art guide

Printmaking Techniques - Stencil

Screen printing, also known as stencil printing, involves the passing of ink or any other printing medium through a stencil, which has been applied (or exposed) onto a mesh or ‘screen’ that has been stretched on a wooden or metal frame. The exposed areas of the stencil allow the ink to flow though the screen onto the paper or fabric that lies directly below it. The blocked or unexposed areas on the screen do not allow the ink to penetrate and the parts of the paper or fabric that lie beneath these blocked areas remain in their original colour.

The Chinese first used screen printing almost 2000 years ago. At first, human hair was stretched across a wooden frame to create a screen. The stencils used then were not applied to the screen using photosensitive material, as it is today. Instead they were made of leaves of different shapes and sizes stuck together and attached to the back of the frame.

When the Japanese adapted the technique a few years later, they used woven silk to make the mesh screens and lacquer to make stencils. This is how screen printing got its alternative name – silk screening or silkscreen printing. Here, ink was applied to the screen with the use of a squeegee (a rubber plane held in a rigid handle). The squeegee enabled the ink to be spread across the frame evenly. The excess ink would collect at the bottom end of the frame from where it was collected and reused.

Samuel Simon, an Englishman who lived near Manchester, patented the first ever industrial screen printing process in 1907. Many years later, John Pilsworth invented the Selectasine method, which allowed multi-colour printing using the same screen. Different areas of the screen were blocked out for each colour in the design, resulting in a multi-coloured image.

Today, with the advent of modern technology including electronics and computers, screen printing has come a long way. Although the basic technique remains the same, it is no longer recognized as the technique patented by Simon in 1907.

Pop artists of the 1960s, such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, greatly popularized the process of screen printing through their work. Although the stencil processes were initially not as popular as relief and intaglio in India, the techniques soon caught on and are frequently used by artists like K.G. Subramanyan, Anita Dube, Bose Krishnamachari, Nataraj Sharma, and A. Balasubramaniam.

Serigraphs are silkscreen prints of original masterpieces made in collaboration with the artist and editioned and signed by them. Initially, serigraphs were referred to as ‘the next best thing’ for art lovers who could not afford an original masterpiece. However, more recently, art collectors have also been showing a keen interest in signed, limited edition serigraphs.