This is the painting that inspired my latest printing project. I could find no artist mentioned when I found it on Pinterest and no name. I call it ‘Rocks in my Head’ and you will soon see why.
It’s a while since I have created a serious wadder, mostly some remedial work improves matters, or maybe a turn in the ‘magical cupboard’, meaning that I hang it up somewhere out of the way, and when I look at it again in a few months’ time I have forgotten what bothered me so much and think that it actually looks pretty ok. Try it sometime, unlikely as it sounds it really works. Sometimes.
Every maker has their idiosyncrasies, and mine is that I concentrate on the whole, not the parts. What is important to me is the design and overall look, or the Gestalt, if you want to be fancy. This has the advantage that I don’t sweat the small stuff all that much (good). But the disadvantage is that the quality of my work isn’t always top notch either (bad).
Just look at the inside of my garments and you will see what I mean. Or the outside, as I routinely topstitch hems and don’t care if you can see where I started and finished the topstitching because it overlaps. My rationale is that very few people go down on their hands and knees with a magnifying glass to inspect my hems. So I am a sloppy sewist. Deal with it.
But I am less relaxed about the quality of my printing. I would dearly love it to look perfect, but I just can’t seem to get there. Some of the reason is the techniques I use. Block printing makes it easy to create a pattern on a whole garment, but it does not produce a nice, fat, even print. It is just the nature of the beast, the block does not carry enough ink to saturate fabric. Stencilling does this better, especially on the large motifs I like. But at least on fabric the paint is not completely even. As the fabric soaks it up, you get variations, not in the colour but in the surface of the print. It looks a bit like suede, with the nap going in different directions. I have tried to do 2 applications, and dry in between, which is better, but still not a nice even print, like a screen print. Never mind that my inspiration painting has exactly the same translucent, uneven look, I was going to get a nice, even, flat application of paint from one end of each shape to the other, or else.
That meant screen printing. It’s not hard and I did quite a bit of it years and years ago. But printing a single motif on the front of a t-shirt is very different from printing a garment all over. With this project I thought I could put my toe in the water, printing two iterations of the abstract motif side by side, front and back.
The result was a disaster. I had lines going right through the middle of my shapes, too little ink on some of the rocks and much too much on others. I tried to remove some of the surplus ink with a tissue, to find the top layer of the tissue coming off and sinking into the paint. It looked horrible and I felt totally depressed. The problem was that the screens I had were too small to allow me to pull the squeegee nicely across the whole length of the print, and then the squeegee! It is probably 25 years old and my husband had used it at some point to grout tiles, without cleaning off the grout afterwards. It was also too small to fit across the width of the motif. No wonder the print was a mess.
But — I loathe giving up. I had already cut out the shirt, so the whole lot would be wasted. I hate waste, even if I have enough fabric to last me for the rest of my days and we’ll into eternity.
Fortunately the fabric did not have a defined right side, and the ink had only bled through a little to the wrong side. I thought it would be possible to turn the fabric over and print again on the wrong side.
No, I wasn’t game to wrestle again with the too small screen and ancient squeegee, but I thought I could use the stencil I had cut for the screen as a hand stencil and dab the ink on with a sponge. I also wasn’t that thrilled with the look of white on gray, and thought black would be better.
And what do you know, it turned out alright!
And below is the modified front, with one of the shapes enlarged to improve the gap in the middle. I’m much happier now!
I will still have to get my act together and set myself up to screen print properly. The first step is to get a screen big enough to print the whole front or back of a top in one go, and a decent squeegee. Expensive, but not rocket science. While searching for the larger screen online I came across instructions for using vinyl as a stencil for the screen. That is a great idea because it allows for more creative freedom than an acetate stencil, without having to use a photosensitive emulsion. I always hated the thought of that, because it looks messy and needs chemicals and a darkroom.
So watch this space for more screen printing disasters. I must have rocks in my head.