How to screenprint: think before you ink

Gemma Tipton offers a beginner’s guide to taking up a new cultural pursuit

Screen printing has been around for more than 1,000 years.

That’s a very long time

Yup. Song-dynasty China, to be precise. Kim Willoughby of Damn Fine Print says it’s “as simple as pushing ink through open areas of mesh screen to create an image”. You block the mesh with a stencil, then build up colour and pattern with different stencils. It’s easy to learn the basics, then the sky’s the limit for creating the artwork of your dreams.

There’s more than one kind of print, right?

Indeed: block print, etching, engraving, intaglio, aquatint, lithography and more. Ireland has plenty of printmaking studios, so you don’t have to invest in costly equipment to dip a toe in the water. Willoughby says it isn’t expensive to start off, and you can print on pretty much anything that’s flat and will take ink or paint. But the gear can be bulky. “That’s why a shared studio space works really well for a group of artists.”

What do you mean by gear?

You’re going to need a flat surface for starters, and a silk screen. Then you’ll want a squeegee to slide the colour over. Plus paint, tape, an art knife to cut your stencil, and paper, of course. Add print medium, which mixes with the colour to make it all work. Cork Art Supplies has screens from €35 and squeegees from €26, or splash out on a Daler Rowney set that includes everything you’ll need to start for €131.70.


What’s the nicest thing about screenprinting?

Willoughby “fell in love with the methodical approach and how therapeutic and creative the whole printmaking process can be. There is an instant gratification, and a magical moment when you reveal your first print.” But, she cautions, you also need to learn to “think before you ink. Take your time and plan out your layer order. Then, learn to embrace the imperfections and misregistrations – it’s what gives your prints character.” She also recommends designing for the medium. “You’ll never get the same level of accuracy as a digital printer.” Just think of Andy Warhol’s screen prints, which will be on show at the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin from October 6th. They’re all about the vibrancy, and the mismatch.

Andy Warhol? No pressure, then

Plenty. Or, rather, a nice, gentle, regular pressure to get the ink over evenly. You’ll do this after “flooding” the screen, which means preparing it with a thin layer of ink to get started. Printmakers will work with anything from one to 12 layers of colours.

I’m ready to be famous (for at least 15 minutes). What’s the story with editioning?

You sign and number your print, usually in tasteful and discreet pencil in the bottom right-hand corner. “It tells you the artist worked on it, and how many prints were made in that edition. Limited-edition signed prints are more valuable than unsigned.” Edition sizes range from a handful to thousands. Or you can have an open edition, where there is no limit, or just print stuff for pleasure and not worry about the sales side.

Sales? I’m sold. Where do I start?

Damn Fine Print, based in Dublin, has taster classes that range from a one-day T-shirt workshop (from €100) to a four-session evening course (from €250). There are also courses at Graphic Studio, Black Church, Cork Printmakers, Limerick Print Makers. Can’t find one nearby? Your local arts centre should be able to give you a steer.

Damn Fine Print has free demonstrations and taster sessions for Culture Night Dublin, on Friday, September 22nd

Gemma Tipton

Gemma Tipton

Gemma Tipton contributes to The Irish Times on art, architecture and other aspects of culture