Evolution of a Screen Print

This is quick description of my print-making process:

1. Initial idea

I draw up loads of ideas in my sketchbook, very roughly and quickly, and pick out the best ones to develop further.

Here I was inspired by the cormorant because I live in the docklands in east London and regularly see them drying themselves in the sun or diving for fish.  

2. Inked drawing

I develop my idea in pencil on bristol board, then ink with dip pen, brush and black ink.  

I use No. 3 ink and dip pens by Japanese brand Deleter.  They are marketed towards manga artists, but will work for any style.  The No 3 ink has lovely flow and a good solid black.  Here I used Strathmore 400 Series Bristol board.  It's good quality and comes in large 45.7x61cm size.

3. Polyester print positives

After scanning, editing and colouring the inked drawing in photoshop, each colour is printed as a separate black layer onto a transparent polyester sheet.  These are the 'print positives'.  

Separately each positive is placed on a large exposure unit, underneath a silk screen coated in photosensitive emulsion, and exposed to light.  Where the light passes through, the emulsion hardens, where it is blocked by black ink, it remains soft, and is subsequently washed out, leaving a negative image on the screen.

Here my 5 print positives are layered on top of each other to create a 'master copy', which I use to register the paper with the screen, so that each layer is exactly where it should be on the paper.

4. The printing process 

The negative image on the screen effectively works as a stencil, because ink can pass through the silk, but not through the hardened emulsion.

The paper is laid out on a printing bed and the screen is locked into the frame above.  The screen is lowered over the paper and using a 'squeegee', the ink is moved across the screen, through the stencil and onto the paper, leaving a positive image..

I use Aqua Art printing ink.  It is expensive and tricky to use, but it's stunning, creating rich, dense, vibrant, glossy colours and black.  The ink 'sits' on the paper, giving the print a hand-made, organic, almost sculptural feel which digital prints simply cannot match.

5. One layer at a time

After completing a full print run of one colour, you clean out the screen then repeat the process for the next layer.  It's a physical and time-consuming process.  

Here I've completed 3 out of 5 layers.  The entire printing process took me 24 hours in total, over 3 days.

6. Finished print 

The hard work pays off though when the print comes together at the end with the final black layer.  

The cormorant is such a beautiful bird - its wings really are a subtle shade of gold.  The border shows various elements of the cormorant's character

7. Detail from finished print 

You can see from this image just how important it is to get the registration of the layers absolutely correct, so that there are no ugly overlaps.  The tolerance is around 2mm.

Also, the way Cormorants dive for fish is amazing - they can stay underwater for ages!