Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Screen Printing...many failures that eventually led to SUCCESS!

Well let's just say it's a good thing I started my attempts at screen printing early. I decided this year that my middle school art club kids would screen print their own t-shirts. I LOVED printmaking in college but never did screen printing. I took a workshop once with a fellow art teacher but did not actually make the screens, we just got to pull the print in the end. This was also 5 years ago. So when I decided to take on this project, I never anticipated all of the problems I would encounter. I watched my share of YouTube videos on what to do and felt pretty confident going in. After creating my design, I decided I couldn't just create a stencil and needed to buy emulsion to burn my image into the screen. 

A trip to Blick and $20+ later, I was ready to start. I went into my dark storage closet and used a squeegee to apply the emulsion. It was a disaster. It was everywhere and I had tons of waste, not to mention I coated it from the wrong side to start and stored it the wrong side down (all things I would later pay more attention to and correct). When applying emulsion, you should always to the outside of the screen (or the flat side that will make contact with the t-shirt first and then coat the inside. You also want to store it flat side down so that gravity pulls the emulsion to that side of the screen. 
So after thinking I did it right and letting the emulsion dry over night, I went to expose my image only to find that some areas (the areas that were too thick) were still wet. After exposing for a few minutes, I brought the screen out into the art room to rinse it, only to see the true disaster of a screen. I made two like this...
See all of the puddles of emulsion? And since I stored it flat side up, I created a bumpy surface to try to pull my print on, not that it mattered because the emulsion wouldn't wash off the screen completely. I think my issue was I didn't have a dark room light so the light I was using, which was covered by fabric to diffuse the light, still exposed my emulsion. AND...my transparency wasn't black enough (problem to be solved later). Everything was going wrong. So a few more YouTube video's later, I decided I needed a dark room light and an emulsion scoop coater
So my bulb arrived on Saturday and I made yet another trip to blick for the scoop coater and headed to school that afternoon. After coating my two new screens and leaving them to dry in a dark cabinet, I headed home. I should have coated a few more looking back on it now but I wasn't sure if it was going to work so I didn't want to waste too many screens if it was wrong again. Let me just tell you...the scoop coater really did make a huge difference. It is a MUST! 
So fast forward to Monday when I wake up to a text that we have a snow day...yes, a snow day in mid-November. Stupid mother nature. I could have gone in to school to do some screen making but I never got out of my PJ's on Monday so that didn't happen. 
So Tuesday morning, I got to school and decided to expose my screen first thing. Since my transparency wasn't dark enough, I printed another set and made it a double thick transparency, making the blacks really black. After exposing for a few minutes, I took the screen out and started washing. I was super excited as the screen started to show clear spots where I had burned my image, only to almost cry when I saw part of my "B" washing away. 

A quick email to a fellow art teacher who has done screen printing lead me to try exposing the screen longer. With my last screen in hand and my heart pounding out of my chest, I tripled my exposure time and left it for 15 minutes. As I took the screen out to wash it, I was holding my breath. I had a study hall in my room at the time and they were all watching me, trying to figure out what I was doing. This time, only the desired emulsion washed away. I let out a squeal and told my 6th graders what I was doing. After quickly drying my screen, it was time for the moment of truth...would the image print. Well, I will let you decide for yourself.

This is only the first screen as we are doing two colors. It's currently my planning time and I should be making a few more screens because art club is meeting tonight to print (YIKES) but I think I can get it done in time, especially since I have a fan to help speed up the drying time. I will make a few more screens of this image and then later this week, print a few more screens of the other part of the shirt but FINALLY after 4 attempts, I was successful. It has been crazy and I am glad I didn't give up because I know the kids will love it! I will be sure to post more as the kids are printing but for now, it's time for me to go make some more screens.

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