How Not to Screenprint

I recently completed a project. Well, the second stage of a project that will probably have at least 3-4 more stages. I would now like all of you to learn from my tearful, exhausting experience, so I will tell you what I did.

1. Don’t plan. Start with a bunch of drawings on various sizes of paper. Make a list of pages you would like to complete. Wait 2 months before making a mock-up version of the project that helps you envision the size and scope and work necessary to complete said project.

In my case, I had 12 pages of a comic I drew for a graphic novel class last fall (MKP and the Crazybrain, for those of you who were reading me last December 🙂 and an amorphous comic/thesis/essay/compilation idea, and it wasn’t until a professor came in to tell us about binding chapbooks that I was like “ohhh, I can just take this sketchbook paper and fold it in HALF and VOILA IT’S A BOOK. After that was easy. No, easy’s not the right word. After that, my inability to conceive of finishing the book didn’t make me cry aloud. As often.

2. Demand of yourself that you master a new art form immediately and with no learning curve whatsoever. My thinking was that I had read a lot of comics, therefore I should immediately know how to design, draw and screenprint them. My thinking is not always so awesome. Every step of screenprinting is hard, from applying emulsion to your screen (attempts before successfully doing so: At least 14. Attempts that concluded with weeping while powerwashing off caked emulsion: At least 6) to actually printing. The other steps — drawing with a rapidograph pen you actually have to pour ink into, drawing on mylar instead of paper, shooting the image onto a screen, placing the paper properly and drawing the ink through the screen with a squeegee thing consistently — are equally challenging. But don’t let that stop you from berating yourself for your failure to immediately acquire a multi-process expertise doing something you have never even thought of doing before. Be really mean to yourselves on the days you’re already crying. It builds character.

I had to do the whole process, start to finish, at least 10 times before I started turning out clear images on appropriately registered pages with any regularity. And then once I got it, as long as I wasn’t pushing past the Hour of Ruination, I could do it. Even my professor noticed and complimented my hard-gotten skills.

3. Overplan. Make many spreadsheets to coordinate and schedule your printing process, with little regard for fatigue, diminishing returns, or the confines of reality as regards the chronological passing of time. Do this during worktime to avoid making any progress or mistakes on your actual project. I have three immaculate color-coded spreadsheets coordinating layout, spread alignment and the printing/drawing timeline.

The only good thing about this was that writing out all the pages I had and intended to make forced me to find a drop-dead date (after November 17th, there could be no more drawing) and gave some urgency to my printing process that some of my classmates lacked until, uh, yesterday.

4. Continue working after the Hour of Ruination. There is a discernable hour in which fatigue and frustration collide. Every surface has ink on it, and if it doesn’t, it’s all over your fingers and you are ruining clean paper. The squeegee is falling off the silk screen, the paper is soggy, the tape is peeling up, you’re forgetting what pages go on the back of what other pages despite all the spreadsheeting, and nothing good is going to happen. Stop what you’re doing and go home.

If I felt the compulsive need to work, I would clean up my station in the print shop and take drawings that needed to be traced home. No new drawing, just tracing by the light of Food Network and Gracie’s earnest gaze.

5. Forget to sit, eat, take breaks or keep things in perspective. Thursday – Saturday, I spent more time in the printshop than out of it. I was screenprinting in my sleep, stretching out my spine on the hardwood floor, and lamenting my choice of shoes or really, of having feet.

I hope to keep revisiting and expanding the comic I have finished (40 pages, all told!!), because even the illustrations I’m most proud of still feel like short-hand in some places. Mostly I’m just really proud of my comic. I decided to title it after this very blog, MKP Hearts NYC, because it’s equal parts about me, about the city, and about the Crazybrain. I accidentally switched two of the spreads somewhere in my spreadsheeting, but it’s ok. I’m just going to photocopy it for my thesis anyway. Tuesday I’m hand-correcting my edition of 10, then running off copies for anyone who wants one (the actual screenprinted versions will go to family and to swapping with classmates).

Don’t do what I did, but if you have the chance to learn something as totally strange and offputting as screen printing, definitely give it a shot.

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One Response to How Not to Screenprint

  1. Bill says:

    Yes, while screenprinting looks easy when watching another who has the knowledge to do, it can be quite daunting to novices. You should have came down to Texas, were we would have properly trained you at the School of Screenprinting and eliminated the myriad problems you have suffered through.

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