How did we do it? First step, the drawing board.
As the Jewelled Gecko portfolio page demonstrates, the eight colour, hand separated artwork for the hand-pulled serigraph or screenprint was created by spending hours at the drawing board, using;
• greatly enlarged, fully detailed photographic reference purchased from the renowned New Zealand wildlife photographer Rod Morris,
• drawing a pen & ink pointillist illustration using 0.35mm Rotring® technical pen over the photo on mylar architectural drafting film as the “keyline” layer for the 8 colour separations,
• some colour separations were drawn using charcoal pencil (soft to hard) onto “coquille board”, to render gradations of of tone—a technique used by medical and botanical illustrators.
Second step the darkroom and the lightbox
Once the 8 layers of finished art were “camera-ready” my next port of call was Multigraphics Limited, a small photolitho bureau in Phillipstown, Christchurch. Because of the large size of the artwork and number of colour separations their was a fair amount fo material expense in large-format photolitho materials, and;
• hours of specialist photo-litho expert time, and with a great deal of careful hands-on effort from the photolitho experts at Multigraphics Limited. Each drawing was shot as an intermediate-negative in the large format Eskofot offset-litho platemaking process camera, then
• thanks to the grace of the managers and staff at Multigraphics I was made welcome to take up space on their premises to work on one of their large lightboxes in order to laboriously; “spot out” the dust and scratches on each of the negatives using a brush and “plum tree” photo opaque fluid, and
• “open up” or “scratch back” detail in the shadow areas from the negative film emulsion using a scalpel tip as drawing tool, and
• carefully “register” the 8 layers of artwork mechanically using the Kodak punch-register and “high-pin” register bar system.
It is worth noting that the goodwill of Multigraphics, mentioned above, made this laborious step of the artwork production process affordable.
Then, with the set of intermediate negatives cleaned up and properly composited, the final set of “emulsion-up, right-reading” litho film-positives could be “contact exposed” directly from the negatives in the same precision large-sized vacuum-down U.V. exposure units used to expose litho printing plates in the day.
Third step, affixing the emulsion-up, right-reading film separations, to the set of 8 prepped, unexposed photo stencil “frames”
The Kodak punch register system was carried over into our innovative screenprinting photo-stencil making process, developed with consultant Dave Cox, manager of our specialist screenprinting supply firm Seritech. Getting the set of 8 light-sensitive frames home to our crafty “sheltered workshop” during daylight hours meant a Heath Robinson workaround where I bagged the prepped screens in black rubbish bags and transported them in our van all covering in blankets. The task of affixing the stencil sets to the frames, all “in register” could only be done at in the workshop at home at night.
Final step, exposing the photostencils
The next day the photostencil frames were returned to Seritich using the same method as above, and exposed 8 at a time, in a very large vertical vacuum-down frame illuminated by a huge UV light source.
The custom inline 10-station static screenprinting machine (humans are the moving parts)
Dave Cox was the consultant for the design of our crafty one-off custom built, 10 station, inline screenprinting workshop facility. Simply put, the method we used for multicolour stencil-making meant that our stencil sets were made “in register”, mechanically by default. Because the “x” and “y” were set—up the right hand side, and along the foot of each stencil set—we never had to spend any time registering our multicolour designs in the set-up for each print run. This meant our technology was optimal for small batch multicolour printing. The garment screenprinting industry default equipment at the time was the 4 or 6-station rotary or carousel machine. These machines did not support our custom “in register” workflow, and the manual registration of 4, 6 and 8 colour prints was a time consuming make-ready task that our custom in-line system did away with.