Oil on canvas is considered by art historians and art critics as the highest and purest form of visual expression in two dimensions. A piece of heavy cotton, flax or hemp cloth is stretched tightly on a wooden frame and then different pigments are applied to recreate the scene from the mind of the artist. The use of various colors, tools and techniques helps to create the painting, however the most important ingredient of true art is the inner vision of the artist.
Serigraphy is a twentieth-century multicolor print-making technique, developed in America. Its first formal introduction as an artist’s technique occurred with an exhibition of serigraphs at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. Since then it has become a widely accepted medium for artist’s original prints. The method is simple in principle and execution; it is basically a stencil process, where the designs are placed upon a piece of fine-mesh silk tacked to a wooden frame with various film-forming materials used as resists.
The specially made color in the correct semi-liquid consistency is poured into the frame, the frame is placed in contact with the surface to be printed upon, and the color is scraped over the stencil with a rubber squeegee, thus being deposited upon the paper or other ground through the meshes of the uncoated areas of the silk. The wooden frame upon which the silk is stretched is made about two inches deep so that it forms a box (with the silk constituting the bottom) within which the paint can be conveniently manipulated with the squeegee. Although successful monochrome prints can be made with one impression, almost all of the development work on silk-screen printing as a fins-arts medium has been done with the aim of producing color prints in a full unlimited range.
My serigraphy differs from the basic methods in that I do the painting first. Afterwards I carefully count the exact number of colors. Next I list the colors in order; the bottom color first, and so on. My serigraphs range from 16 to 22 colors.
I begin the hand separation process by cutting one piece of clear plastic acetate for each color on my list. I nail registration bars (1″ x 2″ wooden strips) to the vertical sides of the painting and put registration marks on each of the four corners. Having sprayed a removable adhesive on the bars, I lay. or stretch, an acetate over the painting from bar to bar, making sure it is stretched evenly with no “waves” . Next I put a registration marker on the plastic perfectly over each marker on the four corners. Theoretically, every sheet and color I’m hunting for, I draw or paint that color exactly as it is on the plastic, directly over the painting – every little spec.
When this process is complete, I number it #1. With the second sheet I repeat the process, picking out the second color, and so on until I have done all of the colors. (Of course in an oil painting, I might have 7 or 8 gradations of green). For the serigraph I might break that down into 5 greens for the purpose of practicality. Inevitably, I’ll run into a green that is in between 2 green categories. Then I have to make a judgment call, putting that little spot into one category or another – then when I get to the next green category, I must remember what I did with those little spots in order to best get what I want. It is a conceptually and mentally all encompassing task! I have spent as much as 20 hours on one (color) separation. The entire separation process has taken me anywhere from 7 to 10 weeks per image. Remember, I have painted opaque ink on plastic, now I must check and “fill-in” each separation. When these separations are placed on a light table, I can see that al of the little spots are not truly opaque and solid, so I have to go back over them, tediously filling in all the spots making sure they are truly opaque. Even after all of this work we are nowhere near the printing stage!
Each separation must be transferred to the silkscreen boxes. I do this by putting an emulsion on the screen and the burning the image from the separation into the screen by using a light table (a large glass-topped table with fluorescent lights beneath). I place one finished separation down on the table. Then I put the screen with dried emulsion on top of the separation. I put a black board and weights on top of that so there is no space at all in between to be certain that no light will diffuse out. Next I turn on the lights which then burns the emulsion into the screen so it adheres to the sreen. Where the red opaque ink is “painted” the light cannot go through, thus in those little spots the emulsion does not get burned in. Then I hose down the screen and the emulsion falls out exactly where the opaque ink was, leaving a clean opening in the screen. That is where the ink can go through onto the paper, only in those spots. I do that with each separation and screen until the screens are ready for printing.
When I print I will print as many as I wish of one color, finish that screen, clean it, remove it, then go on to the next screen; each time registering the screen to the paper (the separation taped to the paper). As one can imagine, the correct registration is critical.
The inks I use are all oil base and opaque. I hand-mix a variety of colors together to get the exact color I want for each screen. To mix a complete set of inks (let’s say 20) for an edition, takes me usually 2 or 3 long days.
When printing, I have to have the screen hinged to a large table with i registered precisely. I lift the screen, set a sheet of paper in; lower the screen to just above the table, and pour the ink in at one end of the “screen-box”. Next the ink is pushed across the screen with a squeegee, and the squeegee is brought back to its original location. The screen is is put down flat on the table with paper underneath, and the squeegee is pushed across the screen, forcing the ink through the screen just in those precise places where it’s supposed to go. The screen is lifted by a pulley system so that it will stay elevated. The paper, which now has one color on it, is removed and placed on a drying rack. This is repeated for each sheet in the edition for this color. Then the screen and color is switched and the process is repeated, until each color has been applied to each sheet in the edition.
And that is how I do my serigraphy.
Lithography is the most common method of mass production printing to date. Often referred to as offset lithography, the process utilized a metal plate or drum that has the image etched into it. The plate or drum is then prepared with an oily immersion in the “non-image” areas as the ink will not stick to the oily substance. Next the plate is inked, the ink sticking to the non-oiled areas, and then pressed to the paper, thus creating the image. The process is repeated many times with different colors to create the “full-color” image.
Limited Edition Lithographs
Limited edition lithographs are printed as described above in quantities under 1000. They are printed on heavy, high quality paper and retain their color for centuries. Limited edition prints are much more valuable than open editions and they are signed and number by the artist.
Open Edition Lithographs
Open edition means that there is no set number of copies that will be printed. Open editions are close relatives of posters, generally printed on thin paper stock. Kept under glass in a frame, they too will last indefinitely and will even appreciate in value.
Giclée is the term coined by the Scitex Corp. given to prints made on its ‘Iris’ printer.
‘Iris’ printer projects future of photography, by Frank Van Riper
The Iris printer, which is to a desktop laser printer as a Leica is to a pinhole camera, represents the future of photography.
This mammoth and miraculous machine was developed by Iris Graphics of Bedford, Mass., a division of the Israeli firm Scitex Corp., which helped pioneer computer manipulation of photographic and other images.
The Iris printer’s biggest draw is its ability to create stunningly detailed reproductions of artwork on archival rag-content paper, using rich archival inks.
But that is only part of it. Artists who wish to use the computer as a creative tool also can scan in various elements of a design, manipulate and change them, then press a button (well, maybe a few buttons) and let Iris perform its magic from a computer-generated negative. Irises are not cheap – they go for something like $125,000 apiece – and prints from them can cost several hundred dollars each. But the process has hit the art and photography world by storm, with good reason.
To painters and college artists, like Mokha Laget, who’s exhibits at Washington’s Franz Bader Gallery, the Iris allows production of multiple images from originals.
Far more detailed and long lasting than conventionally made prints or posters, the Iris prints stand alone as a new art form – while also giving the artist the ability to make and sell multiples. (In Laget’s case, her prints often are legitimately sold as one-of-a-kind images because she sometimes will hand-apply gold leaf to them.)
To photographers like Washington’s Kay Chernush, the Iris’ ability to translate a photographic image onto the fine art paper presents “a whole new set of tools” for the artist.
“I feel the kind of excitement like when I first picked up the camera,” Chernush said. The new process simply “takes you places where film and cameras can’t.”
Despite my aversion to computer manipulation of photographs, I admire the Iris for its phenomenal ability to render a straight photographic image. To be sure, there is still work to be done. So far, ink manufacturers haven’t come up with materials for black-and-white reproduction, and print costs remain high.
Still, Washington gallery owner David Adamson predicts that the technology is advancing so fast that within a couple of years affordable Iris prints may be available at camera shops in sizes up to 16″ X 20″.