Successful application for the a-n Professional Development Bursary

Earlier this year I decided to apply to the a-n artist information company for a bursary to help me develop my ceramic work. I had been doing some exploration with ceramic screen printing as part of my more commercial ceramic tile business, however I was interested in how this medium could be translated and developed in my more creative ceramic art work.The bursary is allowing me to attend a range of different screen printing courses at Hot Bed Press in Salford. I am also applying to become a Hot Bed Press member for a year which will allow me to use the workshop space. This will allow me to develop my own screens and to use the studio’s professional print equipment. I will also have the chance to attend artists’ talks and demonstrations, as well as exhibition opportunities.

My aim is to learn and master the basic techniques of screen printing which I can then transfer over into my ceramics work. I ultimately want to develop screen printed surface patterns which will be applied


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Ceramic Screen Printing

The final part of the project which has been funded with a bursary from a-n The Artists Information Company involved using the knowledge and techniques learnt at Hot Bed Press to create my own ceramic screen prints. I wanted to make my own screens using the facilities available at HBP and then print my own ceramic inks onto paper. The paper in turn could then be used to transfer the prints onto three dimensional surfaces.

 

The Screen

I started off by modifying one of my designs on a computer to create 2 different scales, then printing them off onto A4 paper. These were then photocopied at high density to create the negatives for burning the screen.

I managed the whole process almost on my own but needed technical help at certain points due to my inexperience. The finished screen turned out fairly well except for the fact that the negative image wasn’t quite dark enough which made the image in the screen slightly hazy. The hazy image could possibly affect the printing later on – I had similar problems on the ‘Sreen Printed Poster’ course with Nick Rhodes.

After discussing the problem with a fellow artist at HBP he told me that I could in fact use the original prints from my inkjet printer as negatives as long as the ink didn’t run when it was oiled – this would negate the photocopying process and I could also make sure the images were dark enough and not have to rely on the repographics. I have decided I will be doing some experiments with my own printer at some point to see how dark I can get the images and whether the ink would run if it was oiled.

 

Experiments with Printed Slip Transfers

Back at my workshop, I set up a very simple jig to hold the newly burned screen so that I could print with my own home-made ceramic inks. These inks are made using a fine clay slip mixed with an acrylic print medium. Knowing from previous crude experiments that the ceramic slip ink needed to be thick, I built up 8 print layers on each sheet of newsprint. Each sheet needed to dry before moving onto the the next process.

The next stage was to cut out areas from the dry newsprint which I could apply to the various ceramic forms I had made earlier. These clay forms hadn’t been allowed to dry out completely as I needed brush a base layer of white slip onto them first. The white slip was allowed to dry a little so that it was still a bit tacky to the touch. The cut-out pieces of newsprint were soaked in water and then applied onto the white slip. The idea is that the darker screen printed designs transfer from the paper to the pot and then the paper can be peeled off as soon as it begins to dry. Getting the consistency and timing right proved to be quite tricky but after a while I got to know exactly when the paper was ready to be peeled off (this was helped by using a heat gun to dry it out quicker). I found a lot of the prints didn’t completely transfer from the newsprint, which broke up the design and gave it a slightly weathered look.

 

Firing

Once the forms have dried out they will be bisque fired so that they will survive the trip down to Wales for the glaze firing. The glaze firing will be done in a wood-firing kiln which will take over 24 hours to fire. This will be the final stage for the experimental screen printed ceramic slip transfers.


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Further courses in screen printing

As part of my a-n artist information company bursary I returned to Hot Bed Press in early June and again in July to attend two more screen printing courses. The first was the ‘Screen Printed Poster‘ run by Nick Rhodes, the second was the ‘Straight to Screen‘ with Mandy Tolley. Both courses offered quite different ways to work with screen printing compared to my earlier introduction on the ‘Reduction Screenprinting‘ course.

 

Screen Printed Poster

This course was run by Nick Rhodes, an illustrator whose company Switchopen is well known for their band and festival poster designs. His course concentrated on how to create a design using up to 3 different screens, and also learn about various tips and tricks used by screen printing artists within the industry.

This course afforded me the chance to experiment with more graphical images and designs, and therefore I decided to create a poster for a friend’s band. The design was created at home on my computer ahead of the course. Each colour layer was separated and printed out onto A3 paper in pure B&W.  These were then taken to a local reprographic shop to be photocopied at the highest density possible. If the photocopy isn’t dark enough it can’t block the light which means the image isn’t burned clearly onto the screen later on.

Although most of the basics of screen printing were covered in the previous ‘Reduction Screenprinting’ course with Mandy Tolley, it was good to refresh my memory: Nick showed us how to coat a screen with light sensitive emulsion, burn an image from an oiled B&W photocopy (a cheap and effective alternative to expensive translucent film), register the image, mix up ink, and how to print correctly.

We learnt an alternative way to register artwork using each oiled photocopy to line up with the previous print (as opposed to using a temporary print on clear acetate film which we used on the previous course). Although it proved tricky at first, it did yield accurate results.

Throughout the weekend, Nick explained that there isn’t necessarily a ‘correct way’ of doing things with screen printing. Also, he explained that you don’t have to buy all the expensive kit and materials – there are many cheap and easily accessible ways to work with screen printing, such as using washing up liquid instead of expensive screen degreaser, or building your own developing box using cheap security lights. We were even given plans on how to build our own screen printing vacuum table using a normal household vacuum cleaner.

At the end of the weekend I was fairly happy with the final results, however, it seems that my original photocopies (which we used to burn the screen) were not dark enough, and consequently the final images were not very clear and meant the print was a little blotchy in places.

Having built up my confidence on this course, it looks increasingly likely that I may end up building my own screen printing setup in my studio at some later date. The scope to create screens and print at short notice and have the ability to develop ideas far more quickly is very appealing.

 

Straight to Screen

The next and final course was a one-day workshop with Mandy Tolley. This workshop was quite different to the previous course with Nick Rhodes. It was a lot more expressive and I didn’t work from pre-printed artwork compared to the last couple of courses.

As this was a one-day workshop, we had to work fast which I found to be quite refreshing. Normally I work at a slower more considered pace, however I found that that I had to work more spontaneously, and not get caught up too much with the intricacies within the design. We were shown on this workshop how to draw and produce marks directly onto ‘fake grain’ acetate (an alternative to ‘True Grain Acetate‘ which is very expensive). The grained acetate is available in A2 size from Paperchase at a fraction of the price. We had access to a variety of materials however I mainly used bold opaque pens and chinagraph pencils.

We began with creating a background using a blank screen, masking off areas with newsprint. Rather than cutting the newsprint, I decided to tear it so as to try and create a more ragged print edge . When it came to printing, rather than use one ink, I mixed two together directly on the screen with my hands, being careful not to push too much ink through before dragging the squeegee across. Consequently, each print comes out slightly different.

Finally, after using the fake grain acetate image to burn onto a screen, the top layer was printed to produce the finished artwork. This was a great way of working as opposed to the more rigid way of using oiled photocopies.

This free-flow technique of working with screen printing has opened up further possibilities I had not considered, which I hope to apply to my ceramic printing development.

 

Ceramic Printing Transfers

The next stage in this exploration is to apply all the knowledge to my ceramics practice. I have already invested in a screen printing kit with a view to printing some ceramic prints which I will transfer onto a new body of work. My next blog post will concentrate on the production and development of my own ceramic printing.


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Screen Printing Process

I have been using the screen printing process in a crude way for a couple of years to put designs onto my tile work but up until now I had very little understanding of how the actual process worked. I have been getting my screens made and developed by subcontracting, and my knowledge of the screen printing process has been gleaned from both textbooks and online demonstrations and examples. I have got to the point where I really need to understand the process from beginning to end so that I can experiment further and eventually develop a new body of work.

With my knowledge of ceramics I have managed to develop my own specialist ceramic screen inks but my inexperience of the screen making and printing process has hampered my efforts to develop much further.

 

Courses

I attended the Mandy Tolley ‘Reduction Screenprint‘ course in early April which taught me the basics of how to prepare the screen, develop the image, register, and to print onto paper. The course centred around the method of reduction printing – starting with only one photo stencil and one screen, over the course of the weekend the original image is altered directly on the screen using screen filler. This produces a run of unique limited edition prints which cannot reproduced again.

The process was interesting in that I started off with two quite different images; an original medieval design one which I had scanned in and manipulated (Rose Window), the other created digitally (Kirkos). After the first print run, screen filler was then applied by brush directly onto the screen which introduced a more random element into the mix. With the ‘rose window’ design I was quite free with the brush strokes, however with the ‘Kirkos’ print I had to have a steady hand to create the inner grey circles as accurately as possible.

The use of screen filler in the reduction screen print method is definitely more conducive for more free flowing artwork. If I am seeking more accuracy in the process, then I would create the design digitally and work with a multiple of developed screens.

The next course I will be attending is ‘The Screenprinted Poster‘ run by Nick Rhodes. This course will concentrate on how to work with 2 – 3 screens, building up an image with layers of colour and also using text within the design.

The final course will be the ‘Straight to Screen‘ workshop run by Mandy Tolley. This workshop will concentrate on working directly onto the screen using various tools, to draw and stamp designs.

 

Ceramic Studio

Once back in my own studio, I put to use my new found understanding of screen printing with an instant increase in quality and control over my ceramic screen printing – mainly to do with flooding the screen between each print, and how to correctly hold the squeegee. I am already thinking about how to develop designs and surface patterns which can be screen printed.


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