The Art Of Serigraphy

Serigraphy, also known as screen printing, is one of the four available to the artist. The other three are relief, intaglio, and planography. Relief print making is done from a raised image on a surface such as wood block printing; intaglio, from a recessed image in a surface such as etchings or engravings and planography from a grease-water relation on a surface such as lithography. Relief, intaglio and planography all print from a surface. Serigraphy prints through a surface. It is a stencil process. In serigraphy's simplest form a fine screen is stretched tautly and attached to a frame. The non-printing areas of the screen mesh are blocked out with a glue-like substance, leaving the printing areas open and clear. The frame is then laid flat on a table and attached on one side by means of hinges. The screen may now be raised and lowered. Printing is accomplished by raising the screen positioning a sheet of paper on the table beneath, and lowering the screen on to it. A bead of ink is poured along one edge of the screen-mesh and pulled across the face of the screen by means of a squeegee, forcing the ink through the open areas of the mesh and depositing it on the paper underneath. The screen is now raised, the paper removed another sheet inserted and printed.

Once the determined number of sheets has been printed, the screen is cleaned of ink and block out and becomes ready for use again. A serigraph is usually built up of several applications of color and for each application the described procedure is repeated. These printing processes are quite old, dating back hundreds of years. Serigraphy first appeared in its recognizable form in China during the Song Dynasty years of 960-1279 CE. Asian countries such as Japan would adopt this method of printing and advance the craft using it in conjunction with block printing and other processes. All commercial printing that we see today is done using the process called lithography. For the art buyer, distinguishing between an original serigraph and a four-color reproduction is of utmost importance.

To fully appreciate the meaning of the term "original serigraph", it is important to understand just how one is produced. Process reproductions always begin with a photograph of something.

It can be a photograph of an original painting, a landscape, or a new car. The photograph is separated by a special camera or computer into the four basic color elements, which are red, yellow, blue and black. A negative is then made for each color. In the print shop the four color negatives are used to produce four printing plates.
he structure of the images on these plates is that of mechanically spaced dots. These plates are then mounted on a four-color press and all four colors are printed simultaneously. It is possible to proceed from the photograph to the finished product in a few hours. In viewing a print produced in the above manner through a magnifying glass, the four standard colored inks will appear as dots neatly arranged in rows. This tells you the plates were made photo-mechanically, and not by an artist's hand. Reproductions are created the exact same way a page from a magazine is created.

By contrast, original serigraphs are hand-separated paintings. Each color requires its own application. Each screen used in the printing of an original serigraph has been hand drawn by the artist. In viewing the product of this process under the magnifying glass, the colors will appear as a continuous tone. As many as fifty different colors may be used in one work, each one requiring a separate screen. The artist specially mixes each color for an original serigraph. A single separation for an original serigraph may require twenty minutes or twenty hours of an artist's time, depending upon its complexity. A serigraph with fifteen colors, or fifteen screens, could very well require 200 hours of the artist's time.

Rob Stern Serigraphs are produced in the artis's studio, at his home, in Whitefish, Montana.