Shop talk, answers to your FAQs, and a peek behind the scenes of an artist-run fine art gallery in Park Slope
One of the great things about working with a master in any field is learning how to avoid—and repair—the inevitable glitches and mistakes that one makes in learning a new skill. I am a painter and sculptor relatively new to screen printing. I first worked with Roni Henning a few years ago and have returned to her studio several times to create prints that involve several layers of color.
The process of creating a screen print begins with making a drawing in opaque ink on a clear sheet of acetate. There is a drawing for each color. Each of these layers must be carefully aligned, or registered, to be sure certain the details line up to keep the image in focus.
My print currently on view at the gallery in the project space, “Boom Baby Boom:1946” was printed with six layers of color: red, yellow, khaki, blue, a flesh tone, and black. Here is what the separate films look like—lined up individually and aligned together on a light table. There is also a seventh color: the white of the paper.
Each acetate screen is placed against a tightly stretched screen that has been prepared with a chemical film that is light sensitive. The acetate and the screen are then exposed to a measured amount of light that causes a chemical reaction in the screen’s film making the screen impermeable except where the opaque ink has been drawn. After the screen is washed, the blocked area on the screen—where the drawings blocked the light—is washed away, allowing ink to pass through and imprint on paper or cloth.
Printmaking is both a precise medium and one that can be rather messy: you are pouring ink and with a wide squeegee “flooding” the screen by spreading the ink across the image before printing. I am a painter with a high tolerance for a cluttered table of paints, brushes and a smudge of paint on my hands. Printmaking requires a neater approach. Handling each sheet of paper several times with hands that may have traces of wet ink, not to mention maneuvering a dripping squeegee between each swipe of the printing, was a challenge for me. One must work quickly before the ink dries on the screen. It is inevitable that there are occasional drips or flaws in prints that are otherwise ok.
Roni showed me how to make a few fixes on an otherwise clean print. A small drip of ink, for example is best left to dry, after which it is easier to scrape it off with a single edged razor. There is a technique to this that Roni demonstrated that involves very careful scraping using a variety of angles of a single edged blade. The angle of the blade depends on the softness of the paper and the absorption of the ink. The erasure is finished with a careful polishing of the paper surface to make the erasure less obvious.
There are occasionally places where the ink did not get pressed through the screen and there are color gaps. If one catches this while the paper is still in place, it is possible to do another pass with the ink but sometimes, especially with less experienced printers, it’s not noticed until after the paper is pulled out from under the screen. One can go back in with colored pencils or the same ink applied in a careful stippling technique to match the missing color.
The tips of the flames did not print on one print. I filled it in with a matching color. The color has to also have a matt finish to match the ink. Also visible on this print, there is a small misalignment that looks like a milk mustache on my mother’s upper lip. I filled that in with a bit of flesh colored pencil. Here are my tools for finishing each print: a grey knead eraser to clean smudges, a single edge razor for scraping off tiny dots of misplaced ink, colored pencils to fill some small color gaps.
I have at least ten good prints out of run of 14. I can use some of the rejected prints for collage or some other project. I learn something every time I go through the process. I am eager to get back in the studio to work on a new print.