Creating a Hand Pulled Serigraph Print
A print maker takes an image from a line drawing to a completed artwork
What is a serigraph, for me the process begins with a well-planned line drawing. It is really difficult to make any changes once the stencil layers start going down, so I take my time with this stage. Both with chess and with Serigraph Printing, it is important to think many moves ahead.
The printmaking art technique I use, is over one thousand years old. It originated in China. Pulling the ink across the screen through a stencil is still done in the same fashion. The colors are laid down one at a time. After a color is printed, work starts on the next stencil to build up an image in layers.
There have, of course, been many advancements in the materials used to create a serigraph. However pulling ink across paper to create an edition of nearly identical prints by hand, is still very challenging. Originally stencils were painted directly onto the silk.
My stencils are created by placing a sheet of clear plastic on top of the artwork. Then black is painted where I want the next stencil color to go. This black stencil is then transferred onto the synthetic silk screen. The areas where the black ink is are washed away, leaving an open stencil for the next color (here a light blue) to go through.
It is really important to get not only the right color, but also the right level of transparency.
The shade and intensity are both very important because this will affect all of the colors that are already on the serigraph, together with all of the colors that are going on with subsequent stencils. This is because the image is built up in translucent layers. Because of this, getting a color just right can sometimes be quite tricky.
Here a light sensitive emulsion is pulled across the screen. Then this film is left to dry in a dark place.
Putting the Stencil on the Screen
When the stencil emulsion is dry, the black stencil I painted for the next color is taped to the bottom of the screen. Then the screen is placed into a light table for exposure.
The areas that were exposed to the light become hard and the areas not exposed to the light remain soft. When the screen is blasted with cool water the areas that were blocked from the light by the black stencil, wash away leaving the screen with the stencil pattern on it. This is the stencil that is used to pull the next color across the serigraphs.
The screen with the stencil on it is then fastened securely to hinges on a table. Then it can go up and down, but always returns to the exact same position for printing.
One of the prints from the edition is carefully lined up under the screen. Then registration marks are taped against that print so that every print from the edition can slide into the exact same spot. After that the next color can then be printed lined up correctly on all of the serigraph prints.
Pulling a Color
The ink is then put on the screen, and pulled across each of the serigraph prints in the edition using a squeegee. Then the prints are hung to dry. In the first image you can see a stack of prints waiting to have the next color pulled onto them. Some other prints are already hanging to dry.
In the second image a transparent layer of white is going down to give highlights on the zebras in the serigraph ‘Awesomely Individual.’
The ink takes between three and four hours to dry.
After all of the serigraphs have been printed everything has to be carefully cleaned. A few years ago I switched from oil based inks, to acrylic water based inks. This means I no longer have to deal with the harsh cleaning solvents. I am happy about that every time I clean my screen.
Serigraph Definition in a Historical context
This printmaking art technique originated in China over 1,000 years ago as a way to transfer designs onto fabric. Until modern times the stencil was applied directly on to silk.
This Printing process arrived in North America around 1900, and was initially widely used for industrial and commercial purposes. In the 1930’s artists adopted the silk screen printing process and renamed it ‘serigraph printing.’ This new name was adopted to distinguish the print maker as artist from a similar process used for commercial and industrial purposes. Screen printing is still used commercially to put images on T-shirts and mugs. Today however computer based printing is becoming much more common.
Pulling a color is the most exciting part of serigraph printing because you get to see all at once what the new color looks like. Printing a single color, beginning after you complete an acetate stencil, and ending when you are ready to start working on the next stencil, takes about 5 hours. I only see what the completed serigraph looks like when I am pulling the last color.
Original Print Versus Limited Edition (Reproduction) Print
What is the difference between an ‘Original Print’ such as a Serigraph, Intaglio, Etching or Wood Block Print, compared to a limited edition reproduction print? Quite simply, an ‘Original Print’ is a work of Art, a ‘limited edition’ (or reproduction) print is a photograph of a work of art.
Original Prints because they are created by hand, are usually in smaller editions often below 100 prints.
The ‘limited edition’ print is signed and numbered by the artist, but it is a photographic reproduction of a painting. The Artist created a painting which was then photographed. The title ‘Limited Edition’ refers to the fact that there are only 500 or 5,000 reproduction prints of that particular painting.