Joshua Roberton and Rebecca Cleal of White Duck Editions have been screen printing in their Bath based studio since 2005. They have collaborated with Noma Bar on several projects, making exclusive prints and reproductions for books and magazines, as well as the new limited-edition career retrospective 'Noma Bar: Bittersweet'.
As Joshua describes, making screen prints for Noma is a far cry from just tapping a key.
‘Screen printing is a surprisingly interpretive process. You’re not just making a straight reproduction, but taking an original piece of art through several stages to become a new and unique artwork in its own right. The relationship between artist and printer is therefore very important. Here’s how we take one of Noma’s designs and turn it into a screen printed edition:
Noma sends us his artwork as a digital file, and our first focus is on colour. Getting print colours true to the original is vital. We spend time mixing ink samples and sending them to Noma until he’s happy. With screen printing, only one colour is printed at a time. If an artwork has five colours, we will separate it into five layers and make a silk screen for each. At White Duck we use especially precise techniques to divide up the artwork into these different layers to ensure the colours align accurately. If you look closely at Noma’s work you will see that the simplicity is misleading. His use of space and line is a subtle art, so our screen prints need to be sympathetic to that. Where colours meet there can be no misalignment or the piece is ruined – for Noma, clean colours and pinpoint registration are paramount.
Once we’re happy that everything is exact, we print out each separation layer in black onto a clear film using a large-format inkjet printer. These are the films we use to make the silk screens.
These days the screens are made of polyester mesh (not silk!) stretched over an aluminium frame. We coat the mesh in a light-sensitive emulsion before placing a separation film beneath each screen and exposing the screens to UV light. We then rinse the screens with water. Areas masked from the light are washed clean away, leaving only open mesh. This is our stencil, through which we will pass the ink.
We put our paper for the edition out the night before we print so it can acclimatise to the studio. Paper is very sensitive to fluctuations in atmosphere. If temperatures spike in the middle a hot day, it contracts. That’s tricky if you’re two colours into a five colour print and working with small separation tolerances!
Our print table is a British standard from Natgraph, still being manufactured in Nottingham. After careful alignment of the first screen we place a sheet of the edition paper onto the table and pass a rubber edged squeegee over the top. This pushes ink through the stencil, making an impression on the paper. The paper is moved to a drying rack, and we repeat the process until the number of required editions is complete.
After the first colour is printed, we remove the ink from the screen, clean it up, then set up the second. We remove the now dry paper from the rack and repeat the process all over again – as many times as there are colours. There’s a real joy watching the artwork come to life in stages throughout the day. When we’ve finished, the screens all have their emulsion stripped away, so they can be reused. Last but not least, we trim the screen print edition to size before handing it over to a hopefully happy Noma!’