From The Artist

"Seven" is now completed. I must say, of all the pieces I have done, this piece, by far, was the most challenging. I am pleased with how it turned out but I will need some time away from it before I can judge it adequately.

In the first installment of "The Making Of Seven" we talked about the bark paper and its origins while sharing the craft and the difficulties in finding good paper. We met my friend Chris who traveled to this far away place called San Pablito to meet Margarita and Federico, my bark paper makers. For those who missed it you can see part one here.

In the second installment we shared the drawings and the separations and showed how they are created.
For those who missed it you can see part 2 here.

I had intended to do several more steps but without others around it is difficult to document things as you are doing them. All the remaining steps will be shared here. I hope you enjoy the process.

Once we finished the drawings and the separations, we are ready to transfer our separations to a screen but before that we need to prepare our paper and set up our registration on the press. The pictures below show how I have mounted a piece of film with registration marks to the press. This film will remain mounted to the press for the entire process and cannot be moved under any circumstances. Each sheet is then placed on the press and registered to the film that has been mounted.


The next step is to coat the screens. The screens are coated with a photochemical emulsion. It is literally scraped onto the surface of the screen with a scoop coater. It takes a knack to do this and I have had difficulties at times when the emulsion is a little old or I am just not on my game. A badly coated screen affects the exposure times and that can cause problems. These went quite smoothly. In the two pictures below you see an uncoated screen and a freshly coated screen. Once the screens are coated they are stored in a dark area and covered to keep them out of the light. Once they are dry they are ready to burn.


In the pictures below is an exposure unit and an example of a burned screen with it's corresponding film. The exposure unit is a homemade unit I made myself. I had to make a new unit for this piece because of it's size. In the past I exposed screens of this size in the sun. That, of course, does not work here in Montana during the winter months. The unit is crude and simple but it works like a charm. To avoid as much outside light as possible I burn screens at night and need to be quick about it. I could not photograph this process so the last two pictures show how the film rests between the unit and the screen and how the film pattern matches the newly burned screen.


To burn a screen, one is removed from the dark room and set upon the press where I have set my registration marks. The corresponding film is laid inside the screen so I have a good idea where the image will rest once the screen is burned. I mark the screen, turn it over and then match the marks on the film to the marks I just made on the screen. I then tape the film to the back of the screen and then place the screen onto the exposure unit with the film in between the screen and the unit. The screen is covered with a black cloth and then weighted down to be sure there are no spaces between the screen and the unit. The unit is turned on for a short time, only 20 seconds for this new unit. After 20 seconds the unit is turned off and the screen is taken to a washout tank. Here I simply run water over the screen surface until the areas that were blocked by the paint on the films dissolves. When exposing a screen the emulsion reacts to the light and freezes into the screen. Later it will require another chemical to remove all the emulsion and reclaim the screen. The areas that blocked the light will remain water soluble and will easily wash away leaving an opening that should exactly match what I painted on the films in part two. Below is the first six screens after they have been exposed, or burned, as we more commonly refer to.


This next step is really the moment of truth. There is no going back and little can be changed at this point. After all the design work, separation creation and screen burning we are ready to apply paint. Color is so important. I can't emphasize this enough even though I rarely hit my mark. I work with water based paint so it changes color as it dries. Even a day or two later the color is still changing so once I start to mix paint I have to finish while they are all relatively cured the same. For this project I started mixing around 8 pm and finished around 7 am the next morning. Ten colors were mixed and each color needed around 12 to 18 ounces. I underestimated color number 5 and had to discard 4 pieces as I did not have enough paint to finish that color. In the picture below I am now registering the screen to the film mounted on the press. Once things are aligned the screen is clamped to a hinging system and as with the registration film on the press, the screen cannot move under any circumstances. The screen now will lift on hinges in order for me to place a sheet of paper underneath. That sheet is registered to the mounted film and will be placed in the exact same place for every color application. In the photos below I am first registering the screen to the press. In picture two you see paint and a squeegee ready to pull a color. In the final picture I am pressing the paint through the opening of the screen on to the paper beneath.


The pictures below show the image after each color, although a few were missed. To pull ten colors requires at least 4 people and around 8 solid hours of hard work. With forty sheets and ten colors I need to make 800 pulls and 400 screen floods. My hands and arms ache for several days and I acquire a few blisters on my hands. In this case I was so tired after six colors I could not apply the correct pressure to insure the paint was applied in all areas so I had to pull color six twice. It worked out fine but it was a few days later that the final four colors were applied. Normally I can pull an entire edition in one sitting but they are always much smaller and easier to pull. After all ten colors are applied the pieces are sorted into categories. No matter how well things go there are always pieces that need to be hand re-touched. This paper shrinks and is not smooth so no matter how hard I try there will always be areas that need help. For this edition 19 pieces out of 36 needed very little touch up. The other 18 need more help and in the end a good half dozen or so may be discarded all together.


Below is the final product. As you can see there is a marked difference between the final product and the piece after 10 colors. A freshly done serigraph is blocky and bold. Several layers of glaze are then applied to the surface in order to fuse our colors together and create some atmosphere. Objects can be moved forward or backward depending on the glaze. Temperature, hue and tint can also be altered with glaze and of course the dusty, moody sentiment I try to put in every piece is done largely with proper glazing. Each individual piece is glazed by hand. After that the edges of each piece are torn, burned and glazed again.

This piece was real accomplishment for me. There seemed to be added pressure as I shared the process with you. I certainly didn't want to document an egg being laid. There were delays with my studio being finished and numerous "new" components that I was attempting for the first time. I estimate that "Seven", from start to finish, required approximately 500 hours. I tinkered with the image for well over a year, coming back to it many times making adjustments and what not. Most pieces don't require that much time but in the end, it's not really work to me anyway.

I want to thank you all for participating in this journey with me and I hope it helped to shed a little light on the process these pieces require. I want to thank Katie, Shelby and LeAnn for helping with the pull. Thanks too, to Jeff, who always seems to stop by the studio at just the right times to give me a pep talk.

Rob Stern

Rob has extended the time period to acquire one of these pieces at the pre-published price.
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