The Silkscreen Process

The silkscreen print is produced by using an ancient stencil method invented by the Chinese, and revived in the United States during the WPA as an inexpensive way for artists to produce multiples of their work, which they could sell in order to make a living. A stencil is adhered to a silk fabric, which has been stretched tightly across a frame. This screen is placed over paper, filled with ink, and then a squeegee (rubber blade) is pulled across the top of the screen, pushing the ink through the open areas of the stencil onto the paper beneath. Only one shade of one color may be printed at a time. I generally use 30-35 stencils to produce a multi-colored print.

There are many ways to produce a stencil. I use what is called a direct photo-emulsion method. Using opaque India ink, I make a drawing on clear polyester film for each stencil. The drawing is based on a watercolor study, and every drawing must be carefully registered to the watercolor so that each color will be printed in the right place on each sheet of paper. The drawing is placed against the screen, which has been coated with a light-sensitive emulsion. The screen and film are exposed to a strong ultraviolet light, which hardens the emulsion where there are no images on the film. Where an ink mark has been made, the light does not affect the emulsion and it remains soft and washes out with a spray of water. These image areas leave openings in the screen, which allow the ink to push through the screen and print onto the paper. Each print is printed one color at a time, with oil-based ink, onto Arches 88 paper. The last color that I print is the black, which acts as a sort of matrix to bring the whole image together.

- Fred Nichols

Beth and Fred at the silkscreen printing press

Fred at the printing press