Back in Print

In the mid-nineties, shortly after completing my Fine Art degree, I worked for a period of two or three years as a screen printer for a small, family-run business making educational toys. As a period of employment, I look back on it quite fondly now, as I was allowed almost complete autonomy and was left to manage the print side of the business alone (with only the short-lived introduction of one hapless assistant), whilst also having a small degree of responsibility for some of the design work.

Although it was almost entirely production-focused, with very little scope for creativity, the job had introduced me to all aspects of the screen printing process (I had specialised exclusively in painting during my degree). After I left the business to relocate to Manchester however, I took up my brushes again and left the artistic potential of screen printing, largely unexplored. Fast forward 20 years to 2014 and I attended a course, entitled 'The Screen Printed Poster',  hosted by Hot Bed Press and led by screen printer and graphic designer, Nick Rhodes of Switchopen. The idea was simply to reacquaint myself with the process but Nick managed to fire my imagination with his own wonderful prints and his generosity in knowledge sharing; and the potential of the screen printed artwork became an exciting prospect once again.

Based upon design plans that Nick was generous enough to share, I recently decided to build my own vacuum table and establish a small screen printing set-up, within my recently installed, home-based studio. A vacuum table uses air suction through tiny holes in the table's surface (think of an air hockey table with the air current reversed) to hold paper or other lightweight supports, flat to the table and prevents it being lifted by the application of ink. I've included here, a selection of photographs documenting the stages of the construction. I've omitted any detailed descriptions but there are a number of instructive tutorials online, for anyone who would like more information.

 Drilling the air holes. This was the hard bit. Due to the poor battery life of my old drill and the sheer tedium, I had to split this task into three sessions.

Drilling the air holes. This was the hard bit. Due to the poor battery life of my old drill and the sheer tedium, I had to split this task into three sessions.

 On the reverse, an air chamber is created, which will be then be sealed with the base panel of the table. 'Spacers' are added between the holes to distribute the air flow.

On the reverse, an air chamber is created, which will be then be sealed with the base panel of the table. 'Spacers' are added between the holes to distribute the air flow.

 The base is then fixed and made air tight, with only an air hole for the vacuum.

The base is then fixed and made air tight, with only an air hole for the vacuum.

 I bought this shower rail flange from Ebay, for a couple of quid. It holds the suction tube in place underneath the table. Again, it had to be sealed.

I bought this shower rail flange from Ebay, for a couple of quid. It holds the suction tube in place underneath the table. Again, it had to be sealed.

 An old vacuum cleaner, provides the suction. I actually had one stored away, that I'd forgotten about. The roller had broken but the tube attachment works fine.

An old vacuum cleaner, provides the suction. I actually had one stored away, that I'd forgotten about. The roller had broken but the tube attachment works fine.

 Hinge clamps are then attached to hold the screens in place. After this, it was time for testing. Hey, it works!

Hinge clamps are then attached to hold the screens in place. After this, it was time for testing. Hey, it works!

 Superfluous, 'man-at-work', hazard stripes.

Superfluous, 'man-at-work', hazard stripes.

 Up in the gloom of the loft, I've installed my screen exposure unit. It was made with MDF, supported by a timber frame. It has a halogen site light fixed above, to provide the UV needed to expose the screen emulsion. The glass UV filter has been removed. The table base is painted black to absorb the the light and stop it reflecting back through the screen during exposure.

Up in the gloom of the loft, I've installed my screen exposure unit. It was made with MDF, supported by a timber frame. It has a halogen site light fixed above, to provide the UV needed to expose the screen emulsion. The glass UV filter has been removed. The table base is painted black to absorb the the light and stop it reflecting back through the screen during exposure.

Over the last few weeks I've completed a number of exposure tests, to establish the times required to make the screens under the UV lamp. Having got some decent results transferring artwork to screen and investing in some essentials from Manchester supplier screenstretch.co.uk, it's time to get down to the business of printing once again.

I'll be posting the results of my experiments, early in the new year...