Making Art

Bringing Art Making Into Your Life

Playing with your art, a new medium, a new thread

Art is about making something and reacting for or against it. That is how you start to build upon a simple idea. It doesn’t have to be a process of extreme angst. Just make something, do more of the bit you thought was working and make something else. Then another. You follow the thread of you own ideas.

In my last post I suggested that one of the cures  [solutions?] for feeling a bit stuck and aimless in your art was indeed not to try to do something ‘Good’. It was to play and enjoy. Maybe try a new medium.  I decided to take my own advice. My husband had bought me a screenprinting [ or silkscreening] kit for my recent birthday.  For some reason not too long ago I had an urge to do some screenprinting. I have been known to noodle about with a lino cut and in the past I have done quite a bit of printmaking, like etching and wood cuts. But I’d never tried screenprinting. I felt like doing a method of printing where you can create repetition easily and for that I think screenprinting is the winner.

If you are trying a new medium like charcoal or conte, then you basically just get a piece of paper and go for it, but if you’re planning on trying a more technical medium, where you kind of do need to know what you are doing then ideally it’s fun do a class. But if you can’t find/afford/get to a class then my approach to a new medium tends to be something like this:

  1. Go to the library and hit the books [or in this case to spend some birthday money]. I like a good over view of materials and methods before I begin. Find out if I need more equipment, what I can scrounge from around the house, what I might need to buy. What are the basic methods, and because I never believe there is only one way to do something, get a few conflicting opinions on how to do it properly. [Sounds crazy I know… I will explain later.]
  2. Hit the internet. I like to watch videos of people actually doing the thing if it’s something that involves specific techniques. [ Seeing someone pull that squeegee down the screen is a lot more informative to us visual types than telling us to pull it at 45 degrees]. The series by Catspit Productions are good.
  3. Flood my brain with images of screenprinted art. I look at loads of sites and books showcasing new work. Why?  Because I want to know what is possible. See the way other artists use line, solids, white space. Thinking about why they have done what they’ve done.

Number 3 is really important. Every time you approach a new medium you learn about the way to do it, but sometimes we don’t spend enough time thinking about how that medium will intercept our ideas. What specific ways this medium will affect how we work.

Let’s think about screenprinting for a moment.

  • Like most methods of printmaking you end up with a thin layer of ink [ or fabric medium].
  • You can use as many colours as you like but every time you do you will be printing another layer and creating another stencil to print with. This is a lot of effort each time, not like in a painting where more colours are no more effort.
  • The background, t-shirts, paper, wood, becomes one of the colours in the work.
  • It requires a fair bit of forward planning, unlike say paint and canvas; you don’t just prepare the surface then go nuts.
  • It requires a certain amount of precision and neatness: lining up layers, etc.
  • You can print on a lot of different surfaces. Fabric, wood, metal, glass, paper, card.
  • Although you can do very fine work, its extremely good for bold shapes.

But thinking about it like this is still more information about how, more than what.

My next pile of thinking is why do I like it?

  • I like the flat, colour, the way it overlaps and forms new colours [if your medium is transparent].
  • I like the way that you are supposed to register it [line it up] properly to create seamless joins between colours, but when you don’t the out of register look is really lively and inviting.
  • I like the way you get little bits of spill: random lines and marks. For me they really add to the medium.
  • I like the combinations of line work and flat shapes.
  • I also get to use some of my other skills. I used to be a good photographer, I’m sure it’s still in there some where, and if you’ve been reading my blog for a bit you will know I have mad paper cutting skills. [excellent for stencils]

I mentioned earlier in point 2 that I like to get lots of differing [conflicting] opinions on what you can and can’t [or should and shouldn’t do]. I like this because you end up with a much more full sense of how it all works. For example one of the books I read, talks only about creating screens using photo emulsion. And yet you can also use stencils made from paper, acetate, or even paint directly onto the screen with a blocking agent. The book is obviously coming from the point of professional screenprinting and there’s a lot more to it than that.

Now I know some of you are thinking, wasn’t this supposed to be about play? Where’s the play? Ah well you see this is playing with purpose: because I find that if I sit down in front of any medium with no idea at all that, that’s all I will be doing. Sitting. So the play comes in for me by picking a fun idea, one that has been flopping round in my head for a while. But also since I have never done  screenprint before, I want to try it out, but on something I actually like.

My bathroom has, in decorating terms, an extremely ugly shower screen. Some kind of bobbly  yellow glass from the sixties. But a while ago I noticed that the pattern is really interesting. It looks like  random lines and shapes at first, but the more you look at it, it starts to look like some kind of written language, like cuneiform or an alien language. When I’m in the shower I spend quite a lot of time picking out patterns and blocks of forms.


Above: the ugly [beautiful] bobbly glass.


Above: first I tried  frottage [rubbing over it with a crayon on paper ], but that didn’t capture it at all.

So next I just looked at it and pulled some of the shapes I liked best. I played with the composition and ended putting them together in block, like it’s a sign, or a statement in this imaginary alien language.


Above: The final composition.

I cut out two stencils: one for the black and one for the pink. I did the black first then the pink. I didn’t really worry about registering it properly, I just eyeballed it. So they aren’t lined up perfectly. That’s ok in this because there are no places where one colour has to sit neatly inside the other.


Above: I like the bits where the colour is missing. It adds texture.


Above: The image still wet. There is about 8 sets of the same letters on the one piece of paper.

The point of this playing was to both have fun and learn a bit about screenprinting. So at the end of screenprint number one I have learnt a few things. The first couple of points are technical:

  1. You can’t make a stencil that goes so close to the edge of the screen as I did, because you can’t move the squeegee past it properly.
  2. You need a lot of ink. You wouldn’t really want to do only a couple of prints because it would be a waste of materials.
  3. Its pretty forgiving. A few times I failed to use the squeegee properly but it didn’t really matter. You just go over it again.
  4. You need paper of a decent weight, as the screen lays down a fair bit of ink: enough to buckle the paper if it’s too thin.

I also learnt a few things artistically:

  1. I didn’t think about really using the medium as it works best: by creating a variety of colours by overlapping and trapping colors. You can make pieces that use only a couple of colours, seem to have many colours. I just did two colours on a white background . Next time I will plan a piece that really uses the background as another colour.
  2. My very flat scheme didn’t take advantage of the delightful scratchiness you sometimes get in screenprinting.
  3. The white space didn’t become part of the composition in my piece, it seems too separate.
  4. I would like to see the use of line with this peice. Would it make it cluttered or add ssomething good?

I don’t think I like what I made that much but that’s ok because now I  have a bit of an idea of what I will do next. I can use the things I learnt to inform my process both technically and how it will intercept my ideas.  So try something new, don’t take it too seriously. If you screw it up it doesn’t matter, you will have found something out. Don’t forget to have fun.

One comment on “Playing with your art, a new medium, a new thread

  1. Jo Teague
    February 13, 2013

    I like the way you think about art and have fun with it, but in a meaningful way. You have made me pursue something I have wanted to do for years, so thankyou. Good work with the silkscreening, I look forward to your next experiment/attempt!

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This entry was posted on February 13, 2013 by in Making art and tagged , , , , , , .
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