Saturday Studio: Print Like a Pop Artist!

Jenna Gilley, Curatorial Intern

Screen printing! This medium has come a long way since its discovery in China around 1000 AD. Praised (or hated) for its versatility from high to low art, silkscreen prints adorn museum walls as well as our favorite graphic tees. The Pop artists of the 1960s loved silkscreen’s connection to the mass produced advertising world, and Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein’s silkscreen prints quickly became some of the most memorable pieces of Modern art. In fact, many credit Andy Warhol for popularizing the silkscreen technique. Known by a variety of names (serigraphy, serigraph printing, silkscreen, screen print); today, we will use a silkscreen example from Mexican-American artist Carlos Frésquez (below) as a source of inspiration for making our own at-home friendly, Pop art inspired silkscreen prints.

A screenprint of the globe with latitude and longitude lines, Mr. and Mrs. Jetson are in front of the flattened earth hugging. Mrs. Jetson says "Yeah! We live in a wonderful world" while Mr. Jetson says "Sin Fronteras". There are Chinese characters and Atlas, with the earth on his shoulders, in the background.
Carlos Frésquez, American, b. 1956. A Fairy Tale. Silkscreen on paper, 2007. Museum purchase with funds provided by the American Art Initiative Capital Campaign, 2013.56.3. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

I invite you to choose a favorite pop culture icon, object, or, in my case, pop symbol, to drive your creation. I was drawn to the speech bubbles in Frésquez’s work, which were used by many other Pop artists to inject their pieces with energy and comic flare. Frésquez takes this concept a step further, using a mix of languages to promote the idea of communication, dialogue, and hope (although satirically) for the future amongst different peoples across the world.  

The FWMoA is fortunate to hold hundreds of exceptional silkscreen prints as part of our Prints and Drawings Collection, which comprises almost two thirds of the permanent collection! Plus, having a retrospective on top silkscreen artist Chuck Sperry, coming in 2022, there has never been a better time to learn how to master this medium yourself.

Materials:

-Silkscreen frame (you can purchase one here or make your own, see below, out of a picture frame or embroidery hoop and a tightly woven mesh fabric like organza)

-Squeegee ( or bench scraper)

-Speedball fabric ink (or fabric or acrylic paint) 

-Mod Podge

-Paintbrush 

-Scrap paper

-Pencil

-Item to be printed! (T-shirt, tote bag, dishtowel, etc)

  1. To make a silkscreen, stretch a piece of tightly woven sheer material over a wooden frame using a staple gun. We used a sheer curtain from Target! Try to pull the fabric as tight as you can, and fold and trim the edges to get a nice base. This doesn’t have to be perfect though, as you will see one of my sides has more fabric than the other!

2. Start the screen printing process by planning out your design using your writing utensil of choice on a piece of scrap paper.

I chose to sketch using pencil and paper. The quote I chose is “Yes you can” in Spanish, to match the print by Frésquez.

3. Next, flip the silkscreen over on top of your template, and transfer the design to the silk/mesh using pencil.

The back of the frame should be facing you, with the front facing down on top of your sketched design.
  1. Fill in the areas that you do NOT want ink to show on the FRONT of the design with a small paint brush and Mod Podge. This is called the “resist”. Traditionally, a photo emulsion technique is used for this step. Using Mod Podge, however, is a quick and budget-friendly substitute.
Turning the screen over, I applied Mod Podge where I did NOT want ink to show.
  1. Let it dry completely, perhaps even doing a few layers to ensure that the ink will not run through the screen. Be sure to go all the way to the edges so the ink doesn’t bleed through, or use masking or duct tape. When you hold the screen up to the light, you should be able to see through your design, but not the surrounding areas. Add another coat if needed!
I used masking tape to ensure my ink wouldn’t bleed.
  1. Now it’s time for the fun part! Place your screen face down on the object you want to print. Place a piece of paper in between fabric layers to avoid bleeding. Squeeze a generous amount of ink onto the screen in a straight line and use the squeegee to pull the ink across the print. 

*We recommend doing a few trials on scrap paper before printing on your product, just to ensure that the stencil works.

7. Gently remove the screen to reveal your print!

Pull the screen away gently.

8. Allow to dry, and follow with any remaining directions to set the ink. Most Speedball ink recommends adding heat to the design with an iron for a few minutes.

Be sure to share your screenprinted designs with us here on the blog or via social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.

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