‘The Temptations’ stencils, from start to finish

When I began this project to make fourteen prints with Daniel Bugg of the Penfold Press on the theme of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (translated by Simon Armitage, Faber and Faber, 2017), I first made a painting of each image that I could then use as a guide when making the stencils. Seven prints into the fourteen I made the decision to work directly onto stencils, which means ‘holding’ the ideas I have for the colours of a print in my head, rather than referring to a painted study.

Like those for The Three Hunts completed last month, the stencils for The Temptations have been produced in this way. Once I’d mixed the paints for the ‘colour key’ (see below) I made the stencils while imagining how the colours would look once the print was underway The stencils are not rendered in the colours of the finished print, but with a grey, red oxide and black palette allowing me to better see the planned image on the transparent layers of drafting film that Dan will later transfer to the printing screens.

Below: rough sketch for the print.

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A more refined study for the Lady of Fair Castle.

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Gouache samples in the ‘colour key’ indicate to Daniel Bugg the six inks I want mixed for the print, plus black. Every colour requires a separate stencil. Sometimes several stencils of a colour are required so that the inks can be applied with varying tonal effects.

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Here are images of the stencils as they progress.

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Although they have their own allure, the layers of stencils give an entirely deceptive impression of what the print will eventually look like. The more layers added, the hazier the image becomes, as though viewed through a mist. It’s quite a feat, remembering all the colours involved and trying to imagine what they’ll look like when printed over each other. I keep notes to hand, but the process is one that relies entirely on being able to work toward an idea that won’t be revealed until the printer begins to assemble the image from layers of inks mixed to match my colour samples.

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After Dan has transferred the images to the screens, the long slow task begins of mixing inks and proofing. Once all the proofs have been examined, tweaked and finally agreed upon, the editioning of the print can begin.

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15 thoughts on “‘The Temptations’ stencils, from start to finish

  1. Phew, that sounds a bit of a brainteaser! Rather mind boggling working that lot out. There must also be an element of serendipity at the end, hopefully with nice surprises. Paradoxically it appears easier to paint an image than prepare one for screen printing? Whatever ….you are still the master in your element!xxxL

    • Well as a painter, Liz, you understand the challenges. It is indeed a brainteaser and occasionally the results are startlingly different to what I’d expected, though once I’ve a proof in my hand at least I can begin to see the strengths and weaknesses of what the translation to print has brought about. Moreover with the proof – or proofs, because often Dan sends me several – I have a starting point for adjustment. Occasionally all that’s required are a couple of tweaks to augment existing stencils or re-mix some ink, though from time to time I have to produce additional layers to make the print work. It can be rather like adding a layer of glaze to a painting to unite the various elements with ‘tone’, though unlike in a painting, and ink being for the most part transparent, it’ll more often be placed beneath the other layers. I think the most important difference is that with painting (watercolours aside) the layers are built up pretty much irreversibly so that at the end of the day you’re always looking at the surface. In contrast with the mechanical process of screenprint, you have every element of colour and tone as a separate layer, and in your imagination they remain floating so you can return to any one of them, pull it out, change it and slip it back in again, in the same or a changed order. I think differently when printing. It’s rather like holding a 3-D image in my head that I can move around and through. It takes quite a bit of adjustment to feel at ease in this strange new universe, but as with any process, once you’ve nailed it and become accustomed to the new way of thinking, everything becomes intuitive again.

    • Thank you, Stecklec. This has been an amazing project. A great deal of the credit should go to Dan Bugg, who not only gave me the opportunity to produce the series for his Penfold Press, but has also been such a wonderful teacher and collaborator, guiding me gently through the mystical processes of stencil-making for screenprinting. It’s been the most wonderful, extended masterclass.

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