When the Printmaking Process Goes Off the Rails
Exploring esoteric themes in art presents many of the same challenges any other creative endeavor does. The artist must bring something from the ethereal intellectual realm into the physical one. That is to say it is a job of work. For myself, the physical act can be harder than the mental one. Once I can envision a finished piece in my mind I have to decide if the benefit that may come is worth the amount of time and effort I will devote to its realization. As with any chore, there may be unanticipated challenges. I’m professional, and know that careful preparation is key to success. Still, mistakes happen.
Creating Esoteric Art
Let me give an example. Recently, I opened the Three Bones Society webshop. The website’s guiding principle is to explore myth-making through gods, esoterica and sub-culture. But it has to produce an income for me. I don’t have the skill-set to be an Uber driver and the prospect of giving lap dances is not promising (unless I can get away with charging not to give them.) So I have to sell my prints to keep a roof over my head hopefully.
My initial offerings included images derived from the mythic architecture of tarot, religious icons and texts, and African mythology. The initial shop offering features a large wood-cut print of Dolorosa, Our Lady of Sorrows. In my interpretation each of the seven swords piercing her breast is crowned by a symbol of one of the seven traditional planets. In esoteric astrology, these can be thought of burdens that each of us must process to realize authentic existence. For instance, in the west, Venus cheerfully represents love, beauty and abundance. As a daimon Venus challenges the native with lust, vanity and material indulgence.
The Silkscreen Process
The challenges of these symbols subtly manifested when I attempted to create an alternate silkscreen version of Dolorosa. The initial concept stages worked well from initial drawing to exposing the screen. Color selection was based on creating an image coherent with the Pope image with its op art color displacement. (Practically, I try to keep the shop pieces aesthetically consistent to maintain a branding identity in the consumer’s mind.) After preparing the paper, the next step was preparing the ink. And this is where the road to good intentions ended.
The schema was simple enough. A shimming azure overlaid with a crisp royal blue. The problems emerged from the inks throbbing like blood stains. First, the azure ink incorporated interference pigments. Any silkscreen printer will tell you that you need to use a wider mesh screen when printing with these. I’d checked off that box when choosing the screen. Imagine my surprise when the ink smeared when printing.
I had the presence of mind to stop and analyze what was happening. I was pushing ink through large areas of screen with an ink with greater than average particle size. What would I tell a student to do? Use a lower durometer squeegee (i.e., a soft one) and pull at a low angle. Indeed, I was using my fall-back hard squeegee and pulling at a high angle. (Much of my previous silkscreen work uses intricately detailed dot patters and hard squeegee high angle works best for that.) I made the adjustments and the azure layer proceeded quickly with little spoilage.
Did I maintain my intellectual fortitude when it came to the blue layer? Heck no. First, I really liked the color of an ink from a brand I intensely dislike using. (Typically, I use Speedball or my own hand-made inks. They work predictably.) But I really liked the color, even though it made my life hell on two previous print runs. (Was I caught up in the challenge of Venus’s unchecked desire or just being stupid.) Long story short, my beautifully printed azure layers succumbed one by one to the erratic inking properties of the blue. Long and short I ruined the run. (Which planet do you think embodies the propensity to self destruction? I’m giving you license to sound smart in your comment, folks.)
I could have made a number of corrections that would have prevented this. I could have taken an extra hour completely troubleshoot the offending ink before creating a disaster. I also could have simply mixed a cmyk ink or made my own to approximate the desired color. A solution wasn’t out of my hands. I just didn’t choose to employ it. Bugger is that we all have free will.
I ended up with a couple usable paper prints. I suppose the good news is that I ended up with some really strong gallery quality rowlux prints. Unfortunately, they would need to be priced to high for internet sales. Even with mundane challenges, like what we need to do to perform our jobs, the existential challenges embodied in Dolorosa’s Seven Sorrows effect real life in real time.