hand(s) tool

In making this last print, I became aware at how much I used my hands to print:

  • to draw the design with pencil
  • to stir and apply the drawing fluid with paintbrushes of different sizes
  • to touch the fluid to ensure it dried
  • to stir and apply screen filler with a paintbrush
  • to ensure the screen filler is dry to the touch
  • to gauge the temperature of water, cool, to rinse out drawing fluid and to use the fingers as a brush to help remove the drawing fluid
  • to dry the screen while making sure the screen filler is still set
  • to measure and cut papers to print on
  • to mix and apply ink
  • to draw ink over the screen with the squeegee, ensuring thickness is even
  • to hold the paper under the screen in place during the printing
  • to lift the screen steadily while holding the paper in place to prevent smudging
  • to open seals
  • to wipe drips
  • to clean – to apply screen cleaner with a wide paintbrush on both the front and back of the screen; to run hot water while scrubbing to remove screen filler (hot enough to break down the filler, without burning my skin)

Taking inventory allows me to gain perspective on what the process requires of me. Within each of those steps of the printing process is a calculation angle, pressure, a range of motion. And beyond my hands, how I position my arms, how I hold my elbows, how I bend over my kitchen table to print and over my bathtub to clean the screen. Pulling, pushing, scrubbing, sketching – each a small process unto itself. The movement, the actions of the process are wonder(ful) to me as someone who is learning to screen print through the process of screen printing – the cultivation of technique through embodied learning. I still make mistakes, I still lack precision, but I am printing in so far as I am making products.

Technique has a bad name; it can seem soulless. That’s not how people whose hands become highly trained view technique” (Sennett 149). Technique is intimately linked to expression. Richard Sennett’s chapter on “The Hand” is something I returned to as I felt a stasis in my printing – no visible development from the second to the third print. I questioned what, in the drawing fluid technique, didn’t produce a more skilled print. And while it is difficult to isolate a singular aspect of the process (too much ink, paper that isn’t porous enough to hold the print well), I can think about what I did or did not do. This is learning from the technique of printing – the looking at process and product as isolated and in unison to determine what seems to be “off”. A techniquing of technique.

Transitional objects”, material things that themselves change, what can engage curiosity: an uncertain or unstable experience…In developing technique, we resolve transitional objects into definitions, and we make decisions based on such definitions” (158-59). The materials, despite being the “same” as far as the state that they are in, still have great variance. Thickness, how long something dries, proportion of mixing materials – these keep the process of printing from being “same”. They are always unstable, and have potential for variance, which keeps technique in making in developing – in the process of.

Technique develops, then, by a dialectic between the correct way to do something and the willingness to experiment through error” (160). Despite variance, experience and growing knowledge of properties and actions permit technique. Though I have watched videos and read text directions on the web, I have not learned the “correct” way of printing from a printer in terms of apprenticeship. It is the combination of these web instructions with the material conditions and my (in)capability that foster technique.

We have become the thing on which we are working” (174). This seems odd to me that I don’t think of myself in terms of being a screenprinter, an identity as a craftswoman, but in terms of my screenprints – what I am making as process and product. My movements, my work, are situated in my body by what I am doing. I think about what is possible and limitations in my prints in the making of them; what results, what yields is because of a physical working.

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