Thursday, April 2, 2009

Screenprinting Classes and Sudafed

Last night I had my second screenprinting class at Spacecraft, taught by the lovely Sara Gates, owner of Kingsland Printing.

Printing has interested me for oh-so-long. I love its versatility, accessibility, and affordability. I appreciate that the processes range from potato prints, which my daughter can easily make, to lithographs, which I have, in the past, made in various studios.

Two of my favorite art works in my apartment are litho prints. The first of these was made in 1967 by the abstract expressionist artist Robert Motherwell, which was included in a memorial tribute to the poet and art-critic, Frank O'Hara.

The second piece, also a lithograph, was printed by Emmi Whitehorse, a young Navajo artist who has her studio in New Mexico. I want to say that she printed it in 1999, but don't quote me on that... I love the colors- when Anevay was a baby we sat for long hours in a rocking chair reading and looking at this print. Somehow I felt strong looking at it. Funny, it's been hanging for so long in my loft here in Brooklyn, I go for long spells forgetting it is even there- but then- one day, I look up and there it is...

Both of these works remind me of a past life- of when I lived in Wisconsin with my baby girl and her father. I had just recently gone back to school (a small liberal arts college), and was completely immersed in a printmaking class, as well as co-curating two small print exhibitions. It was a strange time of my life- I was a new mom, a returning, non-traditional college student, and was dealing with the broken pieces of the relationship I had with Anevay's dad.

A lot has changed in the last seven+ years! It's nice to have these prints, as vestiges of my former life, up on my wall. I tend to forget how great it is living in New York, how exciting it is to be here- it takes something as simple as looking at these two prints to make me realize how far I've come, and just how happy and lucky I am...

Lately, as I try to get my design business off the ground, I've been looking into ways to add to the embroidery, drawing and painting. Printmaking seemed like a natural option, and was made easier by the fact that Spacecraft (such a great place!) offers a class just a block away from my house.

I went to the first class with a sinus cold, but I still enjoyed myself, and was excited to get to work on my homework- a screen to prepare for printing, as well as giving an image to Sara so that she could burn it onto a screen (photo-emulsion).

My excitement waned a little as the week progressed- I had clothing orders to fill, was busy with a million little things, and, on top of it, my cold was not getting better (in fact, it was getting worse, probably exacerbated by the fact that I went out this past weekend).

I put aside yesterday to work on the screen... Thinking that it would probably take about an hour.

It took five hours...

See, I wanted to play with my design, see how delicately I could paint lines over the screen. I was really happy with my design (a fairy-tale-ish scene in which Little Red Riding Hood was chasing a decapitated wolf... I know, I know, gory, but it was rather sweet), and quickly added the filler to the screen (screenprinting works on the concept of negative space- the paint is washed away, leaving your design- the filler remains on the screen everywhere paint was not used).

Alas, when I went to wash away the paint from my screen, it wouldn't come off!!! I scrubbed and scrubbed, but to no avail. I remembered that Sara had said that filler could be washed off with ammonia...

Imagine me, standing over the bathtub scrubbing a screen, breathing in noxious ammonia fumes. Not pretty...

Well, I started over. I painstakingly re-drew my design (I even liked it better than he first time), but when it came to washing off the paint, the same thing happened!!!

I was very frustrated. I coughed and swore and even threw a paintbrush across the room (needing, then, to take a sponge to the wall... it looked rather like a blue version of my Motherwell print).

And then, I started again. This last time, I sketched out a very simple design, took only a couple of minutes to paint it, and decided to forgo adding the filler until I got to my class...

Sara explained to me that I hadn't done anything wrong, but that I just hadn't been patient enough in working on scrubbing off the paint. So I sat there over the sink at Spacecraft, scrubbing away, and guess what?! The paint came away, and I was left with my finished screen. Not perfect, of course, as I hadn't spent very long on the design, but a noble first effort.

The printing processes in class were a lot of fun- Sara went over quite a bit of material.

For next week, I'm going to give myself a little bit more time to think about what it is I want to get out of the class... I'm thinking, now, of not only making some prints to go over clothing, but perhaps working on a few editions...

Today, however, I'm going to take a break from all things creative, and will work on cleaning my house (sans ammonia, as I don't think I have it in me to breathe in that vile stuff again), drink tea, and, who knows, maybe even take a much needed nap. It's time I ambushed my sinus cold... I want to go to at least one of my three screenprinting classes in good health!


  1. Let me know if (an how) you kick the cold! Mine has been hangin on way too long.

    The class sounds very interesting - and challenging in a good way.

  2. hey melissa..
    i took a bunch of screenprinting classes in college.
    soak the screen in Mr.Clean before trying to get the screen filler off. :)
    it works really well.

  3. MM- I'm kicking my cold's ass... Slowly;)

    Bonnie- thanks! Mr. Clean does, I believe, have ammonia in it... vile stuff. I did learn not to use a 1/2 bottle at a time...


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