Today, we have many perks to life thanks to technology. What was once a far more arduous process, is simplified with the right mechanisms. One of these labor-inducing tasks of the past is the act of creating copies or prints of art. The hardest part of creating copies of a print today is pushing a button or waiting for the printer to warm up. In the past, people didn't have this distinct advantage, so they found manual ways to make prints—silk screen printing—which actually turned out to be a truly viable form of art.
What is silk screen printing?
The earliest recognizable form of screen printing appeared more than 1,000 years ago in China during the Song Dynasty. Originally based on a hand-stenciling method, the process soon evolved into using fine mesh stretched over a frame. The mesh was sometimes made from silk, which led to the technique’s alternative name, “silk screen printing.” Since its invention, the technique has hardly changed: once exposed with the desired image, artists transfer their artworks by pushing ink through the mesh using a squeegee onto various surfaces, including paper, fabric, and even wood. Similar to Japanese woodblock prints, one color is printed at a time, so several screens must be used to produce a multicolored image.
During the 1960s, American artists, such as Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, popularized the technique by using it to mass-produce graphic style prints in bright colors. Their art marked the beginning of the Pop Art movement, and essentially the end of Abstract Expressionism. Since the days of Pop Art, contemporary artists continue to use screen printing as a medium to produce inspiring works of art.
Check out 8 inspiring screen printing artists you should know.
Perhaps the most well-known screen printing artist in history, Pop artist Andy Warhol first used the technique during the 1960s. Warhol is known for producing photo image stencils of celebrity portraits, and transferring them from the ‘silver screen’ to the silk screen by printing them repeatedly in a variety of bright colors.
One of the first and most famous series was his Marilyn Monroe prints, which Warhol based on a photograph from the film star’s 1953 film, Niagra. This marked the beginning of the artist’s desire to create multiple repeats of the same image—whether the subject was a celebrity or a mundane object, Warhol presented everything he printed as a cultural icon. As Warhol once said: “Isn’t life a series of images that change as they repeat themselves?”
A prolific printmaker throughout his career, Roy Lichtenstein’s screen prints played a substantial role in establishing printmaking as a significant art form in the 1960s. Inspired by comic strips, Lichtenstein produced screen-printed compositions in the same style, with thick outlines, bold colors and Ben-Day dots.
His subjects ranged from heartbroken women and “damsels in distress,” to architecture and abstract shapes. Lichtenstein’s Brushstroke series reflects his interest in Abstract Expressionism. Where artists had used brushstrokes to directly communicate their feelings and ideas, Brushstroke made a mockery of this aspiration, suggesting that though Abstract Expressionists expressed a dislike for commercialization, they were not immune to it. In Lichtenstein’s opinion, many of the Abstract Expressionist paintings were also created in series, using the same motifs again and again. The pop artist explains, “The real brushstrokes are just as pre-determined as the cartoon brushstrokes.”
One of the leading British Pop artists of the 1960s, Peter Blake is perhaps most famous for his cover design of The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper album in 1967. The artist often experimented with screen printing, having printed multiples of his primary-colored Beatles portraits—titled Beatles – ‘Love Me Do’—in glittering diamond dust.
Today, Blake mainly produces collage-based screen prints, juxtaposing imagery from contrasting eras into one image.
One contemporary screen printing artist is Nottingham-based Laurie Hasting, who creates limited edition silkscreen prints of her intricate line drawings. Her images often depict people and nature-inspired landscapes. Hasting also plays tributes to nostalgic objects such as juice boxes—much like her own version of Warhol’s soup cans.
Hastings sells original prints on her online shop and exhibits in galleries throughout the UK and internationally.