Hand Screen printing is a traditional craft with a long history and has been employed by many cultures and craftsmen. While the materials and tools used have modernised, the techniques themselves have largely remained the same. Prints are made by pushing ink or dye through a screen which has been blocked out using a stencil.
The artworks shown being exposed on to screen and printed in the photographs shown here are both titled Baskets by Kieren Karritpul, from Merrepen Arts.
The first step of the screen printing process is exposing the artwork on to screen. Artwork is sent to Publisher either as a digital file, which is then printed onto clear acetate, or as hand painted drafting film. These are used to expose the design on to screen for printing. With the indigenous works we always prefer to use the hand painted drafting film to expose onto screen, it ensures that no detail is lost and the artist’s hand can be seen clearly in the work.
Shown here is the hand-painted film work of Kieren’s 2 colour Basket print.
To expose a design on to screen, a coater is filled with light sensitive photographic emulsion. The coater is then placed against the screen at a slight angle and dragged up the mesh, each side of the screen is evenly coated with the emulsion and then placed into the “hot box” (a small heated dark room) to dry. Once the screen is dry the film work is lined up on the screen and is then ready to be exposed.
Placed flush against glass, the screen is exposed to UV light for approx. 6 minutes. This causes the photographic emulsion to harden, except where the light is blocked by the design.
Once exposed the unhardened emulsion is washed out, leaving behind the gaps that will allow the ink to be pushed through the mesh.
Registration and straight lining screens:
Once all the design’s screens have been exposed, metal elbows and roofing screws are added to ensure that all the screens are in registration when printed. The roofing screws are adjusted till the design edge sits flush with the edge of the fabric and the elbows line up with the adjustable rectangular stops set along the rail of the printing table, ensuring each colour of the design aligns when printed.
Publisher uses a single rail and adjustable stops system for registration. The adjustable stops allow us to print designs with different repeat sizes. The stops are loosened and then adjusted using a stop ruler, a metal ruler with 2 adjustable stops. The ruler is set to the correct measurement and then used to line up the stops along the rail, each stop is tightened to ensure precise placement of the screen each time. Once the stops have been set to the correct repeat, fabric is then rolled out, straightened, and smoothed down. Our table surface has been coated with a pressure sensitive glue which holds the fabric in place. The sticky surface allows us to print both woven and knitted fabrics with ease.
Colour ways and ink mixing:
One of the main benefits of hand screen printing is the ability to print designs in a multitude of different colour ways. The colours chosen can alter the story or mood of a print, making it bold or subtle, daring, or demure. Publisher’s water-based inks are all mixed onsite using our own exclusive formula which has been developed by Mark. Using 18 different pigments we are able to create inks in an almost endless array of colours.
Colours are created by adding small amounts of pigment to the base and mixing with a high-speed dispersion blade. After each mixing the colour is checked by making a pull down on a white piece of fabric. This process is repeated until the colour is perfectly matched to the reference. The ink is then given a name and the recipe is recorded in our ink bibles.
When creating a new colour way for an Indigenous design the Art Centre will send us either specific colour references, such as a pantone number, or if unsure of final look of the design, a list of colours for me to work within, choosing different shades to create a harmonious colour palette.
Once all the inks have been mixed the printers will do a strike off, or sample print, of the design to ensure all the chosen colours work in harmony together.
In selecting the colours to be printed for Kieren’s Baskets design for this demonstration we were aiming to recreate the same ones used for the piece hanging in the Fowler exhibition. As the base fabric we used was of a different fibre composition and a different shade of orange, during the strike off process we released that we would have to alter the colours slightly to achieve a balanced and pleasing final result. The black ink looked blue once printed on the base so we tried another strike, switching the black to a cream, which brought the colours together well and created a beautiful final result. After the strike off has been done and approved, the design is ready to be printed.
Printing the fabric:
Once the stops have been set and the fabric laid up, the screen is placed down on the table in line with the first registration stop. If the fabric is narrower than the design on screen, the overhang is taped off so the ink is not printed on to the table. Ink is then poured along the edge of the mesh and then the 2 printers push the ink through the screen, passing squeegee back and forth between them. Every second repeat is skipped so as the screen is not placed onto wet ink. Once the first round has been printed large fans at either end of the table are turned on to speed up the drying process. Once the first round is air dry, the missed repeats are printed. This process is then repeated until all colours in the design are done.
Once the fabric is dry it is rolled and moved to the heat setter. The inks are heat set in our large belt fed oven. The fabric moves through the oven for 3 minutes at 180”C. This sets the ink, locking the binders together and sealing it to the fabric’s surface.
Once heat set the fabric then rolled and is now ready for use.