Last week I took a three-day workshop with Jane Dunnewold on improvisational screen printing, a technique that I have done my best to avoid for many years. For several reasons I have always been intimidated by the process -- let me count the ways.
First, it takes a lot of room to spread out the work in a wet studio and you need an actual flat, sturdy surface, the larger the better. (My wet studio is the top of my washer and dryer, complete with nice crevasse around the edge of the washer lid.)
Second, you need screens, and from everything I've heard, twelve screens is a lot better than one. That starts to cost money, and take up space.
Third, you have to mix up thickened dye in careful proportions, whereas my usual dye method is far more slapdash and accidental.
Fourth, what would I put on the screen? Would it require (gasp!) drawing???
Finally -- and most substantive -- many of my closest art friends, not to mention a substantial portion of fiber artists in general, are heavily into screen printing, and I thought this might be a pretty crowded ballpark to be playing in. By contrast, my chosen niche of pieced quilts seems to be getting less and less populated all the time.
But I decided I couldn't pass up the chance to take a class from a giant in the field. And am I glad I made that decision! We tried several different techniques, and one really struck a chord with me. That may seem like a low batting average, but I believe that a workshop is wildly successful if you bring one thing home with you to love. It may even be better to bring home one thing than to bring home five, because if you have too much whirling around in your head you may have a hard time deciding what to focus on, and too often that means you don't do your best with anything. I know this from experience.
What I loved was a technique of coating the screen with a thin layer of flour paste, then drawing into it with a skewer. Because the flour comes off in little flakes, any line you make will have wonderful scratchy edges.
Most of the people in the class made beautiful abstract designs with their flour paste.
I chose to write words. At first we thought that we had to mark from the back of the screen, where we had applied the flour paste, so my writing printed in reverse. But we found out that the paste had penetrated the mesh and we could write from the inside of the screen as well, thus enabling readable writing.
Here's what I came up with. I'm delighted with the quality of the writing, especially since I have a strange mental block that generally prevents me from making letters that I like. Something about the imtermediate step of the screen made me happier with the letters than if I had written them directly onto fabric or paper.
I have no idea how (or if) I will be able to use this technique in my art, but I sure love what I made. I will be thinking about what to do with 10 beautiful copies of The Battle Hymn of the Republic.
So thanks, Jane, for getting me past my fear of screenprinting and giving me a new toy!