A Snapshot in Time and Appreciation – Adopting Digital Printing into a Hand Printed Environment.
By Stephen Woods
I’ve operated Screenhaus for nine years, with a BA in Communications Design as a designer before starting Screenhaus. Working with a number of fashion designers at the time, I saw Screenhaus as a brilliant vehicle to work with multiple designers every year across multiple fields and also embrace the entrepreneurs and start a few new labels. So it was really about the enabling of production of art that drew me to the potential of Screenhaus. The diversity of applications was a bonus. Prior to Screenhaus it had operated as hand printers of yardage known as both ‘Fabrint’ and ‘Ersatz’ since approx 1986 in the same premises in St Peters where we are today.
The name Screenhaus was a tip of my hat to the Bauhaus movement of the industrial reproduction of art for the many as opposed to the few. I loved the way we were printing metres and metres of fabric with the authenticity of handmade quality art. I also revelled in the interpretation between artists and designers and printers to produce these works of art. The first book I read on Screen printing was from fine art print circles around the period of transition from the solvent ink working era to waterbed inks with case studies from the print houses of New York and Chicago. The inspiration coming from the embrace of the fine artist translating his ‘one’ piece into many so they could sell more of their work to more people while numbering and signing of each piece in limited editions of spectacular handprinted greatness as opposed to a cheap replica. An amazing fact that we’ve done here many times since is the protocol in signing was the ‘Printer’ got the first piece and the ‘Artist’, the second, before the numbered edition was selected. Really appreciating and understanding the massive role of the printer and the translation process facilitated into form.
Since starting Screenhaus I’ve come to appreciate so many things revealed to me and have worked on fashion collections that have literally been shown on catwalks in New York, Paris, Milan, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Miami, and Sydney many times. We’ve also printed yardages for the everyday fashion brands like Bonds and also pop art royalty like Mambo. In this time too we’ve printed for many furnishing brands from establishment designer brands like Bruce Goold, SixHands to Bronwyn Bancroft and many, many more gracing everything from homes to pubs to art hotels to Barrangaroo. We are currently printing the textiles for Signature Prints including the Florence Broadhurst collection while they continue to print wallpapers in house – which from an industry point of view is a welcome endorsement of both our ability as designers to appreciate colour form and composition but also as printers in the execution. Occasionally, we have also delved into 4 colour process large scale hand printing and developed halftone hand yardages that not many in the industry understand and even assume they are digital applications. I’ve also developed a deep respect for many Aboriginal artists and their spiritual communication with form of which is rarely achieved in art schools and I’ve also met the transcendent talents of the top street artists and illustrators and revelled in the interpretations.
Coming from a background of being an illustrator and graphic designer I loved the resolution of the visual to one colour as if everything that was bought to us to print was a concept that needed to be broken into spot colours and knowing the least amount of colours was more likely to be a clearer interperation or more succinct delivery of the idea. As with a logo, pre-digital era – a logo was never finished until it was communicated as a one colour icon true in form but also physically able to be replicated as a clear symbol in a fax or stamp. The clear communication of an ideal or message in a one colour mark was always the holy grail of the designer. This corresponded perfectly with the native tools of the illustrator being literally a lead pencil or black marker being the clearest ‘Key’ way to communicate sometimes wildly sophisticated ideas in seconds.
Tricks of the trade,
Over these years I’ve been fortunate enough to come to appreciate many sides of the industry from both a designer and printer point of view. Outstanding observations are things like, Architects and interior designers discussing a project usually have the budget for what they are discussing and furnishing people have a completely different idea of a rush job than fashion people. Furnishing / Upholstery/ Curtaining being next seasons collection v’s some fashion timelines which can be measured in minutes. Another observation of note being the chorus of this piece is the transition of the analogue world to digital. Once the realm of strictly plastic on plastic polyester fabrics shunned by the mainstream fashion industry as not ‘skin friendly’ from many points of view was herded into the corner for swimwear.
Now digital seems to be the fast food of the entertainment world. Fashion and furnishings in our fast paced mono-culture of mega expression are simply part of that picture. As a designer I have no problem with the medium, having worked on film and documentaries I witnessed albeit late in the picture the transition from film to digital cameras only once ever really editing real celluloid film but absolutely loving the medium and power of film which remains true.
From a textile point of view, now the digital technologies are coming of age. They are combinations of ink technology and computer application technology (RIP programs) and fabric compatibility. Where in the past, digitally printed fabrics have been considered overly expensive and unreliable in image quality. Digital and screen printed fabrics still go through the same heat setting processes and at a consumer end user point of view need to stand up to the same environmental factors such as ‘wear and tear’, colour (UV) fade, ‘wet rub’ testing and so forth. Fast becoming a moot point.
The most outstanding factor in the transition into digital technologies for fabric is the education system behind the industry of which is clearly evident at all end of year exhibitions and parades being TAFE or University. The generational shift is really that of seeing the future as digital (Because everything is) so when looking at where to spend time learning design for a particular manufacturing process when screen printing represents possible restriction and digital is the all out familiar (Desktop print PDF from file) digital – proverbial rainbow out of Photoshop, which every designer has at their finger tips 24/7. It’s an immediate and brilliant solution. An awesome shift, but still beautiful in it’s own way. Now, with this transition in mind, the emphasis is on the printer to advise which is the greatest outcome for the designer for that particular design / piece taking into account the possible production volume, technical print restrictions from either style and hopefully end market / user appreciation.
Well, as candidly as I can put it, it’s horses for courses. We were the first to install the new generation (Technology newer than 10 years old) state of the art Uni Directionional yardage / meterage Print machine in Sydney. AND, it’s amazing. From linens to silks to canvases and even stretch fabrics and it’s exactly what many segments of the many markets require and more. However we are also one of two hand screen printers of yardage in Sydney (Four in Australia) left who actually understand this very very complex and extremely compelling almost ‘contact sport’ of traditional textile. The differences are subtle and I am very cautious not to undersell the power of design and deliverability and accessibility of digital into many forms such as fashion, were it has become the King and Queen of soft hand feel, short productions runs and true to pixel graphic presentation but there is something also being delivered through traditional methods that digital can’t touch. Apart from the obvious of metallic inks and light colours onto dark fabrics (which I assume digital R & D technicians are trying to solve this very moment), is a gift in the composition and soul of the process, obvious only in particular environments of appreciation and understanding. For instance, if you were printing something for Government House or the Hilton, Digital won’t quite cut it from a first class hand made fabric. Also, under lights in a theatre or film (curated light) environment, digital in the peripheral view will be flat, reflective or dull out where are a screen printed costume, prop or backdrop will maintain it’s subtle design integrity, which is what the camera and lighting people would call ‘pop’ indicating it’s depth of field. From here you can start to really play with the power of light waves and colour hierarchies in terms of application and end user / viewer. There is a definate reason that theatre sets are still painted instead of done by digital signage people – this is it. There is a reason people still play vinyl records (CD’s have come and gone) – it’s in the texture of sound. But it’s also in capturing the hand of the painter that is also the designer / illustrator in the hand of the piece. That interpretation from concept to hand ‘is’ the mark. It is the difference. In the traditional fields of fabrics and costuming, invisible feel is not paramount as it may be in the fast paced, multi-channel, multi season fashion arena – in many ways, the hand feel and layering of inks in screen printing is a mark of the printer / painter authenticity and workmanship and represents a more permanence of thinking.
The day they say they have replicated the style of ‘Fortuny’ in a digital print is the moment you realise they didn’t understand what ‘Fortuny’ was doing. But ‘Fortuny’ in 2016 may have missed the point, he certainly missed the three month fashion cycle.
Horses for courses.