Since I studied graphic design in high school and college, the elements and principles of design are major factors in how I perceive and create art; particularly the relationship between positive and negative space. While thinking about the way I would illustrate my new book, I wanted to find a reason to play with positive/negative space in my illustrations. One of my favorite cartoonists, Jordan Crane, does amazing prints that really utilize the medium of screen printing. CHECK HIM OUT. With Mr. Crane as an inspiration, I signed up for a screen printing class with the guys at Design It Together in downtown Troy, NY. If you’re reading this, you probably think screen printing is pretty cool and fun. You are right! But, like any technical skill, there are a number of unforeseen hurdles that will hold you back from creating a good print. I wanted to share my experience, hopefully you’ll be inspired to try screen printing your own designs too!

The first step was creating an illustration to be used in a 12" x 15" single color poster. I think of myself as a storyteller who works best in the context of a comic or illustrated story. So, when it came time to draw something for my poster, I was stuck for a good idea. I went through my archives and found a map I'd drawn awhile back. In the corner was a little moon with an Arabian Nights style palace on it. Perfect!

Moon Palace, version 1

The poster was going to be pretty big and the original Moon Palace design was only about 2" square. I wasn't sure it'd scale well, so I decided to redraw it. Poster design is an art unto itself, and for me, large format art needs to have a good sense of symmetry. I could tell right off that if I blew up the original Moon Palace drawing to poster size, it wasn't going to give me that symmetrical feeling I liked. After scanning the Moon Palace, 

I turned to Adobe Illustrator to sketch up a more balanced design.

Using one of my favorite animated films, The Thief and the Cobbler, as inspiration, I mocked-up a Moon Palace with some finer details and removed the weird Sci Fi Star Base on the moon's underside. Sorry, intergalactic travelers! After printing out this design, I set myself up at my favorite work station: the light table! I love tracing things and I love finding reasons to not use a computer. When the occasion arrises, I spend as much time as I can there. Next came the inking. Back to the light table!

              Moon Palace, Adobe Illustrator mock-up

              Moon Palace, Adobe Illustrator mock-up

Moon Palace, version 2

Moon Palace, version 2 inked!

Now, it was time to prepare the Moon Palace to be screen printed. In a way, screen printing is like spray painting over a stencil. The design is represented by the openings in the screen. Ink is pushed through a fine mesh and onto a flat surface (probably paper or fabric). This means the edges of the art work need to be super crisp. No blurry pixels. There are a bunch of ways to get rid of unwanted pixels. To do this, I scanned my final illustrations and used Adobe Illustrator's 'live trace' function. Take a look at what it does:


Here's a pretty good (and short) tutorial on 'live trace'. Like I said, there are other ways to do this, but this is my favorite. Now, off to the print shop! WOO! 

Design It Together is a print shop in downtown Troy, NY run by two local artists, Taylor and Ben. They are super friendly, helpful and encouraging. If you have the opportunity to learn by working along side a pro, DO IT. Most artists are happy to share their knowledge and you'll save A BILLION HOURS of trial and error. 

Moon Palace, screen

Once you've got your design digitally cleaned up, you need to create a transparency. This can be done from an inkjet printer, as long as you can get a really opaque black print. Here's why: The screen is coated in a light sensitive emulsion in a dark room. When it is dry, the transparency is placed over the screen and exposed to light. Wherever the light hits, the emulsion is hardened. The black ink on the transparency blocks the light in the shape of your design. When the screen is washed off, the unexposed emulsion washes away. If the transparency isn't dark enough, light will get through and wreck the design.

Design It Together has a whole section of their shop dedicated to students and folks who want to print their own designs. I've done the DIY home screen printing thing in the past so, for me, it was an amazing luxury to work on a press that was 1) well built and 2) not in a basement. The actual printing can be tricky, there are a number of reasons why you might end up with a blurry or otherwise imperfect design. Ben and Talyor are total pros and gave great tips on how to get a perfect print.

One of my big plans for 2013 is to release a series of limited edition, hand pulled prints. While my Moon Palace print looked PERFECT, I'm not ready for the Moon Palace to go public. I made a few beginner mistakes. For one, I underestimated the detail I'd be able to achieve in the print. My line work can get pretty skinny and I was worried the screen wouldn't pick it up. I unnecessarily thickened the whole design and lost a bunch of the little hatching details. OOPS. Like I mentioned at the beginning, I wanted to play with positive/negative space more. It's important to experiment but sometimes- if it ain't broke, don't fix it! I definitely need to keep my line work as a dark color. The inverted contrast of my print obscured the Moon Palace a bit much. The whole experience left me confident that my next print was going to be great. I can't wait to head back over to Design It Together and make more awesome stuff. Prints coming soon! Here's a desktop version of Moon Palace for your personal enjoyment. Download it here!

Moon Palace, wallpaper 1920x1080

Moon Palace, wallpaper 1920x1080

AuthorIra Marcks