Friday, December 10, 2010

Silkscreening basics

The supplies that you will need to start silkscreening are a silkscreen, a squeegee and paints or dyes -these are the basics and you can certainly bring more equipment to the party once you get familiar with the technique.

The first item is a squeegee - this pushes the paint or thickened dye through the mesh of the screen. It should be a size and weight that fits inside the screen (obviously!) but it also should fit comfortably in your hand as well. Squeegees are labeled by their durometer (70, 100). A durometer is a measurement of the hardness or softness of a material. A higher number means its stiffer (and for a silkscreening artist, harder to push materials through the mesh). I use a durometer 70 squeegee.

You need paints or dyes to push through the mesh onto your substrate. If you use dyes, they need to be thickened with a clear agent such as sodium alginate. This thickens the dyes and allows you to smoothly apply the dyes with the squeegee. Yes, it's messy!

The next item is the silkscreen. It consists of a wooden or aluminum frame with polyester mesh applied tautly to the back of the frame, allowing the artist to squeegy paints or dyes through the mesh. Silkscreens come in all sizes and are not that difficult to make yourself. Many years ago the mesh was made of silk, thus the legacy name.

If you used the screen just as it is to push dyes and paints onto the fabric or paper, you would end up with a large rectangle of color applied to the substrate, similar to the image below.

So artists use some form of resist with their silkscreen. A resist is a temporary or permanent material applied to the back of the silkscreen to prevent the dyes and paints from going onto the substrate which creates a pattern on the substrate. Resists can include masking tape, freezer paper, wax, glue, flour paste, rice paste - anything that will prevent the dyes from transferring to the fabric. The following silk pieces have had paints and or dyes applied by using different silkscreened patterns.

Next time we'll look at using different resists on the back of a silkscreen, such as soy wax, freezer paper and masking tape to make different patterns.

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