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Meet Jeanne Hammett: Silkscreen Printmaker

Jeanne HammettJeanne HammettJeanne Hammett

I am a silkscreen printmaker. I love the process of silkscreening. It is a very time consuming tedious process, but it suits me. I like the graphic, solid look that screenprinting creates. I always loved the look of the pop art in the 60s and 70s. While at St. Mary’s college in the 70s, I took various printmaking classes and really liked the process. I went on after graduation to work as an exhibits designer at Historic St. Mary’s City. I also worked as a sign painter and did other graphics work. All this was before the advent of computers and thus silkscreening was used quite a bit and I really took to the process.

I live in Southern Maryland and am surrounded by beautiful views on a daily basis. Most of my images are of the Chesapeake Bay and its environs. It is hard not to be affected by the beauty I see all around me.

About the Process
So what is silkscreening anyway? Serigraph, screenprint, silkscreen; all those terms refer to the same process. Screenprinting is a form of stenciling. Silkscreening has been around for a long time. The Japanese and Chinese used the process to print exquisite fabrics. Europeans created wonderful wallpapers with this stenciling process. At the end of the 1800’s Screenprinting was being used more to produce artwork. Toulouse Lautrec was famous for producing posters advertising events that featured dancers doing the “can can”. During the 1930’s a number of American artists began making artworks in screenprint and by the end of the decade the term “serigraph” from the Greek serikos, silk, and “graphos”, writing, was coined by a noted art historian, to distinguish artists’ screenprints from commercial uses of screenprinting. Screenprinting was commonly used for sign making and many commercial applications, and is still the case today.

Solid blocks of color are a good way to tell if you are looking at an original screen print. Look closely and you will see that the ink is laying on the surface of the paper. The ink will also be very solid; and it may have the texture of the fabric screen in it. If you were looking at a reproduction of a painting let’s say, you would likely see small dots of color. Those small dots are an indication of offset printing or a newer process called Giclee. Giclee is a way to reproduce original works of art using a computer and a very high quality ink jet printer.

Screenprinting is not a reproduction of anything; it is its own original medium.

The word silkscreen actually refers to the screen itself. A silkscreen is a wooden or aluminum frame with a fabric stretched very tightly across it and glued to the frame. The fabric holds the stencil; you pass a rubber squeegee over the open areas of the fabric, thus forcing the ink thru the screen onto the paper underneath. You are able to deposit a nice even layer of ink onto the surface you are printing.

I begin the whole process with a simple pencil drawing of the image I wish to print. There is no original painting, silkscreening is the medium and each print is an original. The drawing is full scale, I out line all the shapes of the colors I wish to have in the print. I then overlay that drawing with clear acetate and draw or paint the color I wish to print using black India ink. I then take the ink drawing, and sandwich it and the stencil film and expose it to a very intense light for around 15 minutes. After the stencil has been exposed, it must be developed and then washed out. What I then have is a negative of the ink drawing that I did on the clear acetate. The wet stencil is then adhered to the back of the screen. When the stencil has dried it is then ready to print.

When my screen is ready, I attach the screen to my printing table using hinge clamps. This allows me to raise and lower the screen so the screen will remain in the exact same place each time. This will help ensure that all the prints I pull will be properly registered. I then print the color for that stencil. Every color in the print must be done in the same manner. So for example, if a print is to have 25 colors, I must make 25 screens and print the stack of paper each time with each successive color. I usually like to have between 50 and 100 prints in an edition, so I must print a few more than the number I wish to end up with in order to allow for mistakes that invariably happen during the weeks long process.

Jeanne is a 1977 graduate of St. Mary’s College of Maryland with a degree in Fine art. Upon graduation, she worked for about 10 years as a graphic artist and draftsman. Jeanne left the work force in 1988 to pursue a career as a full time artist. Jeanne and her husband, Donnie, live in southern St. Mary’s County.