Fandango’s One Word Challenge prompt word of ‘silkscreen’ today immediately takes me straight back to high school art class, nearly 40 years ago. As well as focusing on understanding (and practising) the basics of drawing and painting we also experimented with lots of other techniques for creating art, some of which I haven’t thought about for years.
I remember early on we were introduced to lino block printing, where we each carved out (with various-sized special little tools) our favoured design on our little rectangle of lino block – carved in reverse, of course. I chose a capital letter ‘R’, decorated with patterns all around like the grand initial letters in old manuscripts. Once all our carving was done we carefully rolled coloured ink onto the surface of the block before up-ending it onto paper and printing countless versions of our chosen design.
Then once we’d taken the block printing as far as we could (with one block there are only so many options to experiment with) we used plasticine to build a little sealed wall around the edge of our lino blocks, and filled them with plaster of paris and left them to set to create an image in relief, which we then painted to keep along with our many prints. Such a lot from one little rectangle of lino block though… 🙂
And then of course later on there was the screen-printing and memories of the taut silkscreen frame used – I can still hear the strident sound of the squeegee pulling the ink purposefully across the surface of the screen, a bit like a muffled zip-wire sound cut short – vvvvt. There was a knack to getting it just right – not too fast, not too slow, not too much pressure, not too little – and then the moment of anticipation as you lift the screen off and remove whatever ink-blocking template used undereath to reveal the final result.
And for me, the result was always a little bit disappointing. I mean, effectively it did exactly what it was supposed to do – sharp lines, strong colour, vibrant solid shapes – but personally I found it all too formulaic. I do appreciate we were schoolkids so our designs were inevitably simple, and that more complex designs could be created by using multiple templates and different colours of ink to build up clearly differentiated layers.
But still… for such a laborious process where the purpose was to create easily replicated sharp-edged identical images, I found that promise a little lacklustre. We screen-printed both onto paper and onto cloth, so I could definitely see how using this process for printing multiple T shirts with exactly the same design would make sense, or multiple identical paper posters, but somehow it just didn’t catch my creative imagination at the time…
But batik – now that lit a creative spark in me! Batik basically uses hot wax painted free-hand onto cotton fabric with a tjanting tool and being left to set hard before dying the cloth in a cold water dye bath. Once this is done, the wax is removed and the cloth is boil-washed to remove all remaining traces of wax. It’s a little like tie-dying but using wax instead of string to create areas of dyed and undyed cloth. You can then repeat the process as many times as you like, building up layers of colour and shape.
Each individual piece of batik is unique, and because the chosen design is painted on free-hand you can change your mind creatively in the middle of applying the wax so there’s always an element of uncertainty in outcome of the process, which is probably the thing that really appeals to me – I like not knowing exactly what I’m going to end up with. Aaahhh… the memories… what fun I had… 🙂