Screen Printing: Screen Filler I

While it was difficult to make the decision on what to print, looking around my kitsch inspired kitchen (a fusion of cat, calico prints, vintage food ads, and punk touches) I recalled the “Cat Flag” poster print I have been wanting for some time. To create my first print, I decided to try the screen filler method. I browsed YouTube for tutorials on how the screen filler should be applied – what the consistency should look like, to what thickness it should be spread, and how long it took to dry/what it looked like dry. To begin, the graphic is drawn directly onto the screen with a pencil. I wanted the cats and the text to take the ink in the print, with the field around them remaining open. To achieve this with screen filler, the liquid must be applied everywhere on the screen that you do not want to allow ink to go through. Opening the jar of screen filler, it appeared separated – a clear liquid at the top with thick rust colored particulates (of gelatinous consistency) toward the bottom. I stirred the liquid with the stick of a paintbrush and began to paint it on. On the screen, the screen filler didn’t appear to have uniform consistency, so I continued to stir the jar and re-painted the area I had started. Controlling the substance was akin to painting with oils – around areas of small detail, it was difficult to keep the clean lines of the graphic I drew. With only two paintbrushes, I didn’t have a size large enough the cover open areas of the screen easily, nor did I have a brush small enough to attend to small elements – like around the letters’ edges or the cats’ eyes. Once the screen was coated with the filler, it had to dry.

I wasn’t sure how long the drying process would take, so I turned to searching for answers in online tutorials. The few I consulted stated that the screen could be left to dry overnight, or could be helped along with a hairdryer. I applied the dryer’s medium setting over the screen for close to ten minutes. The wet look of the filler turned dull, like a dark terracotta clay. When it was dry to the touch, I decided to try printing with the screen.

This first print was done with black ink on pieces of white and red matte poster board. I placed pieces of trimmed poster board under the screen, trying to mind where the print would fall. One set, I poured ink in a strip across the top of the screen. I didn’t measure, nor did I use a tool; it looked close to two tablespoons of ink. With the squeegee, I pulled the ink down across the print area on the screen, making close to eight passes back and forth. Lifting the screen, the paper stuck to it. Pulling the paper off, it seemed that there might have been an excess of ink due to its sticking, and that the design of the graphic didn’t appear to have clean edges – instead, the ink seemed to extend outside of the print area. I made two more prints without adding an additional ink. Both seemed to look similar in that they didn’t have clean edges. I set the prints aside to dry overnight somewhere out of the reach of the cats.

I immediately began to clean up my work space. Cleaning the brushes and squeegee was easily done in the kitchen sink with warm, soapy water. To clean the screen, I had a bottle of Speedball brand cleaner. I placed the screen in my bathtub and poured about a third of a cup of cleaner all across the screen’s surface and left it for five minutes (according to the directions). I began to scrub the screen with a nylon dish sponge, but realized only the ink was coming off while the screen filler remained. I turned hot water on the screen while I scrubbed, and while some of the filler began to lift in areas it was thickest, it remained. I poured another third cup cleaner on the screen and left it to sit. The directions called for very hot water, so when I returned to scrub the screen, I turned the shower on hot, focusing the stream of water on the screen as I scrubbed. The sponge didn’t appear to be abrasive enough, and I remembered a potato scrub brush I had in the kitchen. With the brush, filler began to come off, but it took focused scrubbing. Over phases of letting the screen sit and running hot water over it while scrubbing it, and becoming soaked from the waist up, I used up the bottle of cleaner (16 oz) in its entirety. After twenty five minutes of scrubbing, the screen had come mostly clean. The pencil drawing was still visible and a light tint of rust could be seen (like a negative of the design). I leaned the screen against the wall in the hallway of my apartment to dry overnight. After cleaning the screen in my bathtub, it was necessary to clean my bathtub.

This first print, with clean up, took close to four hours. While I was content with my first prints, my hands ached from scrubbing and my skin felt raw from the screen cleaner (I did not wear gloves). Between the drawing, painting, and printing which I did all standing up at my kitchen table (which stands at less than 2”5, while I stand at 5”7) and kneeling into my bathtub to clean the screen, my back ached. For future prints, while limited to this space, I will have to make adjustments to this process. Another matter that arose was the smell; the ink, screen filler, and cleaner all had strong odors. I had the window open in my kitchen while I worked, but do not have a functional window in my bathroom. After I was finished working, I positioned fans to try to ventilate the space. It only occurred to me then to read the label on the cleaner, which carries a Caution Label for hazardous materials. Although it is deemed safe to use with appropriate caution. I looked up the label on the web to learn that it was a skin and eye irritant, not unexpected, but that it also shouldn’t be inhaled, particularly as a mist. In my unventilated bathroom with the shower on hot, I assume this could become potentially hazardous. I searched on the web for alternative screen cleaners and read that detergent could be used.

For my next print, I need to take steps to alleviate back strain during the process. I would also like to try cleaning my screen without using the Speedball cleaner. After this first print, I find myself really thinking about the idea of a workshop  – a designated place to work in. Some place that equipment and tools can remain up/out, and that has furniture or equipment conducive to what needs to be done in order to make. How essential is this space?

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