Descending Blencathra – Indepth Process Breakdown

Descending Blencathra screen print by artist Graham Pilling

This post will go into my thoughts and approach in printing my ‘Descending Blencathra’ silkscreen print, layer by layer. If you’re new to screen printing or have been printing a while but perhaps feel intimidated by more complex prints hopefully this will contain some useful tips.

Animated breakdown of Blencathra silkscreen print by artist Graham Pilling of Army of Cats Creative Studio

Materials and Colour Mixing

I’m printing on Canaletto Velino Paper, which is a 20% cotton, 300gsm paper. It has a satisfyingly soft feel and also rolls very nicely (essential for me as I ship my prints rolled).

I’m printing with water-based, acrylic paint mixed with System 3 Screen Printing Medium. As I have created the artwork digitally, I am able to produce a high-quality giclée print with colour swatches to assist me in mixing colours.

Giclée print with swatches alongside my printed test sheet

Colour Swatch tip: I trim off the edge of my swatches so I can hold the edge so it overlaps my ink tests, rather than having to compare side-by-side.

Layer 01

First layer to go down is a large block of colour, which I print with a 90T screen, using the print arm for speed and consistency. I also make sure to pre-rack the paper so it acclimatises to the print room, as well as leave it as long as possible to dry.

Layer 02

This is the sky gradient, printed again with a 90T screen (in fact it’s the same screen, as I doubled up both stencils on one film positive). I print this by hand as it’s only a small area.

Mixing some ink to roughly match the tone of the paper is easy enough. It’s actually trickier to match the blue, as it’s very easy to over-saturate. I essentially start with grey and add small amounts of blue until it’s there.

When it comes to creating the blend, I spread the ink in long, overlapping triangles so it’s easy to get that middle tone and then just print a few test prints until it’s coming out smooth.

Setting up the sky gradient blend

Worth noting that blends don’t ever stay exactly where you initially set them up. They gradually push outwards. I tend to keep an eye on this and ‘reset’ the blend every 10 pulls or so.

Layer 03

The third layer to go down is the farthest hill which has a very soft colour blend. As this hill is in the distance, I want it to be as subtle as possible to add greater depth to the piece. This is the smallest area of gradient which I’ve printed and probably the trickiest! The blended area is so narrow, it’s very easy for the 2 colours to merge and just lose the gradient. Careful, precise printing is needed.

Layer 04

Layer 4 is yet another blend, this time the darker patch of sky which blends into a darker, purplish colour on the right. A nice, easy section to print the blend of which was easy to maintain.

The way I approach printing a piece like this is to split the entire image into sections and just ensure I have the right colours doing what I need each section to do. So at this point all our far background and sky is done and as I print subsequent layers, we’ll be working our way towards the viewer.

Layer 05

The 5th layer is a small section bringing out the hills in the middle distance. It’s slightly darker than the background and is easy enough to print by hand. It has some degree of texture so I use a 100T screen.

Layer 06

Layer 6 is a large area of coverage bringing a neutral green to the main hillside as well as a little bit of tonal variation to the middle-distance hills on the previous layer. While there is texture on this layer, nothing is exceptionally fine detail so I think a 90T mesh screen was used.

Layer 07

Layer 7 brings in a slightly more saturated green to go over the previous layer, providing the final darker areas for the mid-ground hills and a lots of texture for the foreground. It has a little more detail than the previous colour, and was printed on a 100T screen.

The top third of the image – from the sky to the mid ground hills – is basically done now and all subsequent layers will be adding to the foreground hillside and rock formation.

This makes the main focal point of the image easier to print and there is less worry about any paper stretch creeping in to the extremities of the print area – good registration is easier to maintain.

Note about paper stretch: Sometimes layers don’t quite align after printing even when the film positives matched perfectly. A bit of stretch in the mesh of the screen is a possible culprit but unlikely if the screen isn’t old. In my experience it’s usually paper swell or stretch caused by the printing climate itself. – i.e. temperature or moisture content of the air.

Pre-racking your paper for as long as possible so it acclimatises can really help lessen issues. I know printers who will pre-rack the night before a print session but I have personally found that even 30 minutes to an hour can do the trick.

Layer 08

Layer 8 is another colour blend and starts to build up darker tones, creating futher texture in the forground and providing a base for a lot of the rock formation detail. It also adds a couple of figures in the distance. As there is a lot of fine detail, this was printed at 120T.

This colour blend came out a little more subtle than I intended but essentially it adds a bit of extra warmth and vibrancy to the part of the hillside that is closest to the viewer.

As the blend transitions on an angle, I also needed to register on an angle. The ink was set up in the same way as mentioned previously, creating two overlapping ‘triangles’ and then printing off test sheets until the blend is smooth.

Layer 09

This area is the first of 3 darker rock tones and is yet another colour blend, transitioning from purple to blue lower down the rocks. There is no ‘colour theory’ reasoning for this – I simply felt the transition gave the image a bit more visual interest and vertical depth!

Layers 10 + 11

These are the final darks of the image and since I don’t appear to have a photo of layer 10 on it’s own we’ll cover the last two layers in one section.

The difference between them is very subtle but I find that the subtle layers can really make a difference when a print catches the light or when viewed at a certain angle. It also rewards those who take a closer look.

That’s the full breakdown. As with all my screen prints, there is something new to learn each time I push myself out of my comfort zone. Also a few things I may approach differently next time, or even some aspects which came out more satisfying than I’d hoped.

On the whole, I’m pleased with the final print and was hugely grateful for it to be featured in Issue 20 of Pressing Matters magazine.

Thanks for reading and I hope you found this interesting.

If you are a screenprinter and you found a useful tip which you can use in your own work do feel free to let me know – you can always buy me a coffee in return!

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