My adventures started with a stack of old New York Times Sunday editions in the corner of the apartment and an itch to get back to the good old fashioned art projects I used to do all the time. I figured the newspaper sheets were already poster-sized, so why not put them to good use instead of chucking them into the recycle bin?
I started reading. Asking around. Collecting supplies. Anticipating all the various disaster scenarios that were likely to occur. Screwed some hinge clamps to a board so I could set up shop on the dining room table. And then finally the weekend came.
The Work AreaI knew from the get-go I'd have to run the posters off in (very small) batches, since our lil' space is limited. To start, I screwed a couple of hinge clamps to a 2'x3' board that would serve as the main printing surface. (I made sure to place the hinge clamps just far enough apart that I can use the board for both my larger 16" x 20" screen and a smaller 8" x 10" version should I get the itch for that.) My printing area is nothing more than the kitchen table wrapped in newsprint, which provides ample room to hold the printing board, the ink and squeegee setup, and a stack of newspaper sheets.
Our clothes drying rack and a crapload of binder clips would hold the prints as they came off the table. Of course, that only holds 20 or so newspaper sheets but I figure once I get the hang of things, I can always rig up a couple of temporary clothes lines to hold more.
Getting the system downThe Captain (who was to be my assistant) was called out of town at the last minute to mix the biggest-selling band in Mexico, which left me a nice empty apartment in which to make a mess, curse under my breath at my constant mistakes without hurting anyone's feelings, and play Loretta Lynn just a little too loud in the background (quick aside: this experience afforded me some excellent iPod moments, including moving from the lovely Loretta Lynn straight into Too $hort...whoa).
I'm a planner, so my process was pretty well-coordinated:
- Set up work area.
- Prepare newsprint.
This involved halving the full sheets and ironing them under a pillow case to try and get the creases out. The ironing helped a little, but I half-assed it and most of the sheets were still pretty creased. That shouldn't matter much, though, right? Heh. Wrong.
- Tape off screen.
So this was a brand new screen and I didn't degrease it. Probably not smart, but I figured this first pass was just going to be a solid block of white ink to create a fresh background for my print, and I'm using a stencil instead of photoemulsion chemicals. So I just used blue painters tape to tape off the screen edges. Clever lady that I am, I ran the squeegee over the tape sans ink to be sure it would travel smoothly. Not so much (the painters tape was too thick, and the squeegee kept catching at the edge). So I slapped some clear packaging tape over the edges to create a smoother surface.
- Set up my registration.
In order to keep your design (in my case, a giant white rectangle) in the same place on every sheet, you need to mark where the corners of each sheet should lie on the work surface. I just used a couple scraps of tape to mark the registration. When it comes time to print the actual design, I'll use a more exact system to be described later.
- Mix the paint.
I wasn't too sure how much paint I'd need, but I'd read a calculation that with water-based paints, one should allow about 1 cup of paint for 75 square feet of coverage. My sheets were about two square feet each, and with 20 sheets that gave me about 40 square feet—or just over a 1/2 cup of paint. I poured that amount of Speedball's standard water-based acrylic into a plastic cup, added a dallop of retarder and a dallop of extender (I wasn't sure if I should just pick one, but I figured it was a life lesson and went for broke), and stirred that sucker up.
Pulling the printsAnd this it where it all went to hell. Actually, I should be more accurate: it all went incredibly smoothly, but my ink coverage was pretty terrible from start to finish. I'd read a whole lot about technique; what angle to hold the squeegee at (anywhere from 10-45°), how much paint to pour out, how to flood the screen before the actual pull, how hard to push down, et cetera and so forth. Boy was I ready.
I place the first sheet at the registration marks, and pour a thick line of ink along the bottom of the screen. I hadn't left much tape around the top and bottom edges, as the newspaper sheet was pretty tall and I didn't want 6" gaps of articles still visible. So, I lift the screen off the work surface slightly, and run the squeegee over the screen from bottom to top for the first flood stroke. I push down pretty hard to make sure I get full ink coverage across the screen, and it looks good. I drop the screen onto the work surface, and pull from the top down. Completely uneven! Wacky vertical streaks, and one thick horizontal streak where the newspaper was folded through its middle. Oops.
With each subsequent print I tried making little adjustments. I tried more and less paint (didn't seem to make much difference, though I did need to be generally pretty generous with it). I tried pushing harder on the flood. I tried pushing harder on the second pull. I tried adjusting the angle of the squeegee. Nothing completely eliminated the streaks. The best prints, though, were the result of generous ink, an almost completely upright squeegee, a single gentle flood stroke, and single hard second pull.
TroubleshootingI suspect the terrible coverage was a result of several things, not least of which was the paper choice. Newsprint is thin, and these sheets weren't completely flat. Although I was doing no-contact printing, where the screen rests about 1/8" from the surface of the paper when it's down, I got zero snap-off (which is when the screen lifts itself off the paper after the pull...I think).
But I know I was probably butchering those pull strokes. Had I had an assistant, they would have held the screen up while I pulled the flood, holding the squeegee with both hands for a nice even coat. But I only had one hand, and I suspect my pulls were a little janky. I have arthritis, and this was also a lot harder on my wrists and hands than I expected. Maybe I was pressing too hard on the squeegee, but I can't imagine doing this for much more than the 20 sheets I did.
Finally, I have to wonder if either my ink mixing was off, or if not degreasing the screen was a huge mistake. I suppose I'll have to hit up some pros for input, and adjust on the next run. All said, although my prints are all uneven, I loved the process. Hopefully I'll figure out what I was doing wrong, and the next few runs will be better. My saving grace was that the crease marks were much less visible once the ink dried, and my hope is that subsequent layers will cover them up even more.
So stay tuned for round two, in which I attempt to lay down the first layer of the design.