Alice’s adventures in screen printing

Alice Parsons (who designed the Something You Said banner up there), had a go at screen printing. Here’s her account of it:

I wasn’t exactly sure what Screen Printing was, but I have always wanted to try it. I suspected it would be messy, probably more advanced than potato printing and might involve some kind of screen. I also had a strong feeling it would be damn good fun. So it was that I booked myself in with Parliament of Feathers, the Brighton-based specialist Screen Printing Studio.

Emma Tilbury, one of the Studio’s founders and a very lovely lady, showed me the ropes. Here is my weekend in print, interspersed with some of the inspiring things we nattered about and a bit about Parliament of Feather’s bright, paint splattered future:

After a tour of the studio – a cosy creative hub littered with beautiful discarded misprints, paintbrushes, screens, paper and spillages – we began to prepare the screen for print. First it must be washed clean to remove any traces of previous sessions, and then evenly dried in a hot box. As we were doing this, I eagerly asked to hear more about Emma’s background and how she had come to specialise in Screen Printing. “Many moons ago I studied in illustration and had tinkered in screen printing as a result,” Emma told me. “However it wasn’t until about eight years ago that I had visited a local gig poster exhibition and realised how striking and versatile the medium is. From then on I was hooked and set about learning the art of hand screen printing. I love the way that you can reproduce an image by hand and yet every one of them be individual in its own right.”

While we waited for the screen to dry Emma asked me to prepare some simple shapes to print from, cutting them out of black card with scissors and a scalpel. I went for the clear choice of an owl and a one-eyed rabbit. While I was cutting, Emma showed me some of the screen prints she has completed on behalf of other artists, who pay for her mad printing skills. “We’ve printed for a wide range of clients, all with different styles and briefs, such as Little Big Planet and Front Magazine, or artists like Drew Millward, Pinky, God Machine, Imbue and Dan Mumford,” Emma explains. “We have tattoo artists, fine artists, textile and graphic designers all asking us to print their work. We have also printed many gig posters from the Black Keys to Alkaline Trio, all beautifully designed by talented artists from around the country.”

Close enough to touch my illustration heroes’ work… sigh!

With the screen thoroughly dried and then coated in light-sensitive emulsion, we set out to expose my owl and rabbit onto the screen using some special exposing machinery. After a final trip to the drying box, we were ready to go. The preparation is the longest bit, but once you’re all set up, the actual screen printing happens very quickly. The print tables secure your screen in place, with paper placed underneath, you use a ‘squeegee’ to pull the paint towards you across the screen. The paint is let through the clear parts of the surface, and blocked by the light sensitive emulsion everywhere else. Magic.

This probably all sounds very straightforward as I explain it, but I tell you, you can not beat the feeling of sheer excitement you get when you see the first print and then the next one and the next, as you get into a kind of special printing dance and they begin to stack up on the drying rack. Emma was very encouraging and insists that anyone can screen print. “I love the reaction of people when they pull their first print. Whether it’s during a live event or at the end of a day tutoring, it’s great to see that anyone can be creative, even if they can’t draw or practice graphic design. It’s really gratifying for both me and the people I tutor. I get to see some beautiful prints created after just one day of our workshops. Live events give a taster and even though the print is designed and exposed onto the screen prior to the event, the excitement and enthusiasm are just the same.”

Day one was enough to have me hooked. But seeing my own illustration looking all professional and arty on the second day really opened me up to the possibilities of the medium.

If it wasn’t for all the tea and biscuits I probably would have passed out for the sheer joy and simple pleasure of screen printing (and exhaustion for standing up for so long). It is soothing, versatile and instantly impressive. The Parliament fosters a group of talented and emerging artists; people with great ideas who return to Parliament for the warm, friendly and inspiring atmosphere. “As with every business in its early stages, things evolve and I think we’re finally finding our feet and discovering the direction we want Parliament of Feathers to go in,” Emma says. “We are looking to expand our number of screen printing beds and make the studio a hub for up and coming artists. Eventually we’d like to represent and promote a collection of artists and their work with pop up events and exhibitions as well as continuing with printing work for clients and developing our workshops. It’s an exciting time for Parliament of Feathers!”


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Words and pictures by Alice Parsons