Exploring screen printing, Stage 2, Printing techniques

20 January 2016

The course notes give an overview of screen printing techniques. They say to choose one or two, or try all of the following:

  1. Spray painting with acrylic
  2. Contact or brown paper stencils
  3. Masking tape
  4. Vilene stencil
  5. Hand painting with acrylic paints
Techniques 1. and 5. are permanent, meaning the screen cannot be re-used for another design. As a complete novice I certainly did not want to try these on one of my expensive ready-prepared screens. Instead, I used some mesh stretched over an embroidery frame so as to only use a small piece of mesh and to make it disposable.
I also tried some other techniques in addition to those stipulated. The two books I used were “Screen printing” by Committed to cloth (1) and from the suggested reading list “Art Cloth” by Jane Dunnewold (2). These give lots of ideas and tips for screen printing techniques. In each case I used laundered cotton sheeting which I pinned out on a padded table.
Newspaper stencil (simple square), Selectacine print medium
As I have had very little experience in screen printing, I wanted to start with a basic technique. Similar to using a blank screen for colour value and texture, I made my printable area smaller with a simple newspaper stencil. The design was inspired by an exercise from reference 1 (see page 13 ‘using a blank screen for colour, value and texture’).
My objective was to practice using the squeegee. I did not worry about ‘ghosting’, and allowed the screen/squeegee to become cross contaminated when I changed colours.
I started with mauve, then built up layers and depth by introducing orange-yellow and printing over the first colours. The stencil held up well, but eventually it stuck to the fabric rather than the screen, so at this point I could not continue to use it. This issue was not due to the stencil getting soaked with ink permeating through the screen mesh, but rather the stencil getting soaked from contacted the wet printed fabric. 
At this stage, I decided to continue, using the screen corner as a stencil and scooping up the ink to give two sharp and two rough edges wit each print (see pink colour below)
SAMPLE 1: I was really pleased with the effect of overlapping these simple shapes. 
I think the effect could have been even better had I dyed the cloth first (so that the background was a toning colour).
Unfortunately, I damaged my screen when I was scrubbing it clean. The brush I used had very stiff bristles and I also scrubbed too hard. As a result, I separated some of the threads on the mesh (see below).
Resist printing with string, Selectacine print medium
This was a technique explained in reference 1. I selected some crochet cotton and pinned it across some cotton fabric stretched on my printing table.
The design was inspired by the photograph on page 46 of my sketchbook for this assignment (Book 1) – Nightclub/casino, Pampulha.
I then used a squeegee to draw ink across the fabric. The result was not very satisfactory. I found that the screen deposited lots of ink on the fabric and that the ink ‘pooled’ in ripples (see below).
SAMPLE 2: Once the ink was dry and I removed the thread, I did get some interesting patterns. 
I think hat the ripples/over depositing of paint may have been due to the newspaper under my table crinkling during the application of printing process. As a result, I removed the newspaper layer.
I then tried using the waste thread laid in a ball (see below). The inspiration for this design was an exercise from reference 1 (see page 14)
SAMPLE 3: Again, I laid a blank screen over the thread and took a print using Selectacine print medium (Note: I over printed cloth made a SAMPLE 8, which appears later in the blog)
There was an interesting ‘marbled’ effect, although there was a tendency for the print medium to ‘pool’ between the thread in areas of lots multiple overlap.
SAMPLE 4: Next, I used some thicker parcel string and repeated the exercise for SAMPLE 2. Again I overprinted fabric from SAMPLE 8 (which appears later in the blog)
There is good definition from the resist, and although there is still a tendency for the print medium to ‘pool’, it is not excessive and the results are pleasing.
Dye-cut stencil and polypropylene fruit net, Selectacine print medium
I used some pre-cut florist’s paper which I had saved from a bunch of supermarket flowers. On the second half of the screen, I placed orange fruit net to act as a resist. 
The inspiration for use of the fruit net was from the course notes. Use of the florist’s paper was borrowed from the analogy of the ‘school, Belo Horizonte’, page 3 of my sketchbook.
SAMPLE 5 (two prints): I was disappointed by my first screen print (left). When I removed the screen the fruit net was left on the fabric rather than adhering to the mesh, so another print could not be taken. To make it worse, ink had seeped under the mesh, so there was no resist.
Strangely enough, the fruit mesh had left a resist on the screen, so I took a second print (right). I had variable effects with the pre-cut florist’s paper. Some shapes were crisp prints, some the ink had crept under the paper. This could have been because the paper was too thick or maybe the surface was too soft/padded?
I blotted the print with a newspaper. Unfortunately some of the colour from the ink transferred to my fabric. Note to use newsprint instead next time.
Brown paper stencil, Selectacine print medium
As suggested in the course notes, I cut a series of stencils from brown paper using a scalpel. I used some of the shapes from an aerial view of a complex of Oscar Niemeyer’s buildings (see sketchbook, page 35, residential blocks, Petropolis). I changed the scale and re-arranged the shapes, using both the positive and negative cut-outs.
SAMPLE 6: I laid them on the fabric with the screen on top and printed using the whole screen. 
I was pleased to get sharp, crisp images, and the brown paper stencils held up well, even the small shapes. One difficulty I had was getting the paint to cover right to the bottom of the screen and I had to make several passes. I’m not sure why, but I don’t think it was due to lack of printing medium, rather my technique being not quite correct (squeegee at the wrong angle or too fast/slow pass?).
Flour paste resist, Selectacine print medium
The inspiration for this design came from the marks on the concrete at the University, Brasilia (see sketchbook, page 24).
Reference 1 describes a method whereby flour paste is spread onto the screen, allowed to dry, then inscribed with a wooden skewer. Although I mixed up the paste recipe according to the instructions, I found difficulty in getting a smooth even film across the screen. On the first pass I thought it was covered, but when I held it up, I could see light passing through some areas of weave on the mesh. As a result of making sure the weave was covered, I ended up spreading the paste rather too thickly and unevenly (see below).
I had to wait overnight for the paste to dry. 
I decided to make a simple ‘doodle’ which I sketched onto the flour with a pencil. I then scratched away the design using a wooden skewer. It was impossible to scratch away the paste in areas where it was applied thickly, so I decided to leave ‘gaps’ in my design, as I didn’t want to damage my screen.
SAMPLE 7: The results show a lovely crisp image where the flour paste was scratched away. In contrast the areas of thick paste cracked and let print medium through the mesh. Whilst I really like this crackled effect, it was not intentional, so it’s good to know the cause.
I think if I was preparing the flour paste again, I might try and make it slightly less viscous in an attempt to get an thinner, more even coverage. 
The disadvantage of this technique is that the screen can only be used a few times, and the pattern is difficult to repeat of the screen had to be re-made.
Masking tape stencil, Selectacine print medium
As suggested in the course notes, I used masking tape of various widths to make a stencil on one of my screens.
SAMPLE 8: Now that I had removed the layers of newspaper from my print bed, I wanted to get lots of practice improving my squeegee technique in an attempt to get a crisp image with smooth, even application of (not too much) paint. I started with turquoise and over printed with mauve.
In general I was very pleased with these results and I like the effect of over printing. I did observe that my first mauve print did not seem to have enough paint going through the mesh (see below)
Although my second print was fine (below)
I’m not sure why this happened. Maybe different squeegee technique, or less paint penetrating through the mesh on the first pass.
Vilene stencil, Selectacine print medium
I started by cutting a piece of fine sew-in vilene to the size of the screen. I then drew on a stencil shape in pencil and cut it out. Underneath, I also painted the vilene with a series of patterns using acrylic paint. I then taped the vilene to the screen frame and made a series of four prints with a single colour of print medium. 
SAMPLE 9: Series of four prints
First print: The stencil cut-out is bold. Only a small amount of print medium is beginning to penetrate the vilene, which acts as an almost total resist. 
Second print: The effect of print medium penetrating the vilene can start to be seen. The areas of resist created by the brushed on acrylic paint can start to be seen.
Third print: A substantial amount of paint is starting to penetrate the vilene. As a consequence the bold cut-out areas is beginning to be less differentiated from the background. In contrast, the acrylic mask is becoming more obvious.
Fourth print: The final print is similar to the third, but with less background texture from the vilene itself, as it has become saturated with print medium. The acrylic mask still shows the texture of the vilene, so several layers of paint would be required if the desired effect is for a solid mask.
Acrylic spray paint, Selectacine print medium

I wanted to compare the effect of using a delicate mask like fruit netting with a more solid paper mask.
Unfortunately, the first time I applied the spray I had the stencils on the back of the screen (as if I was using them as stencils during printing). Therefore, I sprayed the entire front of the spray and did not achieve any mask!
None-the-less, this uneven application gave an interesting cracked surface with some solid (unpainted) areas where the paper had stuck to the net, and peeling it off removed the spray paint.
SAMPLE 10: I decided to go ahead and print this screen anyway (below)
The result was quite dense, but I imagine that it could make a lovely background for discharge painting.
Next I made another screen, this time putting the stencils the rights way round! 
SAMPLE 11: The stencil effect looks good, although when I took a print the result was rather more subtle than I would have liked (see below)
I think the problem was that I did not apply enough layers of spray paint to properly block the screen mesh. 

Direct painting with acrylic paint, Selectacine print medium

I tried to make a variety of marks in this sample, using different implements. The ‘brick-like’ pattern (painted with a brush) was inspired by the window frames in the school, Belo Horizonte (see sketchbook, page 2).
When I painted on my design with acrylic paint, I realised that the mesh was new and that I had forgotten to scrub it first with Cif cream. When I scrubbed the painted design, I found that the acrylic paint came off, and I had to re-paint.
SAMPLE 12: As a result of the re-painting, the edges of the finished resist are not as crisp as I would have liked (see below)
As the embroidery hoop was small, I had to use a credit card to spread the print medium instead of a squeegee and it was more difficult to spread the paint evenly.
  1. Benn, C and Morgan, L. (2009) Screen printing: Layering textiles with colour, texture and imagery. Committed to Cloth. 4 Print Ltd. Nottingham.
  2. Dunnewold’s, J. (2010) Art cloth: A guide to surface design for fabric. Interweave Press. Loveland. 

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