Screenprinting Workshop

Lucy's boat in the middle,  originally a coal boat.

Lucy’s boat in the middle, originally a coal boat.

An opportunity arose to attend a one day screenprinting workshop at Printmakingafloat, a local open access print studio on a canal boat.

Lucy’s objective was to introduce us to as many aspects of screen printing as possible in one day, rather than to achieve highly polished results.

We started with a discussion about mediums for printing on paper or textiles, and a look at the screen materials, sizes of mesh, set up etc.

We had been asked to bring sketchbooks, sketches and ideas for simple stencils. I continued on the theme of ballet dancers from my Pas De Deux workshop (see . We drew our stencil shape onto newsprint and cut it out with craft knives. I found this very difficult as the newsprint tended to ruche and tear under the blade. I could not achieve any subtle curves and my stencil ended up overly angular. We placed the negative stencil over cartridge paper under a hinged screen and applied a gloopy mix of 40% system3 acrylic paint mixed with system3 screenprint medium. We concentrated on:

  • where to put the ink, in a line at the edge of the screen, not overlapping the image area but wide enough that it could be drawn over it
  • appropriate size of squeegee to cover the image but be easily manageable
  • pulling towards us for maximum control
  • how much ink we would need
  • angle and pressure at which to pull the squeegee
  • getting a clean edge to the end of the draw
  • getting enough ink through the screen, which required four or five pulls but not too many

I found this all quite difficult but we produced quite creditable prints. We experimented with combining different colours in our line of ink and drawing these across our stencil. I particularly liked the effect of drawing the ink in both directions.

sp7 2 close

I did find it very difficult to get a completely clean print. The stencils lasted for four of five prints before they started to soak and ripple. Lucy suggested that we also try overprinting through a pre-prepared textured screen.

Flat colour over printed through textured screen

Flat colour over printed through textured screen

The screens had to be washed quickly so that the acrylic didn’t dry and block the screen (the reason for lots of medium to pigment also). We didn’t attempt to print a positive over the negative stencil, as I would have liked to have done. The prints need to dry and we were cracking on. The registration on this would have been so much easier using a hinged screen and the ability to lay my stencil on the print surface.

Lucy was keen to introduce us to photo sensitive screens and the exposure unit. She had pre-prepared the screens with photo emulsion and kept them in a black bin liner after they were dry, ready for our use.  She wanted us to try two different ways of preparing the image. Firstly, we placed a piece of ‘ruby lift’ over our stencil sketches and cut over them with a craft knife. This was much easier than newsprint to use and to get a good quality line. The transparent film on a tough backing sheet was easy to see through and handled beautifully. The negative shape in the red film could then be peeled away leaving a red positve image which would block light getting to the photosensitive surface of the screen. After development under the light source, the negative image would be fixed but the positive image would wash out.

We also tried painting an image on a piece of acetate using black acrylic paint and a bristle brush.  We painted an outline and shadow for our previous stencils so that we could over print our first, now dry, prints. (Unfortunately the acetate wasn’t quite big enough to fully execute this for my print.) It was important to get a reasonable thickness of line, very thin brush strokes would not expose.

The exposure unit in action

The exposure unit in action

We placed these two prepared stop out sheets over the screen, holding them flat with a sheet of glass, for exposure. The unit had several 100 watt bulbs and we exposed for about ten minutes. We then very quickly washed the screens to remove the unfixed areas before they exposed in the normal light. It was  quite magical to see the images emerging on the screen.

First screenprint through ruby cut image - you can see where I moved the screen slightly pulling the ink through

First screenprint through ruby lift image – you can see where I moved the screen slightly pulling the ink through

These screens were then printed just by placing them over cartridge paper and clamping them down with one hand whilst drawing the ink across.  I did not find this very successful and several times I moved slightly over the paper. Also, because we were trying methods out in limited time, we had printed two images on the one screen, and this presented other problems of creating a clean edge. There just wasn’t enough room at the edge of the image to cleanly marshal the ink.

Result of not enough room between images on the screen

Result of not enough room between images on the screen of at the edge of the screen (top)

We used strips of paper to try and maintain clean edges but these moved and helped the screen wiggle about.

Flat colour, overprinted with textures screen, overprinted with outline

Flat colour, overprinted with textured screen, overprinted with outline

Two colours of ink printed toegther and overprinted with outline

Two colours of ink printed toegther and overprinted with outline

Stencil printed with textured screen and then overprinted with outline

Stencil printed with textured screen and then overprinted with outline

I didn’t particularly like my outlined image but I can see how effective a freely drawn outline could be to define and anchor some designs.

I very much liked the quality of the ruby lift stencil with its clean curves. I think these are my best two prints. On the right hand one, I dropped a dollop of green ink in the print area by mistake but I quite like the green patch faintly suggesting a shoulder blade? I really like the tweeded colours in the left hand print. Sadly, neither are perfectly clean prints.

sp7 2 sp3

Ever keen to give us the full experience, Lucy introduced us to painting directly onto the screen with food colouring, letting this dry, and then pulling uncoloured screenprinting medium across it on to watercolour  paper. This produced interesting spontaneous and subtle effects and would be well worth exploring in other, more light fast water based media.


Lucy also showed us how to print onto a t-shirt using these techniques but with a fabric medium.

Finally, she showed us how to prepare a screen with photo emulsion for exposure. She really made sure that we left the day with a great set of skills to build on for the future.

Plus points of screenprinting:

  • Simple, direct, easy to register
  • very quick to process
  • easy cleanup with waterbased media
  • high output and iteration
  • vibrancy of the acrylic colours


  • Difficult to get clean edges
  • need to tape margins
  • don’t use too much ink
  • hinged frame on base board makes everything much easier
  • very blocky, flat images.

Things to note:

  • Thinness of stencils gave very crisp edge to image, unlike my attempts at home
  • The paint was quite opaque
  • I would like to explore layering up stencils using transparent inks or paints. Lucy introduced us to the work of Carry Ackroyd  (  to show what could be achieved with stencils and screenprinting. We also looked at the work of Julian Opie ( )and his use of black outlines.

Possible things to explore:

  • monoprinting through a screen
  • overlaying transparent colours
  • watercolour printing with uncoloured medium
  • printing on surfaces other than paper.

About starrybird

I am mature student studying art with The Open College of the Arts. My passion is printmaking.
This entry was posted in Part 1 Monoprints, Printmaking 1, Project 2 - Positive and Negative Masked Prints and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Screenprinting Workshop

  1. mags says:

    Really enjoying seeing your progress on the printmaking course… best of luck!

    One thing I’m curious about – I live in a small flat, and worry that there wouldn’t be the necessary amount of space for this course. Do you find it needs a lot of room? Both for printing and for drying?

    • starrybird says:

      Hi Mags! How goes it? You did ask me this ages ago, and I said I would do a post on how I set myself up. Apologies that I never got around to it – I will do it soon. I do end up using most of the worksurface in the kitchen to print and prepare paper, and the dining room table is littered with prints! But maybe is like handbags; if you have the space you use it all!

      • mags says:

        Did I?! Brain like a sieve! I can well imagine one would expand to fill any space. 🙂 It’s so tempting, but there really is no drying space, other than the kitchen table – which is the only work space, alas! Ah, well… I’d still be interested to read about your set-up, though. That kind of thing rarely seems to be written about. Thank you!

  2. Pingback: Plant studies | OCA Printmaking 1

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