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No Nonsense Screen Printing

By Richard Wardle R.E.

Angel Bank - screen printI began printmaking 20 years ago at Harrow Art School where I was firstly taught to use paper stencils then photo stencil film. After a few weeks most students had given up, frustrated by problems of registration and the barrier of cumbersome photographic stencil making. It was with the arrival of a new tutor, Michael Carlo, that I became hooked on his no-nonsense approach. I started to work on one hinged screen, painting stencils directly onto it, using blue filler and printing overlays of transparent colours using extender base. I still use much the same process now and am still using oil-based inks though I have completely eliminated general cleaner and other heavy solvents from my printing practice. Instead, I use white spirit with a little genuine turpentine mixed in to clean my screen.

I still work on one screen only, altering or eradicating each stencil to make the next one in its place and sometimes use at least 30 stencils to complete an edition. Therefore, my prints are not photo-mechanical semi-reproductions (which seems to be the present trend), but developments of paintings which may be either rough colour studies or more complete paintings. Due to the nature of the medium, the prints are always different from the paintings.

I have seen many prints in recent years that are scanned, printed by technicians and end up being facsimiles of paintings, hardly meriting the term Original Prints, though they are sold as such.

I have been making paintings and prints of landscape since 1978 and give demonstrations wherever I exhibit. Generally, viewers are surprised and fascinated by such an apparently basic method. Most people expect my prints to be photographically separated. Most of my works depict rural England and I try to suggest in these images the specific moment when I find a good or interesting subject, i.e. when the elements of that subject come together because of the time of day. I rely heavily on lengthening shadows which are both cast by features of the landscape and lie across and over other features. It is often the shadows that create the illusion of 3-dimensional space on the flat surface of the paper. The feeling of specific time may come from going out to look for material in evenings and early mornings. I often find shadows appearing, cast by features which aren't even visible in the composition and I also enjoy tonal play of light against dark and dark against light.

Field Side - screen printThese two prints started as small paintings. 'Angel Bank' (Top) was only about 5"x 7" and was a very direct, busy painting. I re-drew a larger version, lightened the shadows which were too harsh and moved some things around, rather like moving furniture, leaving some things out and working from the lightest colours to the darkest using overlaid inks. The finished print used 28 colours, so I hand-painted 28 stencils. 'Field Side' (middle) is smaller than the painting and lighter in tone and feel, as I decided I had again over-cooked the colour and tone in the painting. Field Side - detailDistant stacks of bales stand out in front of darker tones (right) . The transparency of the ink is perfect for suggesting the overlays of watercolour marks.

Screen-printing seems for most people to be out of reach, too technical, using specialised photographic equipment and relying on chemicals. The way I was taught and now teach myself, gives students access to this very direct medium.

A well-known artist-'printmaker' once said to me having watched me demonstrating how I work, "that’s amazing. All my prints are photographically separated and printed by some-one else". Unfortunately, nowadays the term Original Print can mean just about anything.

You can see Richard demonstrate his techniques at Art in Action in July.

You can contact Richard at:
3 Seifton Lane
Shropshire SY8 2DG

Tel: 01584 861634

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