This is a little write-up about the processes we work with in the screen printed pet portrait workshop that I teach. I recently made a demo print of my greyhound Bernadette to test out a new material to improve the process — using contact paper instead of tracing paper to make stencils. I’d also been wanting to write something to send to students before the workshop so they get an idea of how we’ll be working. Initially it can be an overwhelming project for people who haven’t screen printed before, but once we get going everyone loosens up and starts having fun.
A couple of weeks before the workshop I send an email that includes images of paintings by Andy Warhol for reference and inspiration (did you know Warhol had two dachshunds, Archie and Amos, and that he made portraits of them?) — the images reflect a similar process and result we get to in the workshop:
In that email I also request photos of the pet to be portraited — the photos don’t have to be anything fancy. I make a halftone transparency of the photo to burn the screen for the final layer. These screens are prepared ahead of time in a darkroom; the rest of the layers are made in the workshop.
The photograph is halftoned (which means the image is turned into tiny dots) so that it is screen printable. Imagery for screen printing is either there or not there, there’s no in-between. With halftones you are given the illusion of midtones based on the size and spacing of the dots.
At the workshop, we begin with a screen printing demo and start to think about the layers of our prints. The simplest way to approach the print is to divide it into to two parts — pet and background — and create a stencil for each. Using the halftoned photograph transparency as a guide, the shapes are traced onto contact paper and then cut out. We use both the cut out shape and the larger piece it is cut from to create two stencils/layers.
The contact paper sticks to the back of the screen to create the stencil. Ink flows through the open areas and is blocked in other areas by the contact paper. Print the shape, peel off the contact paper, and rinse the screen. Repeat the process for the other shape.
In the workshop we have the opportunity to print split fountains/gradients and create marbled effects. In my demo print, I printed Bernadette’s shape in metallic silver and the background in a pink and yellow split fountain, which is a “gradient'“ of two colors that blend together where they meet.
The last layer is the photographic halftone layer. This is what locks everything together — before this the print looks like a bunch of blobby shapes. It is best to print this layer in a dark color. I tried brown, process cyan, and black in my demo:
I love to see the results of students getting creative and experimental in this workshop! It’s fun to lay them all out in a grid Warhol-style and admire the work we did.