Hyper-real graphics like the Jewel Gecko make a vivid impression. Why? Because people relate to them! Dramatic lifelike renderings of wildlife produce a prompt and typically positive response in a person’s mind. People relate to real things and enjoy them most. It is the route to why people relate to many of our eye-catching and impactful New Zealand nature t-shirt designs.
How did we do it? The technique of colour separating this design by hand involved breaking it down into eight separate designs, from which the screens are made. The separations are printed over each other, in layers to create the original hand screenprinted design. This crafty route is the only way to achieve the unparalleled vivid impression of the design.
It helps that beauty is permanent
Fashions come and go, then come around again, but the fundamentals stay. The inspiration for our designs came from research, and getting to know superlative alpine/wildlife photographer Colin Monteith, renowned wildlife photographer Rod Morris, and whale and dolphin photographer and cetacean expert Barbara Todd.
Chrissie and I pored over their books, calendars and diaries, visited their image libraries to cherrypick the most beautiful jewels in their amazing archives that we could see had the potential to be developed into hand-separated wildlife art screen prints.
Our bespoke production methodology
With the eight layers of Jewelled gecko art-for-reproduction the key to technical success is drawing/painting “in-register” and “camera-ready” artwork on the drawing board and lightbox.
For technical and practical support in this endeavour my next ports of call were Multigraphics for camera and photolitho film work, and Seritech for photo stencil making. (As a footnote I owe these guys a vote of thanks.)
Once the hand separated layers of artwork were complete they were handed over to the photolitho crew at Multigraphics. In their large format photo-process camera they shot a set of litho film negatives of the separations. With the set of “intermediate art” 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 manner as photo-litho printing plates.
Next step was to affix the emulsion-up, right-reading film separations, to the set of 8 prepped, photo stencil screenprinting “frames”. The Kodak photo-litho punch register system was carried over from drawing board, to photolitho, through to our innovative “in register” stencil making process.
Regarding the custom inline 10-station screenprinting workshop…
…you can see in the photos that skilled humans are the moving parts in this machine.
 A vote of recognition and thanks is due to the guys and gals of Multigraphics and Seritech.
The large size of the art and number of colours meant there was a fair amount of expense in large-format photolitho materials and expert time.
Each design was shot first as an intermediate-negative in Multigraphics’ large format offset-litho platemaking process camera, then, once the negatives were touched up, the final set of film positives were made in the same precision vacuum-down U.V. exposure units that were used to expose offset litho printing plates.
Thanks are due to the decency of the managers and staff at Multigraphics where I was made welcome to work on one of their large lightboxes in order to carefully; “spot out” the dust and scratches on each of the negatives using a brush and “plum tree” photo opaque fluid, and “open up” detail in the shadow areas using a scalpel tip as drawing tool. The layers of artwork were mechanically registered throughout using the Kodak photolitho “high-pin” punched film register bar system.
A hat-tip is due at this point to the goodwill of the then endangered species of photolitho men, the colour strippers at Multigraphics. It was they who made this crucial step of the artwork production process not just affordable but practically do-able. Thanks to Gerry, Paul and Bruce. For over a decade your perennial support, mentoring and encouragement was unwavering and amazing!
 Sceenprinting consultant Dave Cox, of Seritech developed this workaround with us. Getting the set of eight light-sensitive frames the 10 km home from Seritech 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 little Ford Escort van all covered 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 after dark.
The next day the photostencil frames were returned to Seritich using the same method as above, and exposed 8 at a time, in a vertical vacuum-down frame illuminated by a large UV light source.
Dave Cox was the consultant for the design of our crafty one-off custom built, 10 station, inline screenprinting workshop facility.
The Heath Robinson 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 methodology is optimal for small batch multicolour printing.