The Workshop

In Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman, he says of the workshop that the “workshop is the craftsman’s home. Traditionally and literally so” (53). In previous posts, I have mentioned the not so desirable workspace I have for printing – my (low) kitchen table in my kitchen.

"workshop"

My last round of prints, which were of two small designs, took a total of seven hours from start to finish: sketching, painting drawing fluid, drying, painting screen filler, drying, making the prints, washing the screen (this doesn’t include the amount of time it takes for me to convert my “workshop” back into my kitchen, or my “washing station” into my shower. Both spaces need to be cleaned and reassembled after this process.) During this time I am on my feet. I’m not sure of the physical/body reasons for this, but sitting to print seems improbable to me. Here is where a technical account should occur, but I haven’t the language for it, so put crudely: I don’t have the same control and dexterity of my hands (and what they’re doing is remarkable in range) and arms sitting, especially at my low table. And given that this workshop is actually my kitchen and is small (and occupied by two curious cats that watch on), I am back and forth washing my limited amount of tools, my hands so as to not sully the process or product, and the screen as it advances in the process.

When I print, I am enjoying myself. I am listening to Radiolab or music and I get absorbed into the process, that is until physically I am pulled out of my head and made aware of my body: back ache. Printing in my workshop space is grueling on my back, but for the most part I do not focus on this, I instead focus on the progress of the print. I typically take a break about halfway through the move to the living room to stretch and lie on the floor a minute to give my back a break. This last time though, despite feeling just about everything that is able to crack in my neck, shoulders, back and wrists pop, one side of my back and neck went into a state of cold numbness and I was forced in that moment to think about my workspace. Printing requires much from my body for the process, not just my hands, but movements that involve my arms, wrists, shoulders, and back. Craft does require the body as an integral part of the making, and I had never been made so aware of my own body then I was in this moment. I thought, this is why space matters, this is why workshops aren’t often transferable to any space – there are conditions that must be attended to. Craftspersons have established workplaces because the process is involves and requires certain material conditions. While I have been able to make without some of these elements, if I am to continue doing this (and I would like to) I have to envision the space and conditions of doing it as I view the process of making – with care. While I don’t think this quite gets to the naturalism of John Ruskin, I do find myself uninspired by my transitory kitchen workshop, which I feel in my craft. Each part of the process becomes felt, no longer embodied, I am aware of time  passing and time left to take, and begin thinking about the transformation back into cooking and eating space and the scrubbing of paint and Speedball Cleaner from my bathtub before it can be used again. This is hardly the imagination necessary for designing and making.

A parting word on ventilation: it’s critical. I think about my dad’s workshop in the garage – “industrial” surfaces that are easy to clean, high ceilings, many windows and or/door to open, waist high and lower chest high work surfaces. It’s part in the garage because we don’t have room in our tiny house for a workshop, partly because of the nature of much of my dad’s work – wood work, welding, working on cars and the like, and part because of the materials and solvents he’s working with. Printing itself, although using chemical materials, isn’t as noticeable, but the cleaner is. In my tiny bathroom with a functionless (it lets some light in) window, the steam created from cleaning the screen fills the room. I have yet to clean a screen without getting a headache, and I think it’s attributed to the cleaning agent. While this isn’t a universal requirement of printing, I think there is a reason many print workshops are in more open industrial settings aside from space to set up the many materials – air circulation and ventilation. This, like my workshop space, has been something I’m dealing with because I don’t have other resources available, but it is not sustainable space.

Next apartment criteria: a workshop space (and a taller table) so I can live in my living space and in my working space and not an uncomfortable transitory space in between that seems to be at odds with both.

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Salt Market: A Journeywoman’s Travels

Two weekends back, Nick and I went to the Salt Market to check out the crafted goods for sale and to support local artisans. I thought it would be more of a window shopping sort of trip, but we ended up with a nice haul

saltmarket

(not pictured: a fox leather pouch I took back to the artisan because the riveted eye was not lined up on either side of the leather – which started pushing up the leather around it. She fixed the eye though and mailed it to me a few days later: awesome. Her shop is at Lilipad Creations.)

Aside from the fox pouch and the wood ring from The Knotty Owl, everything we purchased was hand screen printed. Stock of screen printed goods:

Nick’s octopus shirt from Blackbird and Peacock

My bat shirt from Silk Oak

The Salt City print from [re]Think Syracuse

The sea creature print and plush from Isaac Bidwell

My handbound book with screen printed cover from Amaranth Press & Bindery

And other things I wish I purchased, particularly from The Black Arts Studio, was screen printed. It’s not just that these goods are wonderful, because they are, but I found an appreciation for the skill and knowledge demonstrated in the goods. I felt like I was roaming form master craftsperson to master craftsperson to study their techniques for my own printing. The space for the market, bazaar like, was small and full of people, so I didn’t get to linger as long as I would have liked to. I wanted to ask each of the printers (and there were more than are represented here) what materials they use to print, what their workspace is set up like, the techniques the use to achieve their quality prints, what their process looked (and felt) like. But I didn’t. Maybe they would have been open to talking, or maybe they would have been protective of their mysteries. I left feeling like my prints were of the caliber of gifts you give to your mom because she’s obligated to love them: thoughtful, and representative of love and care, but craft in a connotation of children’s arts and crafts as hobby. I realized though, that these prints weren’t made from the drawing fluid method I have been trying (and failing) with, but the photo emulsion method. The photo emulsion method essentially burns an image (from a photograph or something that can be designed in programs) on to the screen to print, which allows for fine detail.

Photo emulsion, as compared to the hand drawing fluid method I’m using, is like printing an image of Frankenstein’s monster from a vintage movie poster versus me hand sketching my rendition of the monster – they’re not quite comparable. While I might improve my techniques for making prints using the drawing fluid method, I am still limited to my ability to draw – a separate craft. I thought it odd that I hadn’t thought about this before in my printing: I am the designer and the craftswoman.

Rhetorics of Craft: Midterm Project Proposal

For my midterm project, I would like to make a small book. The idea is that it would be a mashup of a zine, a DIY guide, an account of the process of making and breaking (with asides, witticisms, and maxims), and research that brings together theory with praxis in concepts of craft and materiality. The idea of making a book appeals to me because it is something that I am making that will account for making (a made thing on making?). While it won’t necessary be beautifully bound (a new craft endeavor), I would like to print my own cover, incorporate photos of the process and products, as well as prints that showcase the process of screen printing that make it visible (not pictures of it, but prints in the book) and tactile to communicate through the materials of printing. This will also be an exploration in what it means to make texts, with considerations for application in scholarship and pedagogical potential, and questions of material affordances and limitations.

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?

Gathering Materials

Last week I purchased my materials to begin screen printing, $100 easily (but excitedly) spent. At The Art Store I purchased:

  • a squeegee
  • 4 jars acrylic ink (not for cloth) in green, black, red, and turquoise
  • a screen with base (need to measure its dimensions | 124 mesh)
  • a combination back of screen filler and drawing liquid
  • 3 pieces of poster board (red, black, white)
  • a bottle of screen cleaner

I brought the materials home to set up my (temporary: something to return to – the concept of a stationary workshop) workspace on the kitchen table. I had the idea to buy a really thick, lined plastic tablecloth to cover the table, but happened upon a spare shower curtain liner to use instead. Other materials I am considering acquiring: through by dad (an all around handyman) an incandescent worklight (or two), a collection of variously sized paintbrushes (I only have two), different types/sizes/colors of paper, fabric ink, found fabrics (on the cheap), something (unsure as to what yet) to dry prints on horizontally that doesn’t appear to be a place for two cats to nap, and some kind of lift to elevate the screen when working on the kitchen table surface (while standing), which stands at under 2.5 feet.

To write about my making process, I would like to make use of the fieldnote method of James Spradley (utilized in participant observation) described in Nicholas H. Wolfinger’s “On Writing Fieldnotes: Collection Strategies and Background Expectancies” which takes note of:

Space: the physical place or places

Actor: the people involved

Activity: a set of related acts people do

Object: the physical things that are present

Act: single actions that people do

Event: a set of related activities that people carry out

Time: the sequencing that takes place over time

Goal: the things people are trying to accomplish

Feeling: the emotions felt and expressed

Along with taking photographs and short video samples to make visible the process of production, products, problems, and byproducts.

scanning: screen printing

For Techne to DIY: Rhetorics of Craft with Krista Kennedy, we get to undertake a craft project of our own choosing throughout the course. After some mind wandering that turned into wandering the aisles of The Art Store on the walk home, I decided on screen printing. I’ve been wanting to learn to screen print for a few years now to mod odds and ends; it appeals to my punk state of mind, my propensity for found object possibilities, and my desire to get my hands dirty.

I’ve never screen printed before, aside from really basic letter stenciling to label items, which makes me a novice; for those instances, I used form letter stencils and spray paint – not very sophisticated. I’m interested in learning how to screen print on paper and fabric and the techniques associated with the different mediums. I’m also curious to discover different results based on choice of ink, fabric, and paper, and playing with layering. As far as what I will create, I’m not sure, as I can see any number of possibilities – gifts for people’s birthdays, signs for the TA offices, posters for program events, postcards to send to family, custom t-shirts, and whatever other visual inspiration strikes. Perhaps a better goal is to create one print per week, or to fill a jar with ideas and draw different inspirations for each composition. To determine what I would need to get started, I collected some resources:

Pulled: A Catalog of Screen Printing by Mike Perry

Pulled: A Catalog of Screen Printing by Mike Perry

This book went from my Amazon wishlist to my shopping cart before in the span of one sip of coffee…

DIY Printshop starter kit:

a list of what was deemed essential for a beginner DIY kit (from their own kit inventories)

  • 16×16 press
  • wood screen w/ mesh (different grades for different detail – this one comes with 156)
  • 500 Watt halogen exposure light
  • light mounting fixture
  • 11″  70 durometer squegee
  • 12″ emulsion scoop coater
  • photo emulsion
  • yellow bulb (for darkroom)
  • printing ink
  • screen degreaser
  • emulsion remover
  • pallet adhesive
  • scrub pads
  • silicone parchment paper for curing ink
  • film positives
  • french paper (for paper-based creations)

While these kits are cool in that they contain everything to get started, I think that I can assemble my own to save on cash, perhaps even building some of the more expensive pieces – like the screen. This lead to a search for DIY approaches using improvised equipment.

DIY Nylon Screen Print from Calico Skies:

This handy tutorial uses pantyhose and an embroidery hoop, which appealed to my desire for more control over my tools/cost. Instead of using emulsion, it utilizes ModgePodge to create negative space in the design (where color isn’t desired). It looks like a befitting approach for relatively simple and small designs (those that fit within an embroidery hoop).

P is for Printing from Fabric Paper Glue:

Really nice tutorial that walked through two different methods of DIY screen printing. It provided really useful information on the four methods (described in detail here):

  • the paper stencil method
  • the screen filler method
  • the drawing fluid-screen filler method
  • the photographic emulsion method

From reading, I decided I wanted to experiment first with the screen filler and drawing fluid-screen methods, and perhaps try building some of my own screens from picture frames I can pick up cheap. I will need:

  • a mesh screen (still determining number values and their uses) and frame (detachable) – several sizes
  • a squeegee
  • drawing fluid
  • screen filler
  • various ink colors
  • acrylic extender base (for transparent color)
  • clothes iron and parchment paper for setting fabrics
  • cleaner (washing soda and water)

Speedball:

Browsing elicited a ‘kid in the candy store’ effect. I think the difficult thing to do will be to keep my design ideas within a budget (I’m not an art class studio, as much as I want the fitting materials). I think I would like to keep my materials local as found/salvaged, custom made, or from the local art supply store in my neighborhood.

End result? Hopefully things like this (and other things too):

"In The Summer, I’m Dreaming Of You" by Mark Warren Jacques

“In The Summer, I’m Dreaming Of You” by Mark Warren Jacques