Thursday, November 19, 2009

You fall in love. And then you add glitter.

I am always curious about the other printmakers out there: the etchers with their plates, woodcutters with their blocks, and lithographers with their stones. How do they do it? How do they not fall in love with their plates? The few times I worked in those mediums, I always found that I loved my plate too much. I'd work it, ink it, think about it, spend time slaving over it, and then out would come the print and I was always disappointed. The plates or the wood looked amazing, but my print left something to be desired. That doesn't REALLY happen with silk-screen. You don't generally fall in love with your screen. Perhaps the color separation, but probably not if you're making them on the cheap like I do. You can fall in love with your prints, though. The worst is when you fall in love with them midway.

Falling in love with your print work is a double edged sword. On the one hand, hey, you love the piece you're working on. Yay! That's awesome. But on the other, you can fear ruining it. Or, maybe you continue to work on it, and it doesn't ring as exciting to you. You find yourself pining after the piece you've changed. Sigh. That feeling is hard. Loving your piece too much can be debilitating. I kinda ran into that with my latest floor tile.

Like the first linoleum tile, I printed the colors in a back-breaking, exhaustive succession. Luckily, I started with a fabulous bright pink tile. They are the same price as the more neutral colors, but you have to special order them and it takes about 2 weeks for them to come in. When I opened the box, I was surprised how light in color the tiles were. I remembered them being more bold. My challenge was to tweak the colors to make the pink look deeper and richer.

First went the white (you can see all the colors in the next few pictures) and then the lime green (somewhat neon). With the bright pink, it kinda looked like someone took a highlighter to a white tile. Anyway, I was nervous. I kept looking at my mock-up and trying to assess what the next color should be. Didn't want it too dark, but I needed it to contrast enough with the lime green so the citron fruit would be legible.

It was in this mental space of uncertainty and anxiety that I found myself when I pulled the marigold/orange layer. I mixed the inks, I held the container over tiles. I squinted. I did the head tilt. But I was still unsure. At a certain point, I just had to bite the bullet. Pouring a ribbon of orange onto the screen, I coated the image and then pressed it through to make contact with the tile. Up went the screen. And voila! Perfection. The orange layer made sense out of the highlighter mess that proceeded it. I spent the next layer giddily pulling the orange, looking at it, smiling, and laying it down to dry. Times 135. And that is plenty of time to fall in love. It was like 135 beautiful dates.

So you can imagine my trepidation when I finished the orange layer and had to figure out what color to print the next layer and, moreover, whether or not to print it at all. I had in my mock-up this layer would be red. But what red? Maybe the white silhouette of the branches was better without the detail on top of it. I didn't want to ruin my tiles. I loved them too much. But I didn't want to stop--my plan included two more layers! And the floor I had created, however great, to me was not the over-the-top art object that I wanted it to be.

I decided to proceed. I printed a dark red. It looked ok. I printed a few more. I set them out in the alternating pattern I would use when actually installing them. It all looked... just... ok. Not great. But ok. Firmly mediocre. So, I stopped. I wasn't sure if this was the way to go or not. Or if they needed to be tweaked somehow.

Virgil is always telling me to do tests. He's right. But I tend to really embrace the immediacy of silk-screen (totally lame excuse). And I worry about wasting supplies on "tests" which will not be in the final count (somewhat reasonable excuse, but an excuse nonetheless). In any event, I decided to stop at 16 tiles and considered them a test. I needed to get away. And I ate, took a nap, and just thought about what I could do to improve upon the red layer. It was as if the romance between the tiles and I had hit a cross-roads: we had our first fight. And when I fight, I just need some space.

I decided that there wasn't anything inherently wrong with the red I had chosen. I had considered making the red more orange, more vibrant. Thing is, as you may or may not have noticed, I relish in making unconventional color choices. I like mixing neons with khaki. I like having gem tones with pastels. I think the overall effect is more interesting. My intention was not to make neon tiles. Sure, I wanted them to be warm and feminine. But I did not want my red to read as neon.

Instead of changing the color, I decided to change the color seperation. For those of you who silk-screen, especially with Speedball inks, red is one bitch of a color (excuse my canine vocabulary). It is very runny and shows all sorts of imperfections in the pull or the printing surface. Forgiving it is not, especially in really open areas. I decided to print less red because 1. I thought the ink would behave better and 2. because I thought the red dominated too much in the branch section of the tile.

Thank goodness. It worked. Love affair ON!

Lastly, I had really wanted to use glitter in this print. I love the way glitter looks underneath layers of lacquer and I felt it was a somewhat unexpected choice of material for the floor. Also, having gone to this year's International Fine Art Print Fair in New York's Armory, I was struck by all the glitzy use of "diamond dust" (don't be fooled, just clear glitter) and foil blocking in their serigraphs. Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol used these to good effect. I also saw a Lichtenstein that was printed on a metallic paper with a blue ombre. The super flat inks attop the shiny metallic background read in reverse. It looked like the inks were the background and the metallic was the added part.

Having just experimented with adding aluminum foil to my previous tiles, I thought it was time to use glitter. Virgil suggested I use the same adhesive he uses to for flocking. The things to keep in mind when you're trying to screen print an adhesive is 1. You want to make sure the adhesive won't ruin your screen 2. You want to make sure enough of the adhesive will be set down when you print that it still does it's job. For example, glitter has some weight to it. If the ink is too thin, it will not bind satisfactorily to the glitter and the glitter all flake off. The key is to use a really open mesh count screen. I bought two little 110 mesh count screens for this purpose. In general, 110 mesh count would be too open for working on paper (which absorbs only some of the ink) and way too high for non-absorbent materials such as glass or, in this case, coated linoleum. The openness allows for a lot more ink to pass through the screen. With fabric and other absorbent materials, it is essential that more ink pass through the screen to the surface. Without the openness, the print will look faded/antiqued. But, when considered adhesives, 110 mesh is perfect for paper, glass, or linoleum.

Virgil sent me to the Donjer website and told me to order the flocking adhesive. I did, however, order the wrong kind. IMPORTANT. If you're going to buy this adhesive, make sure to buy the kind under "soft flock." Not the easiest website to read, the soft flock is the less toxic, water-based flocking method. The regular flocking method uses solvent-based adhesives.

So, Virgil let me borrow his water-based Donjer adhesive. The water-based DOES NOT COME PRE-TINTED (unlike the solvent ones). He said to mix it 1 part colored ink (I chose yellow since I was doing gold glitter) to 10 parts adhesive. It mixed up pretty easily. The tinting also helped me to see where the adhesive went down for registration. It was not a very saturated yellow, so don't worry about perfectly matching the ink color to the color of the glitter.

To set up, I had my tiles, my carboard cut-out key and my acetate for registration, and a disposable roasting tin (which I did not dispose of, of course) with my glitter in it. After I register the image on the acetate to the tile, I was ready to get going. My method was:

1. Coat the screen with adhesive.

2. Squeegee the adhesive through the screen onto the tile (or paper if you're working on paper).

3. Flood the screen with a generous coat of the ink to keep it from drying out. This is important to do whether or not you're using adhesive or just ink, but especially important when you're using a material meant to be sticky!

4. Grab a handful of glitter and pour it over the section with adhesive. Do this over your large tin to catch the glitter that does not adhere.

5. Shake and ultimately pat the backside of the tile to get all the loose glitter off. PLENTY will stick. The I felt very much like I was burping a baby when I was tapping the back of the tile. It was that kind of motion.

6. Set to dry, admire, and then repeat.

I highly, highly recommend the Donjer adhesive, but I am curious to do some experiments with Elmer's or some other cheap, easily accessible glue.

After applying the gold, which covered even more of the white, I think my concern about the red was less potent. I still think the tiles with the second color separation, the one that went lighter with the amount of ink, still look slightly better, but the difference, now, with the addition of the glitter, is almost negligible.

Even before lacquering them, I realized I had hit upon a note I really was reaching for. If Barbie were a Jew (and let's be honest, she's too tall, skinny, and curvaceous to be a Jew. Jews tend to only be 2 out of the three if any of them!) she would want this floor. She's put it in her Discotheque/Sukkah. The tiles feature the four species: the citron fruit, also known as the etrog. And branches of date palm, myrtle, and willow. These three branches are bound together to be the lulav. Sukkot is a happy, joyous holiday, but this brings it to a completely new level. Rock n' Roll Religion. Such a beautiful thing.

The following pictures were taken after a very time, labor, and resource intensive period of lacquering with polyacrylic. You can notice the whole tile is shinier and the gold glitter is coated. I installed the floor for my class to critique. I think it went pretty well, but one thing is for sure. Without having this floor from wall to wall, people are hesitant to walk on it. And, until I devise a better system for installation, they are even less likely to dance.


  1. Leslie I love it!!! linoleum, that is brilliant. it's good to find you on the internet, since we are both busy printing in our studios at opposite ends of the pawtucket/providence metropolis. the tiles look great, I am kind of lusting after doing some kind of awesome repeating patterns... blah so many projects!

    see you soon -- jean c.

  2. Hey Jean! I wish I were so close, but I am in Philadelphia for the new few years in school! There will always be a part of me in ProvPaw, though. In fact, the whole of me will be home in December for 2 weeks. As for repeat patterns, they are so fun to do. And working on them with tiles and with wallpaper have been both challenging and inspiring. I'm gonna check out your latest stuff right now.