When he’d gone I asked her where they ran courses and she told me of two; one in Salford and one in Mirfield. I decided that the ones run by the West Yorkshire Print Workshop suited me better so I signed up for a weekend workshop.
There were four of us keen to get to grips with this art form. We had all taken something we wanted to turn into a screen print. I had photographs, someone else had a railway ticket and a map, someone else a photograph from Chicago and the fourth person was making a pattern from scratch.
Beginning with a contrasty photocopy of our subject we then plunged into a world of cooking oil, light-sensitive liquid, ultra-violet light, vacuum pumps, silk screens, dark rooms and a washing area. There was lots of washing down the screens and lots of gloopy ink – the black got everywhere. We soon understood the need for aprons.
To make the photographic stencil we coated the back of the photocopy with cooking oil to make it translucent (the alternative was to make an acetate). We also prepared a screen by coating it with the light-sensitive emulsion called Azocol by pouring it from a trough and then put it in the dark room to dry. The trough has to be washed immediately afterwards to remove all emulsion traces.
Once dry we moved it into a dimly-lit room with the ultra-violet light and a vacuum table where we positioned the oiled original under the prepared screen on a glass table, then turned on the pump to remove any air so a rubber sheet immobilised it. We could then turn it at 90 degrees to the light source, leave the room and switch on the UV light for 3 minutes.
After that it was the first trip to the wash room where we hosed down the screen to remove the Azocol which had not been exposed to UV light (and therefore not fixed to the mesh screen) and watched the image emerge as we did so. We then put the screen into the drying room. This was getting exciting.
Only when that was dry could we then move it to the printing tables – like a drawing board with counterweights and a vacuum pump to hold the paper in place. Placing a large sheet of greaseproof paper to use as a registration aid on the table we then securely fastened the screen into place over it.
We also blocked off any untreated part of the screen with masking tape to prevent any ink leaking through the mesh, deposited a large blob of ink and using a squeegee board dragged the ink over the mesh forcing the ink through it onto the paper below it.
Lifting up the mesh screen in the frame and seeing our image for the first time was a mixture of relief and satisfaction.
Having printed onto the registration sheet we could then position paper we actually wanted to print on underneath it held in place by the vacuum pump, remove the registration sheet, and then make our print.
We experimented with different coloured paper and even different inks although, you guessed it, each ink colour had to be washed off the screen and the screen dried before you could re-use it. Patience was necessary at times.
Day two was more of the same and the chance to try different things. We realised if you had more than one screen you could make more progress as one was usually waiting to be dried off.
At the end of the workshop we had to remove the stencil image from the screens using Pregasol and the hose spray but wearing goggles, mask and gloves and using the extractor fan.
I’d already realised that this wasn’t something I could do at home lacking UV lamps and vacuum pumps but this confirmed it! So spraying the mesh screen on both sides with Pregasol then leaving it for 3 minutes before spraying off with the hose, gently at first but with extra pressure was the final stage. It took a few attempts to get the screens spotlessly clean but then we were done.
It’s really satisfying to produce something with your hands in this way and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in art or in being creative.
If you are interested book now as the workshops get filled up very quickly. See: http://www.wypw.org/ Mine cost £120.00 which included all the materials used.
NB I have no commercial connection with this organisation. I attended a course and enjoyed it!