Monday, May 9, 2016

Printmaking: Fun and Educational

I have recently discovered a new form of art thanks to a requirement for my college degree: Silkscreen Printmaking. I've had a little bit of experience with printmaking before when I met a visiting Korean artist on my college campus. That experience opened my mind to the possibility that printmaking wasn't lame.

A little while ago, I got hired on to Intel and, as one of the benefits of my job, I get recomped for my college tuition. I'd taken about a year long break from college because I just ran out of money for it and didn't want to rack up a hideous amount of debt while I'm still young. Thanks to my job, I have the opportunity to jump back in to college and to get my degree.

Since I'm pursuing a degree in computer animation, I get to take art classes for my electives outside of my focus of computer modeling and animation. Since I work full-time, though, I'm limited in my time for what I can take, so I pretty much take whatever will fulfill my requirements that I can get in my 5-10pm time frame. So I decided to take a printmaking class.

Silkscreen printmaking involves ink, a frame, semi-dangerous chemicals, and a squeegee. The frame that I have in class is a square made out of wooden 2x2"s with a fine thread count fabric, similar to chiffon, but with a much tighter weave. The ink that we use is similar in consistency, smell, and taste to acrylic, but isn't quite acrylic. How I know what it tastes like is a short story involving daring adventurousness and squeamish friends. The semi-dangerous chemicals that we use are nothing that will kill you and really will only make you dizzy if you don't have decent ventilation. Since I've got particularly sensitive skin, I can get a rash if I don't wear gloves. The chemicals that we use are a photo emulsion and a photo emulsion remover. The squeegee we use is similar to a shower squeegee, but had thicker rubber. We use it to push the ink through the screen on to the paper or fabric underneath.

The printing process itself is quick and easy. A well-trained monkey could do it. The preparation that leads up to printing is the complicated part. Building the frame from scratch is no worse than any other woodworking project. stretching the screen involves either a fancy, expensive tool, or three friends. After you have your frame built up, your next job is to create your design. After you create your design, you'll want to transfer it on to a transparency. You then take the photo emulsion and apply it to the outside of your screen and let it dry. For getting the image on to the screen, I built my own exposure unit with a 250 Watt halogen lamp and a wooden base and arm to hold it up. You then put the transparency between the emulsion covered screen and the lamp. When you turn on the lamp, it 'burns' the image you've made on to your screen. 'Burning' doesn't cause any damage to your screen or to your transparency. What it does is just harden the emulsion that isn't covered up by the dark lines on your transparency. If you're doing the printmaking process at home like I am, you then hose off your screen with a shower head and a kitchen scratch brush. The emulsion that was underneath the lines of your transparency will wash out and leave a negative of your design. The rest of the printmaking process involves using the squeegee to push the ink through the screen where the emulsion isn't.

The only downside to printmaking is that it's the most efficient if you're making a large number of prints. Doing any less than 5 prints is more trouble than it's worth. Creating your prints should take longer than creating the prints should take longer than preparing the screen for printing. This is why I've teamed up with a fellow classmate to start making and selling prints on T-shirts, recyclable grocery bags, and paper.

Printmaking is a fun and rewarding process. There's almost nothing as satisfying as pushing ink through a screen and seeing a finished piece of art come out the other side. It's been addictive for me and I was hooked after a few weeks in my class. If you ever have the opportunity, I highly recommend trying out silkscreen printmaking.