NEW CLASS: Silkscreen Color Separations by Hand

We have a brand new class called Silkscreen Color Separations by Hand, taught by Ian Cozzens of Secret Door Projects! It’ll be a four-week class on Wednesdays, February 20th, 27th, March 6th, and 13th from 6pm-10pm. This class focuses on separating colors of an image by cutting into rubylith, a stencil film that allows you to create sharp, graphic lines. Transparent inks and “rainbow rolls” will also be taught and experimentation is encouraged. We asked Ian a couple of questions about his work process and what the new class will offer students.
What is your work process like?

I always have a lot of ideas that are waiting to get realized — spurred on by everything from political happenings, to personal
identity, to an event that needs to be promoted, to beautiful/disintegrating things seen around me — so I’m never lost for inspiration (though I’m often bogged down or stopped in my tracks by procrastination, fear, or distraction!).

I usually begin with some kind of pencil drawing, sometimes working from a photograph, sometimes inventing stuff, sometimes using photo reference to create an imaginary thing… and often drawing letterforms by hand. When the pencil drawing nears some kind of completion, I make stencils for screenprinting using ink on mylar or rubylith (or, occasionally, with a computer!). Sometimes I mix colors in advance & plan way ahead, sometimes while I’m in the middle of printing… but mixing and testing the colors always takes me longer than I think. Usually I work at the last minute so I don’t ever have enough time to work on things as much as I would like, and I make tons of mistakes that aren’t solvable within the timeframe of the project, and that I can only hope to learn from in the next thing I make, and that end up generating more ideas to work on… Lots of process details, rambles, & images can be found here:

What will students learn and get out of this class?

Students will learn a bunch of different advanced silkscreen techniques and methods: precision alignment, rainbow rolls [color gradients — see below], using transparent ink colors, complicated hand-cut stencils, careful ink management & printing techniques (including the “plastic mountain”!). They’ll try out a strategy for
thinking about color separations & color graphics that will hopefully apply to various different artistic pursuits. We’ll also get to experiment with colors, inks, & printing in a low-pressure way — allowing ourselves to not have an end goal but to see what looks interesting & to try new things that might look weird. Oh, and each student will also make a good-looking finished print of their own, and we’ll do some kind of print trade at the end so we all get a copy of everybody’s print…

What will the structure of each class be like?

In the first class, we’ll go over the whole process, do some sample printing, then look at the images everybody has brought in and talk about a system for dividing them into different color layers using tracing paper and pencils.  Everybody will try out rubylith. In the second class, we’ll work further on color separation and begin working on the rubylith layers for the chosen images.  We’ll also do some experimental printing of the students’ incomplete images. By the end of the third class, everybody will have gotten a chance to test-print their image in different ways, and will be ready to make final modifications to prepare for the fourth class — final image printing & color refinement, and making a small edition.  We’ll also have one extra work night somewhere in there where I’ll be around & students can come in & work on their stencils & prints if they need extra time.

I’ve taught versions of this class twice before, once at my studio in Providence, and once at the Community Printshop in New Orleans, and I’m excited to work on these processes with learners once again!

Student Work

What are the best images that one should prepare for the class?

You’ll want to bring three or four photographs that have a single central subject or group of subjects, and have a good range of light to dark tones — some bright highlights, some dark shadows, some middle values.  (Old “National Geographic” magazines are great sources for bold photographic images.) The image can be color or grayscale (but should not be high-contrast black-&-white). We’ll photocopy it to around 5″x8″ or thereabouts (any larger & it will  take too long to deal with the whole image, any smaller and the details will be difficult to cut out).

Pick subject matter that you like looking at, because we’ll be working on one of these for the whole class… but also you’ll be using this image as experimental territory, so while you will make a good-looking graphic, you might not end up with what you expect to get.  (i.e., don’t bring in the single magical image you want to use to make a perfect birthday present, or your band’s ideal rock poster… though you may of course decide to utilize this image for one of those purposes in the future!)

What are transparent rainbow rolls and why is it used in this class?

“Rainbow roll”, “split fountain”, and “bokashi” are all terms from different print media (silkscreen in the USA, commercial Western offset lithography, and woodblock printing in Japan, respectively) that describe using one pass to transfer multiple colors onto a print. The ‘rainbow roll’ can be used simply for color efficiency (getting
more than one color out of just one action), but it can also utilize a gradient of ink color (and/or ink density) to create an atmospheric, complex, or psychedelic effect, depending on the desires of the printmaker.

Multiple rainbow rolls can be layered over each other, and transparent colors can also be used, for further complexity & color possibility. We’re going to be trying out rainbow rolls & transparent colors in this class because they are “advanced silkscreen” territory, and they are simple ways to create interesting effects in your prints, that people often ask me about! Check out more about rainbow rolls, and a bunch of examples, here:

Cut rubylith

What is the benefit of hand-cutting stencils for silkscreening?

One of my teachers, David Gersten, when asked why he doesn’t use a computer to make drawings, because “it would be faster and save you time”, responds, “Why would I want to spend less time *thinking*?” Any process that is done by hand, engaging with the physical, material world rather than the immateriality of a screen, offers a chance for our thinking, made manifest in our hands and bodies, to interact with the world around us… and the energy (conflict, friction, complexity, resolution!) of that interaction is always evident in the resulting work.

Cutting rubylith stencils is drawing with a knife — and instead of your line having a thickness, you are actually cutting a perfect Euclidean geometric line — it has no existence of its own, it just exists as the division of two things.  Then through screenprinting, that line gets filtered through *another* material interaction and becomes the division between ink and paper, ink & the ink below it, ink & the other layers of light & ink passing through & reflecting off the ink & the paper. Okay?! Also they’re beautiful.

Hand-cut stencils aren’t right for every scenario, but they’re perfect for situations where you want a sharp edge on your graphics and a clean division between colors, and where you want to cover large areas with solid expanses of ink, and where you want to simplify and stylize complicated forms into graphic shapes. Some images of & examples of rubylith stencils here:

What are some of the results and rewards for experimenting with color?

Oh geez, how to answer this question?  What are the rewards for experimenting with anything? You see things you wouldn’t have thought of doing if you hadn’t tried them, you get new ideas for things to try next, and you maybe find the perfect weird color combination for your project.  Or you just get to play around in unfamiliar territory. We’ll be sharing ink colors and color combinations with each other, so we’ll be challenging each other to use colors we wouldn’t ordinarily use! Often with screenprinting, we are content to stick with what we know or with “poster colors” straight out of the jar from the store — this class will just be pushing a little ways out of that territory, hopefully to everyone’s satisfaction.

Interested in the possibilities that this workshop will offer you? Click to REGISTER HERE! You can browse the rest of the Printshop’s classes here.