Screen-prints exist in a different artistic dimension to that of paintings. The creative process follows a different path, the artist’s brush is replaced by a squeegee (yes, that is really what it’s called), and the canvas is substituted for silkscreens and paper.
Prints are usually produced in limited editions, numbered discreetly in pencil at the bottom corner of the paper: “3/10” for instance, would indicate that it was the third print produced in a total series of ten. Whilst this means there is more than one version of the artwork, no two prints are ever exactly the same. This is because of the nature of the process; unpredictability always has a role to play .
Screen prints blossom in stages
The first is the initial design, which envisages what will eventually become the final product. The design is then transferred onto a mesh screen by placing an acetate sheet featuring a negative of the design beneath a layer of light-reactive emulsion, which hardens under a bright light. Then by carefully rinsing off the unhardened emulsion with water, the remaining hardened sections create a stencil (AKA the silkscreen).*
Layers of colour and meaning
Using a squeegee, (essentially a rubber blade attached to a long handle), the printer squeezes the ink through the mesh silkscreen stencil and onto the printable surface beneath, usually paper.
For every colour used in a print a separate layer of ink must be applied, using a separate silkscreen. So, the more colours a print features the more layers and screens it has used, and therefore the more room for mistakes and unpredictability along the way. From applying too much or too little ink to the screen to accidentally moving it a fraction out of alignment to the paper, any one of these errors can spoil the whole print. Patience, a steady hand, a lot of practice and perfect precision are all essential elements to the printer’s process, (and so not to be confused with the kind of printer you might find attached to a computer in the office!).
Ensuring the colours don’t overlap (unless that’s the desired outcome, of course) takes experience and skill, but peering beneath the surface beyond the ink and lines can draw further appreciation of these print-works and discover more meaning than initially meets the eye.
Traces of summer
From tracing designs for their silkscreen stencils to producing prints with traces of summer, these artists’ individual and unique styles are conveyed throughout the creative process. For example, when comparing Gavin Dobson’s gorgeous green ‘Cactus’ and ‘Cheese Plant’ to Esme McIntyre’s ‘Wiggle,’ many stylistic differences are apparent, highlighting how artists can inject individuality into their works. Whilst McIntyre prints clear-cut lines in block colours of green and a faded yellow with strokes of black for structural shape, Dobson intentionally colours outside the lines, so to speak. By blurring hues of emerald into each other and allowing the ink to freely run down the paper, the plants visibly appear to belong in the wilderness rather than a pot.
Andrew MacGregor’s complex ‘Cacti Composition’ also has a distinctly summery vibe. He has used considerably more colours in his print than the other two, adding to the overall intricacy of the piece. From yellows and greens to pinks and oranges, and even a few touches of purple and blue, the work exudes feels of a warm climate.
And when it’s warm, what better way to cool down than with a dip in a pool or a lick of an ice lolly? With the yellow ink dripping down Dobson’s ‘Strawberry Split,’ it is quite literally melting and you can almost feel the heat.
‘The Pool Boy’, which also happens to feature prickly potted plants, is reminiscent of David Hockney’s swimming pools, simple but satisfying and undeniably inviting. What particularly stands out is his varied applications of ink; from the solidity of the water’s monotone baby blue, to the more transparent, looser coatings of pinkish hues on the faceless Boy’s body.
Emily Foley’s abstracted geometric print uses a similar set of colours but to fill forms of the symbolic rather than the figurative. Unlike Dobson’s more fluid and free-formed layering, ’Untitled 2’ has lines that are extremely precise and each colour is set apart from the other. Requiring five silkscreens for the five separate inks, they come together to form a large graphic image that confounds the eye by verging on the 3D realm.
Curvy contoured lines feature in Hicks’ Legs series along with the blazing block colours of pink, red and yellow. But the polarities in her process are visible in the final product. The silkscreen is just one component, along with oil paint and collage. And these works have metaphorical layers too. Although an initial glance might get frivolous-fun-in-the-sun feels from the skimpy bodiless legs that float on retro-roller skates, there is a poignant undertone that overshadows them.
The polka-dot pants belong to a victim of the voyeuristic male gaze, originally used on a poster promoting a Hollywood movie.** But Hicks reverts the power back to the anonymous owners of these female bodies by personifying the previously objectified torso-less.
Richard Marsden’s cubed blocks also have a level of depth that might be missed at a passing glance. ‘Glasgow,’ as the name indicates, is based on the geometric shape of the city centre. Taking visual aid from a birds-eye-view map, he reduces the streets into a balanced box of curated colours. With yellow dominating, this snippet of the city could easily be set in the fleeting season of summer.
Less ambiguously, Christie Thomson’s ‘Classical Structures’ definitely depicts a scene of summery sentiment with the classical architectural ruins belonging to a Mediterranean city. Inspired by the ancient Greek’s archaic sentiment that Art is inferior to Philosophy and the abstract opposed to the representational, Thomson’s print serves to contradict these ideas with a deep cloudless sky and tints of contemporary nature intruding on the antiquated remains.
So from vibrant vibes to Mediterranean moods, these silkscreen prints are a delicious feast for the eyes, oozing sunshine and ease despite being far from easy to make. Something to remember the summer by, perhaps?