Smooth as Silk

Silk screening is my newfound love. Just yesterday, I finally had a chance to learn. My friend and I made the trek down to 3rd Ward in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to take an intensive, five-hour long workshop on Screen Printing 101. It was a hot, muggy day in New York. Unfortunately for us the room was A.C. free, but no matter. We were finally going to learn how to screen print.

We each came prepared with a black and white design and materials to print on. For my bird-themed studio, I decided to draw something, well, bird related, and within the design create a subtle monogram. I brought along some scraps of fabric, an old canvas, two shirts and a couple of plain gray pillowcases that desperately needed some love.

The instructor was thorough and informative. He spent most of the class explaining and demonstrating the process using a photosensitive process to create the screen stencil. In an effort to save time, the screens were already prepared with the emulsion. Our black and white designs were printed on acetate, placed on the screens, held down with glass, then exposed to light for twenty minutes. When the light was exposed to the surface, the areas that were not blocked by design, hardened. The "soft" areas covered by the designs were washed out to open the mesh that would eventually allow ink to pass through.

Some of the screens were not properly exposed, and so the process had to be repeated with about six screens, allowing us to see the instructor remove the emulsion, dry the screens, re-coat and re-expose them. While it was frustrating for him, it enabled us to visually understand the technique since we never really got a chance to practice prep the screens on our own.

After four long hours of demonstration and lecture, most of the class had screens ready to print. It was near dinner time, I was hungry and longing for a bottle of water. When finally he showed us how to squeegee the ink onto the print surface, I was raring to go. I didn't bother with a practice sheet. I mixed my mustard yellow color, prepared the first pillowcase and squeegeed my design onto the fabric surface. The design came through beautifully, the color looked sophisticated on the gray surface. So I went squeegee crazy and applied the design onto the second pillowcase, a t-shirt, a white tank top and stretched canvas until I had my fill. I started thinking of ways I could start a business. I wouldn't be surprised if most do when they first learn to screen print.

Ironically, there was a BBQ pig roast going on at the same time just outside where we were washing and drying our screens. Yet, I didn't get a taste of it or a chance to satisfy my thirst. My friend and I were anxious to leave the very crowded, very sweaty scene, to down a cold beverage, have some dinner, and talk about what we would print next.