The School of English recently organised two free screen-printing workshops in collaboration with the Sheffield Print Club: an independent, open-access printmaking enterprise in central Sheffield. The full-day workshops were open to all School of English students; in particular, postgraduate research students were invited to creatively consider adapting elements of their research into screen-prints. Students were advised to bring collage materials to the workshop, along with a rough idea of what they’d like to print. My thesis explores androgyny and intersubjectivity in the poetry and prose of Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and I regularly consult facsimiles of his manuscripts and notebooks within my research, so I was eager to use his sketches and handwritten lines in my screen-print. The pages of Shelley’s notebooks, dominated by interposed lines of pencil and ink, are also populated by smudges, cancellations, calculations, and sketches that seem to bleed into the lines of poetry and prose. On occasion, a single page will be left inexplicably untouched aside from a sole word or image, while other pages will be indecipherably overcrowded in lines and sketches. I wanted to recreate the contrast between this claustrophobic layering and cancelling of lines with the stark surprise of an isolated page in my screen-print; to do so, I cut and collaged crowded sketches of trees and boats with lines of poetry, and offset these by placing one of Shelley’s more barren pages, featuring nothing but a sketch of two pillars and the single word: ‘Solitude’, in the centre of the page
Following the collaging process, the Sheffield Print Club instructor leading our workshop scanned our collages, printed off an A4-sized image, and asked us to trace over the portion of the print we would like to appear in colour by using a piece of newsprint. We then carefully cut around the piece to be flooded with colour to create a stencil, and inked this onto high-quality printing paper after receiving detailed instruction and hands-on guidance from the instructor.
I chose to block out the ‘Solitude’ portion of my print in colour, opting to mix a cornflower blue with a bright teal. The repetitive and manually challenging process of preparing, flooding, and printing the screen was quite therapeutic, and many of the workshop participants chose to mix an array of colours, resulting in highly varied and captivating hues and gradients.
After finishing our stencil prints, we moved on to preparing our photo emulsion screens. The A4 scans of our collages were saturated in oil, laid onto emulsion screens, and exposed to light before being washed with a pressure hose. We then began the printing process again, preparing, flooding, and printing the remainder of the collage on top of the coloured stencil prints. This was an entirely new process for many of the participants, and we were all overwhelmingly pleased with our final products. The screen-printing workshop provided an incredibly stimulating excursion that combined technical precision with creative vision; also, working with mesh screens was a welcome change to my typical routine of working on a computer screen!
Prints by SoE PhD researchers, Amanda Davis, Amber McNamara, and Lucy Hamilton
All photos courtesy of the Sheffield Print Club and Amber McNamara