About the class.
Students in my class find themselves printing right from the start. On the first day, we make simple cut stencils and blend together different colors of ink on the screen to produce multi-color images. Next, we try the photoscreen technique, using transparencies made from students’ photos or drawings, or generated on the computer using Photoshop or other programs. The fourth week, we create hand-painted stencils and try overlapping transparent colors. In the remaining five classes, students choose their own projects (which may include printing onto fabric) as they continue to gain more control of the medium. Returning students may work independently during the introductory lessons.
Classes are limited to eight students. A typical group includes some who have screen-printed before, artists who want to try a new medium, graphic designers looking for a hands-on way to use their computer skills, and beginners new to The Art League. Our classroom at 305 Madison Street has Formica-topped plywood work stations, clothespin-style drying racks, sinks for washing the screens, and a place to expose photo-screens. All our stencil-making materials and inks are water-based. The $50 supply fee gets each student a 23” x 31” screen (to keep) plus inks and other supplies, including inexpensive posterboard to print on.
About silk screening.
Silk screen printing can mean many things, from simple posters or tee-shirts to highly complex fine art. Often, people say about my work, “That doesn’t look like a silk screen; it looks like a watercolor”—but that response just shows how flexible the medium really is. One of my long-term goals as a printer and teacher is to broaden people’s ideas of what a silkscreen “looks like.” Wherever students wish to go with the medium, I will try to help them on their way.
Silk screening has plenty of technical challenges, but also many rewards. Filling a whole page with color in a single stroke is always a fresh pleasure.
I’ve been silk screen printing ever since I took Art Wood’s class at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1971. After graduation, I taught art in elementary school for three years. Then we moved to the D.C. area, where we raised two kids and I’ve been otherwise printing full-time, exhibiting work in galleries and museums.
Like many other screen printers, though, I found it increasingly sickening to breathe the fumes of oil-based inks. Silk screen is such a fast process, great quantities of ink-filled paper are all drying at once, which is why the fumes are such a problem. In 1987, I switched to the water-based inks and stencil materials made by Speedball that I use today, at home and in class. The water-based method takes some getting used to, but has many advantages over the oil-based approach, besides being much healthier and safer. I’m glad to help any other screen printers who want to make the switch.
I began teaching at The Art League School in 1997. Screen printing has always been exciting for me, and I find that teaching it is, too. In fact, in every class I teach, the ideas of the students add to my understanding of just how many ways there are to use the silk screen process to make good art. I hope the classes are half as much fun for the students as they are for me.