Thursday, October 8, 2009

Wallow in Wallpaper

Virgil Marti is my newest hero. Despite the fact he has personally told me that "most wallpaper is ugly," and I beg to differ, his wallpaper is anything but. Between his "Bullies" and his "Beer Can Collection," Marti would inspire anyone, but the girl with the squeegie stuck in her hand? Inspired is an understatement. Oh, she is thinking of wallpaper patterns faster than she can print them.

Way faster. Way, way faster. Printing wallpaper, by hand, is super duper challenging. And I thought I would tell you about my first experience making a repeat pattern. But first, let me tell you about a Philadelphia gem that has taken the production of repeat patterns to a whole new dimension.

At the Fabric Workshop, there are these long tables for printing reams of fabric and paper. Instead of having fixed hinges, the screens attach and detatch down the table: print one, skip one, print one, skip one, until the end. Then the printing person goes back and does the odd prints until the first color is done. We took a field trip there and saw the gorgeous fabric they print with artists like Kiki Smith and Jorge Pardo. The creations from the Fabric Workshop are handmade and works of art. The fabrics and wallpapers made in the workshop go on to be part of exhibitions at some of the greatest museums and galleries in the world. But the staff at the Fabric Workshop have their system down pat. I had to be a little more jury rigged back in my studio.

The difference when printing a poster or a fine art print is the screen does not move, the paper does. You place a fresh piece under the screen, pull the screen down, pass the squeegie over to ink the paper, lift the screen, and voila, one print. Remove the paper and repeat.

Whereas with repeat pattern printing, the paper (or fabric) is much larger than the screen and the screen prints multiple times on the same piece of paper (or fabric). So, instead of moving the paper, you pick up and move the screen in an orderly fashion. Ideally, the paper or fabric would not move, the screen would. Unfortunately, ideal situations do not always exist.

I set out to print some wallpaper in the printmaking studio at the Tyler School of Art. Right next door, in the fiber department, they have the long tables, like the ones from the Fabric Workshop, for printing repeat patterns, but I have not yet gotten permission to use the tables. Bureaucracy, you see.

So, I taped a ruler down alongside the regular paper printing stations (see below--you can make out the ruler if you look for the bottle of Windex) in the silk-screen studio to create a straight edge. I had little marks on the edge of the paper for the length of my repeat. And like the fabric workshop, I would print one, skip one, to give the pattern time to dry.

In another blog, I will explain how to design a repeat pattern. It is fun, but hardly easy. And I think I still have a lot to learn. But the basic idea is you want to create something that has no beginning and end and will match up with the same strip of paper to the left and to the right.

I have become interested in researching Jewishness. Not Judaism, but cultural Jewish identity and its meaning in today's American society. While I am not sure this wallpaper hits the right note for my future exhibition plans, I wanted to try my hand at Jewish Wallpaper. And of course, I wanted to have fun doing it.

In the pattern you will find Albert Einstein, Bette Midler, Slash, Sarah Silverman, Andy Kaufman, and Barbara Streisand. Between these characters is the ultimate in character accessories: novelty groucho marx glasses. Schnoz included.

The difficulty in printing wallpaper in a regular silk-screen studio is following a registration system and keeping the large pieces of paper clean. Having to move them around and drape them over tables or run them along the floor is not exactly ideal. But it is possible to print repeat patterns on a regular paper printing station.

The bigger your printing table, the better. And the shorter you can make the stips of paper/fabric, the easier it is to handle in this situation. But don't make them too short to else you won't be able to use them as easily.

1. Mark the side of you paper in the increments of your repeat pattern length. Use a dark straight line mark. As you can see in my pictures, the paper or fabric needs to be wider than your color separations.

2. Put your screen in the hinges so the paper can pass underneath. (In the picture above with the Windex, you see how the screen comes up and down on the side of the paper, and the length is not obstructed by it or by the hinges).

3. Holding your screen down, make sure you have your image straight on the paper. It is really important that the straight edge of the print is equidistant to the straight edge of the paper throughout the print. Take your time to make sure this is right. If it does not go on straight, you will have problems hanging the paper in the future because it won't lineup.

4. Tape down a straight edge (for example, a metal yardstick) so it is flush with the edge of the paper. This will help you to keep it straight as you push the paper through the printing process. Be sure to stick it down securely without obstructing the straight edge that comes in contact with the paper/fabric.

5. Put an additional piece of masking tape on the straight edge and mark it with another little black line. For the first color, you arbitrarily match up the line from the paper and the line on the straight edge to make sure you print each module evenly. This will become your "registration technique" for this print: straight edge and black notch. Every layer after the first color will have to be registered to this mark and to the straight edge.

6. Use a few pieces of masking tape to keep the print in place. Especially in the beginning or the end of the long sheet of paper, the weight of the paper going over the edge of the table will make it difficult to keep the paper registered. I found a two pieces of tape kept the registration intact, and even if they tear the paper a little, this part of the print will be cut off ultimately. But try not to stick the masking tape down too firmly--you don't want to tear the edge with the black notches and ruin your registration technique.

7. Remember to print one, skip one. Silk screen ink dries quickly, but you want to give it an opportunity to dry before touching it. If you plan on doing several strips of wallpaper, go through each slip once before coming back and printing in between the spots.

8. Print the odd spaces and then repeat the process for the next color. Be sure to remeasure the place for the straight edge as you might not have placed the positive image in the same exact place on the next screen.

As you can see, I chose to do a four color print. First there was big white polka dots, followed by lipstick pink rings, then violet blue centers, and finally, camel camouflaged Groucho Marx glasses. And yet it still has that classic William Morris Arts and Crafts look to it! Fancy that!

Oh, we Jews. Always trying to blend in!

All joking aside, printing this wallpaper was very frustrating and stressful on the ol' body. Reaching and straining to get the ink laid evenly, desperately trying to move these large pieces of paper without smudging the prints, the whole thing is a little more fun than a trip to the dentist and a little less fun than square dancing. Ok, a lot less fun.

I generally feel at my best when I am printing. I am generally the happiest flesh and bone machine in the world. But printing wallpaper was different. Perhaps it will be easier once I have done it a few times, but the stress of a jury rigged registration system and the uncertainty really wreaks havoc on my nerves. You can't tell for sure that the print is registered properly until you hang it on the wall next to another piece of the paper! I was sweating the entire time. Partly due to the stress and partly due to the muscle strain. And the enormous headphones I wore to block out the rest of the world. Earmuffs!

But yeah. Wallpaper is the coolest. The possibilities are endless. Look forward to more.

1 comment: