at their disposal to communicate their artistic vision.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a round up!