A Season of Stuff: collected silkscreening supplies

A Season of Stuff is a writing challenge that I will be doing for the length of Spring 2016.  The plan – to pick some object from within my personal possessions each day and write about it – its history, its significance, etc.  Come on in – check out my stuff.

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The first time I silkscreened was in 7th grade shop class (it might have been 8th grade).  It was at the height of the Op/Gotcha/whatever surf-related clothing trend, so I made a design that was this dude holding a surfboard.  It wasn’t the type of silkscreening where you use a photosensitive emulsion to expose your image; it was the type where you had a film that you cut out your design and adhered it to the screen.  Thus my design was really simple, but I remember that project fondly.

I wouldn’t silkscreen again until college, sophomore year.  I feel like at this time every other punk rock fanzine had a “how-to” article on how to do silkscreening at home.  I invested in a Speedball silkscreening starter kit, a 150-watt lightbulb, an aluminum pie plate and I was off on decade+ journey of piss-poor silkscreening, doing a bunch of patches and t-shirts for my bands, flyers for shows, some record covers, etc.

In 2009, after almost 15 years of half-assing my silkscreening, I had decided to try to become a bit better at it.  In an attempt to do so I took on doing a series of art prints that were multi-color.  In the past I had mainly stuck to single color prints or a couple multi-color prints where the registration was not significantly important.

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One of my first multi-color art prints, made for Roboto’s 10th anniversary, November 2009

Over the coming years I would do a handful of 3-color art prints, sell silkscreened prints and other goodies at the local I Made It Market craft fairs and even create an Etsy shop.  During this period I would build a proper exposure unit to allow me to expose a screen in a matter of 2-3 minutes instead of futzing around with exposing a screen with a single 150-watt bulb for half a hour or so.  It’s amazing what having “proper” equipment will do.  The percentage of times that I need to re-burn a screen because it wasn’t properly exposed has been greatly reduced with building that unit.

Which brings me to my “stuff” for the day.  Over the years my interest in silkscreening has meant that i’ve adopted various silkscreening supplies from the people in my life.  Before heading off to California, Nathan Martin gave me a bunch of his silkscreens, including several that still had Creation is Crucifixion designs on them.  Friends who bought screens for one specific project would often give me them after they were done using it.  And shortly after I started doing these art prints, my father-in-law gave me a bunch of his old silkscreening supplies that he hadn’t used in some time.

Among these supplies were a bunch of abnormal size frames – mostly a bunch of smaller ones and a few “full-size” ones.  One that really caught my eye was the one in the top photo which has a screen size of about 10″ tall by maybe 3′ wide.  It presented a different layout that I wasn’t used to and I was eager to try to use it for something.

Shortly after getting the frame, my friend Jude asked me to be part of an art show dealing with mountaintop removal coal mining.  I decided to use this frame to make my print.  So I made a design that was short and wide of a bulldozer pushing along the lyrics to the song “They Can’t Put It Back”.

At this point I still hadn’t built my proper exposure unit, so to expose this screen I had to get creative.  For those unfamiliar, “burning” a silkscreen involves coating it in a photosensitive goop, letting it dry and then exposing it to light with a positive transparency of your image on top of the screen.  The areas of the screen that are exposed to the light react and become hardened while the areas of the screen hidden by the blacked out areas of the transparency don’t react and should wash out when rinsed with water.

Of course all of this relies on you having the proper amount of light at the right distance for the right amount of time.  Doing this with the gutter-tech setup of a single 150-watt lightbulb in the middle of the image often means that the middle of the image could get overexposed while the edges would get underexposed, meaning you couldn’t wash out the middle of the image while they sides of the screen might all wash out.  To do this long image, I tried setting up a double lightbulb exposure.  Of course this just meant that instead of a single hotspot, I had two hotspots.

In an attempt to get this screen properly burned, I burned and re-burned it at least a dozen times.  I nearly found my breaking point.  Seriously, I became so pissed, but eventually I would get a burn that I found acceptable and here is the final print:

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Some of the text was still a bit sketchy but it worked with the overall feel of the print.  But this was the process that made me realize that if I wanted to be at all serious about doing silkscreening in my own home, I was going to have to upgrade my equipment and make a proper exposure unit (the key to my exposure unit is a handful of F20T12BL fluorescent blacklights).

I don’t do as much silkscreening these days as I did from 2009-2012 or so, but I’m still at it.  This week I’ve busted out this trusty old short and wide frame to use to make some flyers for the show i’m doing on May 13th.  Nothing too fancy on the design front this time around, but I plan to try out some process of multiple layers of the same print to get some interesting effects.  First layer went down tonight.  More shots as they come together.

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