Screen printing and stencils: going back to basics
Some people are swapping computer screens for silk screens and stencils and getting their hands dirty in the process. Clarizza Fernandez writes.
There’s a do-it-yourself culture rumbling through the inner-Western suburbs of Sydney. At least that’s what 43-year-old designer, printer and director of Arcade Screen Printing, Steve Woods thinks. He believes everyday lives are so computer-centric that people want to go back to “getting their hands dirty”.
“I feel there’s a real movement, especially amongst people 18-30 years old,” he says.
Woods runs a hand screen printing company called Screenhaus, one of only four continuous pattern printers in Australia. His office-studio in St. Peters is an artful mess; a converted warehouse sprinkled with paint and in the middle of this is his office. While most people would run a printing company from a separate room, Woods has no qualms about getting a bit of paint on his keyboard – a clear reflection of his ‘hands-on’ philosophy.
Arcade Screen Printing is the name of Woods’ t-shirt printing and supplies shop. Launched last December, Arcade Screen Printing has been host to a live t-shirt party, screen printing competitions, impromptu gigs and held a number of successful weekend workshops called Arcade Start-Up.
Woods says he started the workshops because he felt there was an elitist attitude attached to printing on textiles and fabric.
“I’m a graphic designer and when I was at university, everybody wanted to print on t-shirts but we found it too hard to do.
“The industry would try and not tell us things because it was all their ‘tricks’ and the whole idea of Arcade is for me to open the door; we show you the tricks that took us years to figure out so [you] can get back to doing the art.”
In fact Woods’ weekend workshops that he runs once a month with apprentice Laura Walsh has seen many creative collaborations; several prints produced at the Arcade Start-Up classes will be featured at the Design Institute of Australia’s annual ‘Interwoven’ exhibition at the Gaffa Gallery. Attracting a range of participants, the workshops aim to equip people with both the supplies and knowledge to print on textiles.
Walsh, 25, says she would rather be called a ‘screen printer’ than an ‘artist’. With a background in design, Walsh insists that she prefers to know how to physically create something rather than send her designs off to be made elsewhere.
“I don’t like the idea that you’ve just sent your designs away and someone makes it pretty while you think ‘that’s my work’.
“I’d rather be the one who can say I physically made it,” she says. Walsh enrolled in weekend classes to learn how to print on textiles and called Woods’ asking if he needed an apprentice. Working alongside Woods, she claims has given her the practical experience she was looking for.
Woods says Arcade Screen Printing is a business he has always wanted to start. “I love street culture and so starting this business is me indulging myself. I don’t really know how else to put it.” And what Woods wants is to grow a screen printing community.
“I’m really inspired by American band merchandise – posters and t-shirts that come out of the [United] States. I think it’s pretty amazing and Australians are pretty good but we could learn a lot.”
Taking a slightly digital approach to printing is The Rizzeria, a non-profit collective based not far from Wood’s Arcade. Their front office space called the ‘Workshop Showroom’ is also located at St. Peters.
The Rizzeria opens their space to designers and artists who want to use their stencil press-printing machine called the Riso RP3700.
Jo Ellis, 36, a member of the collective who co-ordinates open print workshops says: “It’s a digital screen printing kind of process so we can print things in two ways.
“We can use it like a photocopier; copy something off the glass or you can send a file from the computer which prints an image onto a wax-like paper that you can use as a stencil.”
She claims there’s still an element of manual labour when it comes to printing with the Riso; it only prints one colour at a time. This means the ink cartridges need to be changed for each colour required, an element that surprises many graphic artists.
“We often get people to separate their colours by using tracing paper”.
“We did a workshop with a whole bunch of graphic designers and they sort of struggled with that. Although they are used to colour separation using the computer, doing it manually with tracing paper was a challenge . . . it takes a while for people to get their head around it.”
As recent artists in residence at The Paper Mill, The Rizzeria ran a number of workshops including screen printing and zine making. Ellis agrees there’s a renewed interest among graphic artists in going back to traditional ways, pointing to knitting and etsy as an example: “There’s been an explosion in knitting that’s been going on for quite a while and websites such as etsy where people sell handmade things.”
“I spoke to a cartoon artist called Chewie (C. Chew Chan) who’s in residency at The Paper Mill. He was saying he didn’t get any work for a while because he didn’t really use the computer [to illustrate] that much. But now he’s finding that people are saying ‘oh wow, you can draw, nobody does that part of the process by hand anymore,’ and suddenly people are interested.”
The Rizzeria is currently featured at The Paper Mill’s ‘Printed Matter’ exhibition until June 25 and Arcade Screen Printing will be on exhibition at ‘Interwoven’ at the Gaffa Gallery, which opens June 16 until June 28.