Friday, October 19, 2012

A Love Affair with Letterpress and Screenprint

I think I'm in love.

But let me start at the beginning. 

In college, I was all about letterpress. We had an amazing letterpress studio at The University of Kansas. I even did my Independent Study courses in Letterpress. It's so romantic, and rustic and tangible. There's just something about creating a lino cut block from scratch, or setting your own type with the heavy lead. I wasn't really cut out for the slick computer graphic design coursework, using Photoshop and Illustrator. I felt much more at home creating things with texture and imperfections.

Here is a letterpress video filmed on site at the University of Kansas featuring my wonderful professor.

But when I graduated, I knew that I'd be leaving my love of letterpress behind in Kansas. It's not like a Heidelberg Press fits easily in an apartment. So time went by, and occasionally I'd make lino cut blocks, or do little printmaking projects, but nothing really extensive.

I have been waxing and waning for a few years about learning screenprinting. I had never tried it before, and was slightly intimidated by the whole emulsion process, equipment, mess, and space required. A little while ago I felt like it was time to try some new techniques. I started out making vinyl stencils with my Silhouette Cameo and doing a "paint on screenprint" technique. I was fairly happy with the results. Then I moved onto using vinyl stencils and bleach to create a batik/tye dye effect. My confidence was growing. I felt that my Silhouette Cameo could ease the process of learning to screen print. I knew that I could make a vinyl stencil and adhere it to a silk screen frame. So I started gathering supplies, and somehow decided it was going to be "a good idea" to make my own silk screen frames using Speedball fabric and unfinished wood frames. (It actually ended up working very well.) Once my stencil designs were finalized, I cut them out using my Cameo, adhered them to the bottom of my frames, taped them up and waited a few days. Then I had another grand idea- to mix my own "custom paint colors". Yep - I'm an artist - always taking the long road.

So this week my kitchen became a full blown screenprint studio. Squeegees everywhere, spatulas on the countertops, newspaper covering the tables...the whole deal. My "plan A" was to screenprint on my patterned fabric. Bad idea. The fabric was too dark and the ink not quite opaque enough. So I moved to "plan B" (aka Mike's Idea) which was to screen print on knit jersey and make an applique. FAIL! Finally "plan C" was to modify my typical bag design to use a solid color fabric on the front, with the pattern fabric incorporated. SUCCESS!

I had the same magical feeling while screenprinting in my kitchen as I did in my college letterpress class. The one where I'd ink the platen, roll the cylinder over the set type and my design would appear crisp and glossy. All those years later, and it still felt the same. The tiny imperfections, the mistakes of not inking enough, the trial and error. Those are things you don't get to experience if you rely on a computer for all your design work.

And the finished product : Amazing. I could not be more thrilled. It's true- I am in love.

Robot Argyle Zippered Wet Bag ($18) available HERE.

Robot Argyle Link Loop Diaper Bag ($16) available HERE.


Maureen Heck said...

Would you ever adhere the vinyl stencil directly to the fabric and then use the screen over it? Say, if you we're making one print...

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Maya Alexander said...

The idea of custom paint is wise and it will stay longer.
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