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What's a Serigraph?

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What is Serigraphy?

 

Serigraphy is the name commonly used for fine art prints created using the silk-screen technique, the word coming from the Greek roots of seri (silk) and graph (write or draw).  The word serigraph can be used interchangeably with silkscreen, but is often preferred by fine artists to differentiate their work from mass-produced silkscreen items like t-shirts, posters, and coffee mugs.

 

Fine artists create limited edition silk-screens by applying layer upon layer of pigment to the print surface by pressing it through a mesh screen containing a stencil.  The process commonly uses inks for pigment and stencils made of a variety of materials.  Paper and plastic cutouts can be used as stencils, but using stencil fluid, which is applied like paint to the screen using a brush, stylus, or palette knife, creates a more “painterly” look.  When the liquid stencil dries, it prevents the transfer of ink through the screen at that location, creating a "negative space" on the print.  The artist has to think backward from the normal process of adding pigment to a surface to remain visible (defined as an additive process).  In serigraphy, the pigment is added to the print surface to cover much of the previous layers, with the stencil allowing only the desired pigments to remain untouched and visible in the final print.  For this reason, serigraphy is called a reductive process.

 

As a screen image is printed, the layers of stencil tend to erode due to the friction caused by the squeegee used to press the ink through the screen.  Thus the serigraphic process inherently can create only limited edition prints.

 

"Limited Edition" refers to the fact that there is only a certain amount, or "limited" number of serigraphs printed of a specific piece of artwork.  After the edition is printed, all of the original artwork and screens used to make the print are destroyed or effaced.  This ensures that no additional prints of this image will be made in the future.  This is the opposite of an "Open Edition", where public demand determines the number of pieces included in an edition.

 

The limited life of the stencil (typically less than 200 impressions) prevents unlimited editions.  Additionally, variables in the process of hand-pulling serigraphs mean that each individual print is slightly different from each other print in the edition.  Minor deviations in color registration, ink distribution, and even intentional variations injected by the artist yield individual prints that are truly "one-of-a-kind."  For this reason, collectors as legitimate, collectible fine art investments consider serigraphs.  Since the artist is producing multiple prints of the same basic image with less time and expense than required to paint the images, he or she can offer the prints for a more affordable price than hand-painted works.  Therefore art buyer benefit by being able to purchase a one-of-a-kind original art piece for a fraction of the cost of an individually painted work. 

 

 
The Process of Making a Serigraph

Creating the Art

Beginning a Serigraph Printing

 
In starting a serigraph, you must first decide in a broad fashion what approach should be taken for working on the project.  You must always try to follow the logic of the original artwork that is being printed, letting the strategy be dictated by that used by the artist.

Silkscreen printing is very versatile; it’s possible to achieve a wide variety of results for the medium. The subtle shades of drawing normally associated with watercolor and lithography can be achieved, as well as build up the density and richness of color that one thinks of with oil paintings.

Serigraph Platework

Plate Work

 

In terms of serigraphy, plate work is synonymous with artwork. It is by far the most important element in creating a print. Other facets of the process are a craft that may be honed; having the ability to draw is a talent that either one has or doesn’t have.

 

For each color that is printed in a serigraph, there must be a plate made.  There are many ways of approaching this.  Typically you draw whatever you want to print on a clear sheet of Mylar that has been specially treated to be receptive to a variety of different media, including brushwork, pen and ink, and airbrushing. The differing techniques are used in order to achieve the distinct results wanted with each color printed.

Exposing the Serigraph Screen

Screen Preparation

 

When the plate is complete, the next step prior to printing is to expose it onto a screen. The screens are very basic; they are metal or wood frames stretched tautly with fabric.  First the screen is coated with a light sensitive emulsion. Once the emulsion is dry, the screen and plate are sandwiched together on a vacuum table and exposed to a high intensity light. This hardens the emulsion, creating the stencil for the screen. 

Coating the Serigraph Screen

Screen Preparation (Continued)

Where the plate is opaque, light has been blocked from penetrating the screen.  In these areas, water will wash out the emulsion, leaving an open area where there is no stencil.  Therefore, ink can be pushed through the screen wherever something was drawn on the plate.

 

Silkscreen is a 'positive' medium, where the artwork drawn onto a plate is what will be printed.  This is the opposite of a 'negative' medium such as etching, where what is printed is the reverse of what is drawn on the plate being used.  This gives immediacy to serigraphy that contributes to the directness of the medium.

Serigraph Printing

Printing

 

Printing a limited edition serigraph is a lengthy process. The reason for this is that work is gradually done for the entire edition and not for a print at a time. As an example, if 500 sheets of paper are being printed, and red is the first color, and then red will be printed on all 500 sheets before the next color is printed.  This is repeated until all desired colors are printed, or more specifically, until the printer is happy with the results. Generally two colors are printed a day. Consequently, a sixty-color job, which is normal for a serigraph of medium complexity, is about six weeks worth of printing.

Mixing the Color

Ink Mixing

 

During the course of printing a serigraph, decisions involving color are paramount to achieving a beautiful print. Besides hue and value, in silkscreen printing there is the extra variable of a color's degree of transparency. As a broad example, a transparent yellow over blue will make a green and a transparent yellow over red will make an orange. Most often, the color is mixed before the plate is ready for the color; this gives the printer an idea of what is possible to be printed for each different screen.

Curating the final Art

Post Production

 
The attention to detail continues into the postproduction phase. Once a limited edition serigraph printing is completed, each print is carefully inspected to clean up or 'curate' any small imperfections that might mar the quality of the finished print. This ensures that each print reflects the care and careful attention that was given to the end-to-end process of the entire edition. 

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