Celebrating 40 Years of Edinburgh Printmakers

STANDFIRST: <br/><br/>To celebrate 40 years of Edinburgh Printmakers, The Skinny decided to get creative by visiting their open-access studio.

Feature by RJ Thomson | 11 Jan 2007
There are few things so fascinating as a process. A system that creates effects. The use of even the most basic tools is a process. The latest virtual technology is a process. But I'd suggest the most fascinating kinds of process are those that combine the physical act of making with that mystery that comes from high-technology. Well, after a weekend screenprinting at Edinburgh Printmakers, that's what I'd suggest.

Screenprinting is a relatively new kind of process, and a relatively new kind of printmaking. There's quite a lot involved. First, you make an image on acetate. This can be done directly or by photocopying an image on. Then you carefully cover a tight mesh screen with a film of photo-sensitive goo. Then comes the arcane part: you line the acetate image up against the screen in a giant vacuum-sealed light-bath - a kind of alchemist's secret weapon this - which will expose the goo to just the right amount of high-powered white light.

Then, in a giant basin (the scale of operations at Edinburgh Printmakers is generally large) you wash off the excess goo with a cloth. It's all very hands-on. If you are worried your screen is too subtle for the image you want, you can use a power-hose to open up the mesh a little. There's a lot of cleaning up to be done as you go along, but to dry any spillages on the screen itself, there's a hairdryer on hand.

Having mixed colours to the right consistency, carefully line up your surface with the screen. ('Surface' is probably paper, though screenprinting is very diverse in what it can be applied to.) The colour is finally applied with a hefty rubber squeegie.

If all this seems like a lot of information, it should be made clear that it's loads of fun. Our friendly, pretty course tutor, Gillian, made every stage comprehensible. More than that, she gave all of us in the group the confidence to do the work involved at each stage ourselves. Learning something fun was a highly trewarding experience: surprising, impressive results had that extra nuance of 'I did that'.

Of course screenprinting is much more than simply following a process: you're making a print, and the scope for creativity is huge. All of us in our group had distinct ideas about what we wanted to make. One girl was printing the word 'HELL' against a landscape, with a picture of herself as a wee ballet-dancer in the maw of an alligator hovering in the sky. An older lady was recreating her abstract paintings in print form to give to her friends. Using off-white paint, I was trying to create the effect of paper, on my paper. Don't ask why. Anyway, all of us came away with six small prints we were well pleased with. The application of layers of colour is tinged with magic, as profound, surprising effects can be achieved with a near-professional level of accuracy, by your own hand.

Edinburgh Printmakers is a great little institution, housed in a beautiful old washhouse. Whether you want to get involved or not, it's well worth a look, for the beautiful exhibition prints as well as the building. Most recommended is having a go yourself, though; they have courses in screenprinting, etching, lithography, relief printing, and digital printmaking. Evening classes and one-day taster courses are also available, as are gift vouchers.

It's too easy, to borrow a phrase, to feel 'part of the process'. Head to Edinburgh Printmakers, and take advantage of their truly wonderful processes to make your imagination work, and make some imaginary things.
Edinburgh Printmakers - 23 Union Street, Edinburgh, EH1 3LR.
40 Years at Edinburgh Printmakers runs from Jan 20 to March 3.