Making A Serigraph

From the artist...

Many of you know that I have been unable to get bark paper for a couple of years now and have used up what I have. Summer of 2013, I had a show. Some wonderful clients attended this show and we discussed my bark paper dilemma. They put me in touch with their son Chris and he explained to me that he was very familiar with Mexico having lived there for several years. He speaks fluent Spanish and has extensive experience in dealing with the Mexican government and the people of Mexico.

Within a few days Chris was on a plane to Mexico City. San Pablito is a very small high mountain village about 160 miles northeast of Mexico City. It is so remote that most people on the road to San Pablito have never heard of it. Once in San Pablito Chris was able to find two quality bark paper makers, Federico and Margarita. We decided to commission them both for some paper.

San Pablito At A Distance

Federico preparing the bark                   Margarita with bark paper

Click below for more information on this extraordinary paper.

"Bark Paper"

Most bark paper sources here in America have discontinued carrying this beautiful product because it is getting harder and harder to get. I am so thankful to Chris and his folks for helping me locate a new source.

The image above is the drawing I will be using to create "Seven." Typically, these are never seen and they are destroyed upon completion of the edition. I have been asked numerous times about documenting the process so that people could understand it more clearly. Next will be the creation of separations and stencils. After that we'll prep the paper for press time and chronicle each color as it is layered onto the paper. The next stages will include tearing and burning of the edges and, finally, each piece is glazed and marked.

"Seven" is a 13 color hand pulled mixed media serigraph on hand made bark paper. There will be 11 proofs and 27 edition pieces. "Seven" measures 25 inches by 50 inches. It is the largest piece I have ever done. This is a piece I have been working on for some time. I have been tinkering with the drawing above for over a year and I am excited to finally see it come to life.

As promised we bring you the next step in the making of a serigraph. We know some of you may not be interested in this process but the response to our last newsletter was overwhelming and many of you were interested in how Rob's pieces come together. In part one we saw the original drawings and the story where Rob's bark paper comes from. Each of the steps will be posted online so you can go back and see all the steps any time you like. In case you missed the previous email, click here to be taken to The making of "Seven"

We continue with part two...

Drawings and Separations

Above is the original drawing now mounted to a permanent surface.

Above is the mounted drawing covered with a layer of film. It's hard to see but it is there. I use the word film but it confuses people sometimes as they picture a developing process. Actually it is just a clear sheet of plastic. The film covers the drawing and is taped to the board so that it will not move during this stage. As you can see there are now black areas that have been painted on the film. These black areas correspond to the highlights of the eventual piece and are created using the pattern beneath. The highlights, or the lightest color, is done first. These areas will rest on top of several layers that will be applied first during the paint application stage. During that stage the darkest colors are applied first and then as we move through the value scale to the highlights, the paint is "stacked" on top of one another. These separations are created in reverse starting with the lighter colors and moving through the darks for one primary reason. Starting with the highlights allows me to see through the plastic and determine where the next value needs to go. When the second layer of plastic is applied and painted on, the first color, or highlight, is also painted over on the second layer. This is done for the first 4 or 5 colors until it becomes to impractical to cover so much surface. This creates ease in registration so that if I am off just a bit there will be no registration mishaps. Registration is the term used to describe how each individual color interacts with it's neighboring color. As these separations are created, they must never move. During the paint application stage the paper and the screens will be registered to the press. During that stage each sheet must be set into the press in exactly the same place every time and for each color.
This will become clearer as we progress through the stages.

Here is the second layer. As you can see there is more black than in the first layer. That which was painted on the first layer was covered as well. This layer, or color, will be a bit darker than the first and each layer from here forward will represent a continuously darker color until we get to the darkest under layers. I should explain why black is used on all layers. Black is used to block light during the stencil making process coming next. Once the stencil is made any color we choice can be used during the paint application. Black is used to create the separations as unfiltered black light will be used to "burn" the stencils into the screens. More on that later. The layers to follow will continue on with the same process.

Here we have 9 layers of film now stacked upon each other. As you can see we have complete coverage of the entire image. You may notice a few white specs here and there. I missed a spot or two and will go back through and fill them. After that the films will be turned over and painted on the back side to insure the black areas are opaque and will adequately block the light. I condensed two colors during this process and another color will be done by hand. Sometimes it takes less time to paint on each piece individually. This happens when the color is critical but does not represent enough space in the image to warrant a film and a stencil burn. It just takes less time. At the end another three colors will be applied by hand to each piece in the form of a glaze. More on that later.

Here is a picture of what one of the films looks like by itself. Separately these films make little sense to the viewer but as we apply the paint you will be able to see how they all fit together. In the next step we will show you how we now use these films to create our stencils. We will go through the screen coating process and the exposure process where things will really begin to make sense.

Please feel free to inquire if you have any questions at all about the process so far.

Once we finished the drawings and the separations, we are ready to transfer our separations to a screen but before that we need to prepare our paper and set up our registration on the press. The pictures below show how I have mounted a piece of film with registration marks to the press. This film will remain mounted to the press for the entire process and cannot be moved under any circumstances. Each sheet is then placed on the press and registered to the film that has been mounted.


The next step is to coat the screens. The screens are coated with a photochemical emulsion. It is literally scraped onto the surface of the screen with a scoop coater. It takes a knack to do this and I have had difficulties at times when the emulsion is a little old or I am just not on my game. A badly coated screen affects the exposure times and that can cause problems. These went quite smoothly. In the two pictures below you see an uncoated screen and a freshly coated screen. Once the screens are coated they are stored in a dark area and covered to keep them out of the light. Once they are dry they are ready to burn.


In the pictures below is an exposure unit and an example of a burned screen with it's corresponding film. The exposure unit is a homemade unit I made myself. I had to make a new unit for this piece because of it's size. In the past I exposed screens of this size in the sun. That, of course, does not work here in Montana during the winter months. The unit is crude and simple but it works like a charm. To avoid as much outside light as possible I burn screens at night and need to be quick about it. I could not photograph this process so the last two pictures show how the film rests between the unit and the screen and how the film pattern matches the newly burned screen.


To burn a screen, one is removed from the dark room and set upon the press where I have set my registration marks. The corresponding film is laid inside the screen so I have a good idea where the image will rest once the screen is burned. I mark the screen, turn it over and then match the marks on the film to the marks I just made on the screen. I then tape the film to the back of the screen and then place the screen onto the exposure unit with the film in between the screen and the unit. The screen is covered with a black cloth and then weighted down to be sure there are no spaces between the screen and the unit. The unit is turned on for a short time, only 20 seconds for this new unit. After 20 seconds the unit is turned off and the screen is taken to a washout tank. Here I simply run water over the screen surface until the areas that were blocked by the paint on the films dissolves. When exposing a screen the emulsion reacts to the light and freezes into the screen. Later it will require another chemical to remove all the emulsion and reclaim the screen. The areas that blocked the light will remain water soluble and will easily wash away leaving an opening that should exactly match what I painted on the films in part two. Below is the first six screens after they have been exposed, or burned, as we more commonly refer to.


This next step is really the moment of truth. There is no going back and little can be changed at this point. After all the design work, separation creation and screen burning we are ready to apply paint. Color is so important. I can't emphasize this enough even though I rarely hit my mark. I work with water based paint so it changes color as it dries. Even a day or two later the color is still changing so once I start to mix paint I have to finish while they are all relatively cured the same. For this project I started mixing around 8 pm and finished around 7 am the next morning. Ten colors were mixed and each color needed around 12 to 18 ounces. I underestimated color number 5 and had to discard 4 pieces as I did not have enough paint to finish that color. In the picture below I am now registering the screen to the film mounted on the press. Once things are aligned the screen is clamped to a hinging system and as with the registration film on the press, the screen cannot move under any circumstances. The screen now will lift on hinges in order for me to place a sheet of paper underneath. That sheet is registered to the mounted film and will be placed in the exact same place for every color application. In the photos below I am first registering the screen to the press. In picture two you see paint and a squeegee ready to pull a color. In the final picture I am pressing the paint through the opening of the screen on to the paper beneath.


The pictures below show the image after each color, although a few were missed. To pull ten colors requires at least 4 people and around 8 solid hours of hard work. With forty sheets and ten colors I need to make 800 pulls and 400 screen floods. My hands and arms ache for several days and I acquire a few blisters on my hands. In this case I was so tired after six colors I could not apply the correct pressure to insure the paint was applied in all areas so I had to pull color six twice. It worked out fine but it was a few days later that the final four colors were applied. Normally I can pull an entire edition in one sitting but they are always much smaller and easier to pull. After all ten colors are applied the pieces are sorted into categories. No matter how well things go there are always pieces that need to be hand re-touched. This paper shrinks and is not smooth so no matter how hard I try there will always be areas that need help. For this edition 19 pieces out of 36 needed very little touch up. The other 18 need more help and in the end a good half dozen or so may be discarded all together.


Below is the final product. As you can see there is a marked difference between the final product and the piece after 10 colors. A freshly done serigraph is blocky and bold. Several layers of glaze are then applied to the surface in order to fuse our colors together and create some atmosphere. Objects can be moved forward or backward depending on the glaze. Temperature, hue and tint can also be altered with glaze and of course the dusty, moody sentiment I try to put in every piece is done largely with proper glazing. Each individual piece is glazed by hand. After that the edges of each piece are torn, burned and glazed again.

This piece was real accomplishment for me. There seemed to be added pressure as I shared the process with you. I certainly didn't want to document an egg being laid. There were delays with my studio being finished and numerous "new" components that I was attempting for the first time. I estimate that "Seven", from start to finish, required approximately 500 hours. I tinkered with the image for well over a year, coming back to it many times making adjustments and what not. Most pieces don't require that much time but in the end, it's not really work to me anyway.

I want to thank you all for participating in this journey with me and I hope it helped to shed a little light on the process these pieces require. I want to thank Katie, Shelby and LeAnn for helping with the pull. Thanks too, to Jeff, who always seems to stop by the studio at just the right times to give me a pep talk.

Rob Stern