It was over 30 years ago, while doing a ‘five stretch’ at Sexey’s school, that fellow inmate Anthony ‘Ant’ Thomas (lead singer of Accumulative Poison – the best punk band in Bruton) taught me how to screen-print. The reason we wanted to screen-print was to produce T-shirts proclaiming our fandom of more obscure bands whose memorabilia wasn’t readily available in the shops – Accumulative Poison being a prime example. Not for us the corporate, commercial tat of the Clash and the Sex Pistols we were artisans keeping it real in the back of the art room on seemingly endless Sunday afternoons.
Happily I’ve kept the craft alive over all these years and still take pleasure in building a screen and making a mess with inks and dyes when I’m in the mood for solitary diversion. The first thing you need to make a screen is a sturdy wooden frame. I am sure these are available from art shops but in the spirit of my youth I prefer to saw a section from a small wooden wine box which does the job nicely. You then need to stretch fabric tightly over the frame, purists use silk for this but Ant favoured curtain netting (I assume for economic reasons) and I’ve remained loyal to the ways of my mentor.
The next stage of production is to draw an outline of the image you wish to reproduce on the screen and then carefully block out a ‘negative’ of it in insoluble glue or gloss paint. There is no getting way from the fact that this procedure is quite painstaking and requires close attention to detail. As with cutting hair and sculpting, errors cannot readily be rectified retrospectively so it is best not to rush anything. Once the glue or paint has hardened a second, and, if necessary, third, thickening coat can be applied to make the screen more durable and sharpen up any rough edges. Then you are in business, you can break out the poster paints or print with inks on to fabric.
Novices might want to start out cutting stencils from cardboard before graduating up to simple screens as can be seen here with these two graphics in celebration of my home town of Frome.
More complicated images like this ‘Hermitage’ screen require patience but once they are made you can print copies off with abandon.
Anoraks maybe interested to know that I took that image from a 1974 ‘J-L Chave’ Hermitage carton. The same logo ran until 1978 (possibly 1979). The border was dropped in 1980 and by 1985 so was the word ‘Viticulteur’. Contemporary ‘flat’ packs came along with the 1991 vintage that marked the end of an era.
Consummate masters of screen-printing, like Ant, deploy multiple screens each using a different colour to produce more complex and layered images but I prefer to stick to basics while blasting out some X-ray Spex or Undertones in the splendid isolation of the garden shed.