Ideas & Advice
Speedball – Screen printing with Photo emulsion (ENG)  Studio Michael van Kekem

Speedball – Screen printing with Photo emulsion (ENG) Studio Michael van Kekem

My name is Michael van Kekem, and I work as an illustrative designer and printmaker in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Besides working on commissions for a range of clients, I also give workshops and courses in graphic techniques, which is very much fun to do. Every individual approaches screen printing differently during a course or a workshop, a feast for the eyes.

For this print I will be making use of Speedball Photo Emulsion. I chose a sketch that consists of five layers. The design is inspired by ‘The Golden Hour’, a moment in the day where the sun sets, a beautiful moment in time full of different colours and a moment I’d like to go for a walk. I want to represent that feeling and moment in this print.

Step 1 – The design

My style of image making is often a mixture of drawn and cut-out elements. In preparation of this screen printed piece I will be using this same style and method. The design is very colourful as a sketch, but right now this can change, since I have yet to prepare the inks. SO I
approach this as a first draft, a very nice feeling that I can still move around in decisions.

The paper that I have chosen is the Speedball Arnhem 1618 (warm white) which has a warm white tone on bigger size and I want to try and print in an edition of fifteen. Hoping I will be left with ten to twelve good ones. Before I expose the screen I will already have the paper lying somewhere safe near the table for printing. To challenge myself I have chosen to work
with a range of brighter popping colours.

The next step is to draw my sketch on a big sheet that will fit on the chosen Arnhem 1618 paper. I often like to have a margin between the border of the paper and the print. This can work beautifully when the print is framed and works as a passe partout optically. The meaning is to have my sketch translated into multiple layers. I would have to take a good look at my sketch and dissect it. ‘Less is More’ is often the case when decisions have to be made, but for this print I’d like to have a challenge and decided to have several layers. Five layers as a base. For an extra layer, I’d like to add a drawn element. When I transfer my sketch onto a bigger size, I will know the size of the print. The shapes will be set and I will be able to cut these out of paper. Very aware I will decide on cut-out shapes, but I could go a different route if I’d like. I could choose to make line drawings for example. Then I would have had to set up my drawing in lines on acetate. Or prepare digital vector images in lines or shapes. Whenever I give a workshop I always give multiple options in materials that can be used: paper/cardboard and scissors, black acrylic markers or charcoal pencils to draw with, black ink to paint with or printing your design from a computer.

My illustrations and autonomous work can often be recognized by a handmade cut-out style. Whenever I prepare a print I often cut shapes out of cardboard or somewhat thicker sheets of white paper. This illustration I will be printing consists of five parts. These five parts will be cut out of paper. I will cut a big circle shape, two elements left and right of that round shape and another two skew shapes that will be on the lower side of the print.

After this I will get a transparent acetate sheet, lay this over the cut-out round shape and will fill this using charcoal. All the dark elements will be exposed correctly. In my fifteen years of screen printing experience, I remember the exposure going well often, but sometimes it can still be a surprise. It’s like MAGIC! If I were to draw too grey or too light on the acetate, chances are only the darkest pieces will be exposed onto the screen, making your drawn design different than you wanted it to be.

Now checking if I have all the elements that I want. Next, I will get three large screens and puzzle all the elements on the screens for exposure. Taking into account a margin between all elements because of the placing of inks when printing. I wouldn’t want to print messy and sloppy. So I will make sure to have enough space between the shapes: between, above and
below. It takes some time to puzzle, but whenever you feel you have a good overview, you can move on to the next step.

Step 2 – Using Photo Emulsion

To be able to print the shapes onto paper, I need to transfer the shapes onto the screens. I do this by coating a light sensitive layer on the screen, an emulsion. I will need a scoop coater and the Speedball Photo Emulsion which I will mix with the Speedball Diazo Sensitizer. Using the scoop coater I will coat up the screen with emulsion. I do this by slightly pushing the
scoop coater with emulsion on the screen, having the emulsion slowly move towards the screen moving upwards. This way the mesh will be filled with emulsion. I will continue to fill the whole screen or a part of the screen big enough for the shapes.
Throughout the years I have worked and experimented in several graphic workshops in the Netherlands, but also in other countries. And a lot of places have their own idea of coating a screen. At art academy I was taught to prep both sides of the screen with emulsion, but in other workshops, only a thin layer on one side can suffice. It needs to be a thin, tight layer. When I add the thin layer, the screen needs to be dried. When the emulsion is applied too thickly, there is a chance the emulsion won’t attach enough to the mesh. Parts will come loose during printing or washing in between. I always try to put on the coating on one side, after that scrape off both sides with the scoop coater. All excess will come off this way, leaving you with a nicely thin layer of emulsion on the screen.

The emulsion is sensitive to light, and if you are in a space with a lot of light, make sure you work quickly. A space with no daylight coming in, but with TL-lighting, there’s less stress into having to work too quickly. Overall, most graphic workshops I know are set up in basements, schools or old buildings with little to no daylight. Now, let’s dry the layer of emulsion.

Step 3 – Exposing

All the screens have dried up, but are also light sensitive, so let’s expose these screens at a fast pace. In my studio I always use an exposing machine. I will use this, the size of screens I’m using will fit nicely.
Now I can expose one of the screens. Whenever I use the exposing procedure for screen printing, I make use of black and white elements within my design. The UV-lamp will not expose through the somewhat thicker white paper or black drawn elements. So all of the designed shapes will get soft in the emulsion after transferring. Every light source has its
own strength, as does the lamp in my exposing machine. Because I have done several tests some time ago, I know that between eight and twelve minutes there will always be good imagery transferred to the screens.

Wait for the lamp to be at its full strength, and then position your screen with the hollow side up on your elements or design. It needs to be laying completely flat on the design or the glass for the transfer to be completely crisp. Often in workshops there is an exposing table with a vacuum pump in it. My table in the studio does not have that, but I use a dark cloth to go on top of the screen and often heavy books or plant pots for the weight. This way there will always be a good transfer to screen. Make sure you do not expose your design mirror sided! Within this machine, the light comes from underneath, then comes the design on the glass and the screen with the flat surface on top.

After having exposed, you will see a sort of ghost image of your design or shapes within the emulsion layer. This is always a check for me that something has happened during exposure. Often my students look at me being weirded out that they are not seeing anything yet. This is totally what is supposed to happen! Next is washing out the screen to open up all that ghost image I was talking about. You can simply use water and a clean sponge. In the workshop you’ll have a high pressure gun to work with. But for these big shapes, this works just fine. Whenever your design has thin lines or written text, I would suggest using higher pressure of water.

After washing out it’s time to dry the screen! I often use a hairdryer to work a bit quicker. During the drying you can see what parts of the layer remain wet and what parts are going from wet to matted. You can carefully touch the screen to feel if it’s dry enough. If sticky, continue drying. If the screen looks too wet still, don’t touch it as holes will appear on the spots you’ve touched.

Step 4 – Choosing colours

The next step is to decide if I would want to work with the colours directly from the pots or that I would want to mix. One thing I know is, I would like to work with yellows and reds for this print. What I can do is use yellow as a base and mix it up to a different range of tones. This way for each layer you will have the same tones of one colour. You often create my unity
in your print, I feel like.

The plan for this print is to print the big round shape in two layers. Layer one is the shape itself, layer two the charcoal drawing. Because it is my portrayal of the sun, I would want to use yellow. Behind the sun (the sky), those two little left-over shapes, I will want in red, the bigger shape on which the ‘sun’ rests in blue, and then the shapes under that also in yellow.
Preferably in the same tone as the sun.

For this print I was also considering printing two layers on top of each other. For the blue layer, I could print the shape one more time over it in a transparent yellow layer to create a green. But this would have to fit quite nicely. Although I never mind working in a slightly loose experimental vibe. I’m all for that! And this way you will get to see it is created by hand.
Otherwise I could have easily just printed it digitally.

A tip is to have a colour wheel at hand, if you are not used to mixing colours and it makes it easy to choose. Mixing colours is a whole special part in the screen printing process. Sometimes I can find myself mixing colours for quite a long time. Especially when working for clients. They will want a certain tone. I can be more intuitive in this part of the process whenever producing one of my own prints.

Now, I will make a bit of a colour sample to get somewhat of an impression on the colours. I will open up all the pots and I will take a bit of ink and smear it out over the paper I will be using. Because all the yellow tones are a bit difficult to distinguish, I’ll make sure to make a note of which is which.

Step 5 – Start printing!

We have done the exposure and the colours are all set. I have also laid all the paper down and it is easy to grab. Make sure you have a clean space for your inks and paper. To make sure your inks will not dry on and in your screen, you have to be able to work fast. Preparation is key in the screen printing process. All screens have been exposed in an economical way. And
I will be using tape to cover up the parts I don’t want printed. The tape I am using does not leave any residue. Be sure to use tape with not too heavy sticking power.

For the first layer, I will be printing the round shape. Firstly, I will be printing it on a transparent sheet or acetate. After this, I will make sure to have registration marks using tape in three corners alongside the paper. I often use paper tape or electrical tape. What is also often done is small squares of cardboard taped on the table. The transparent paper I use works as a flip-over to have an extra check before each print. When done, I can place my first sheet of paper under it to print the first layer. To dry my print, I make use of a drying rack. Do not have them dried on top of each other, the inks will need a bit of time and air to dry on the paper. As said, preparation is key! You will definitely notice this during printing.

Now that I have printed the first layer fifteen times, every time on a new sheet of paper, I notice that some ink comes through the screen here and there. I will try to solve this immediately before placing the new sheet of paper. Try and correct yourself if needed when you check the sheet after grabbing it from under the screen after printing. Whenever there is ink leaking through the screen you can solve this in different ways. For instance by placing pieces of tape on the spots. I will be doing this for this print. It’s a fast solution. I would not want to have to clean up right away before printing the full edition. Another solution could be to fill all the holes with emulsion by using a small brush. Then dry those spots so it won’t let loose during printing.

After this first layer of printing I will continue printing with the second layer, after all the sheets featuring the first shape have dried up nicely. Then I repeat the steps I have just done. The next layer are those red sides next to the sun. Again I will position the paper by using tape and I will again print the first proof on the transparent acetate which is mounted to the table on one side.
For the big shape under the sun I will use Speedball Blue ink (on the pot it says suitable for fabric, paper and cardboard). This is also printed fifteen times and I will have it dry. In the end the last layer is the same tone of yellow as the previously printed round shape.

Step 6 – Extra layers

So now the base of the print is screen printed on paper in five layers. Two yellows, two reds and one blue. It’s a real print now! From an idea in your sketchbook to something that I can frame and hang on my wall. The colours I normally use more often are a bit more toned down
and mixed, but I really like how the inks make the print pop! Makes me happy seeing the design like this.

But I also had more ideas in the beginning. I maybe wanted to have the shape which is now blue printed again with a yellow to create green. But I can’t seem to get exactly the nice green that I would like seeing in this image. So I decided to keep the blue layer as it is.

The charcoal structure image I created earlier will go on top of the yellow round shape also known as the sun. For this, I grab a pot of Speedball Orange ink and mix this with Speedball Transparent Base to try and see what it will do for my print. As done before in earlier layers, I will first print this layer on transparent sheet/acetate. When the prints are dried up well
enough I will print this layer on the large prints. Fast enough I see that the layer is a bit too dark for how it would like it. And I decided to mix ink. Quickly I decided, otherwise my screen will dry and then nothing is left but cleaning. I decided to add some white to the orange and also a bit of leftover yellow. Mix is in the orange pot. After adding a bit more whites and yellows, I think this would be nice to get a nice tone which I can be happy with.

For now this is how I would like to see the print and I have created a nice edition. I have used Speedball inks for this print. The intensity of the inks are very nice and come alive after having dried. For the extra layer featuring the charcoal structure I mixed the Speedball Orange ink with Primrose Yellow and White.

What I found pleasant with these inks is that they remain good in colour, they are easy and flexible to print with and I found that they had not dried on the screen. The screens I used are lightweight and also very easy in use. I most often print using aluminium screens and they can be quite heavy and crass.

What a good experiment this was to use this drawing and turn it into a screen print. Now let’s play some more!

Happy Printing and embrace the experiment!


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