I took a screen printing class this spring (or silk screening, if you like to be understood by people born in the 60s). The print lab at Madison College is no joke. The hardware-store smell of oil and metal saturates the air as you walk past vintage presses and dozens of wood trays crammed with metal type – all in good working order, all churning out crisp, thoughtful design in the service of print tech and graphic art students alike. The screen printing area seems ad hoc by comparison, but all you really need to turn a screen stencil into a print are clamps, a sturdy table, and a desire to get ink all over yourself.
Our teacher seemed to be everywhere she was needed, and each student got individual help with their mistakes as they made them. It was a very wise approach. From design to stencil to printing to clean up, creating a print is a long process with apparently infinite points of potential failure along the way. It makes sense to respond when things go wrong, and let what is working take care of itself.
I learned something at every turn. Which does seem an obvious thing to say, especially since I really didn’t know anything about silk screening (or screen printing, if you like to be understood by people born in the 90s). But I’ve gotten into the habit of learning things again, and its good to remember that there’s a give and take on the edge of what you think you want to do and the unknown places to be discovered by simply following a new discipline.
On the very last day, in fact, I learned something. My prints were coming out unexpectedly muddy, the details coarsened and soggy with too much ink. My teacher took one look and said, “You need more ink on the screen. Quit flooding it, just print.”
It sounds backwards, I know. Too much ink going through the screen? Add more, that will clear up the problem. But I didn’t argue. I stroked the flooded stencil onto scrap paper to clear out the excess. Then – to my dismay – Teacher poured my entire supply of brown ink across the end of my screen. “Now, flood it once, and from there on, just print.”
Of course, she was right. The slender lines and tiny half-tone dots re-emerged as the paper gobbled up the pigment I squeegeed through the screen – and my precious ration of ink barely lasted to the end of the print run.
For someone whose childhood was tensely monitored for over-consuming everything from art supplies to soda crackers, here was a big lesson. You need to use enough ink to print.
But – what if there isn’t enough? What if I use too much? What if I run out? Every member of my family knows the origin of this scarcity prayer – a curse and blessing founded in the deprivation our parents endured, and not to be lightly ignored in some affirmation fantasy of abundance.
It’s tricky to hold the pain of wanting – without holding on to it. To let anxiety move you and yet, move on. It takes need, desire and sufficiency – all three – to both construct the little boat that carries us and simultaneously drive the storm that rages in us. We can’t excise one without disabling the other.
You have to make room to need what you need – even if there isn’t enough. Especially when there isn’t enough, and may never be. Even if it means you run out of ink.