Screen printing - colour you can smell, layers you can feel, drying time and no command+Z.
Ahh, personal development. Every year it’s an endless drooling scroll through the myriad of creative conferences and behavioural change summits available. After much rubbing of hands, choice paralysis and distraction win, and the phrase, “I’ll book it later” emerges again.
This year however I decided to stick two fingers up to the stage-pacing PowerPoint peddlers, and get back to nature. Back to nature in a visual way, not actual nature, of course. (As much as I enjoy his videos, I’m no Rune-Malte Bertram-Nielsen.)
I wanted to take it right back, get my hands dirty and actually enjoy the process again, so I went back to screen printing. For any “digital native” whippersnappers, I’m not talking screen grabs.
Ok, so I did all my artwork on my iPad with Procreate so it wasn’t 100 per cent analogue, but that’s not the point. I arrived at Ink Spot Press and was instantly transported back to my art college foundation degree days (albeit a little less stoned, a little more grey, and with a lot less time on my hands).
The inks, the racks, the beds – it all came back to me. I was home. I exposed a screen on a machine which had some very Kubrick-esque red PVC curtains, and a control panel fresh out of Chernobyl in the 60s.
I Kärcher-ed out the bits, whacked it in the oven and had a nice cup of tea while it dried. Then it was colour time, mixing up a vibrant ultramarine – “Just like making bechamel” (I’m no Auguste Gusteau, but I just kept stirring and it seemed fine). I mixed up a warm red to contrast on the back layer and it was time.
The screen came out the oven, I fiddled and faffed with alignment for a bit too long, turned on the vacuum table (think of a table hockey table but the switch is on reverse, so it sucks air into the table instead). I squeedged out my first layer of colour, my perfectly mixed bright red oodged through silk, and I lifted the screen arm to reveal the block background layer was crisp and vibrant. I bashed out 10 of them and had another cup of tea while they dried in the rack, and I cleaned the screen for the next layer.
As I pulled my freshly mixed ultramarine double cream through my screaming gorilla face, I started to think about how I’d be doing this if I was working digitally. I do all my work in digital and I increasingly do my playing there too. Everything is non-destructive, seemingly infinite layers, you can adjust things like transparency, scale, blend mode at any point during the process. It’s a pretty much completely non-linear, free-for-all tweakfest – it’s almost limitless… and that’s the problem.
There’s something about being made to wait for things to dry, choosing a colour mixing up, cleaning things down after each stage and then waiting again for drying time. It forces time into the process, and time is like sunshine for ideas.
To paraphrase the former governor of California in one of his side projects… I’ll return.
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