I love finding happy diversions. I always think about the animated film "Up" and the dog that was in the commercials (I never saw the film) he apparently is able to talk with the help of a device that's strapped to his throat. He's having a conversation with the young boy and breaks in his conversation to look away quickly and shout "squirrel!" Well for the past two weeks I've been chasing the squirrel and having a blast.
I read about the PhotoEZ Silk Screen Stencil kit over a year ago and held onto the magazine, because I knew one day (procrastinatoritis) I should probably buy the kit. I decided that the time was right when I was slated to lead a low-fire glaze workshop and thought that this would be a fun project for the class. Of course I tore through all of my magazines and could not find the one with the article. So I hit the Internet, holder of everything in the universe, and found the PhotoEZ Starter Kits for sale on Ebay. Placed my bid and anxiously awaited the outcome. I was high bidder and my kit was delivered in lightning speed.
One of the best parts about this kit are the instructions. This company does a fantastic job at giving you all of the information that you need to successfully create a stencil in less than one hour, ready to use. The most important ingredient is a bright sunny day, slightly cloudy - you'll have to run tests for exposure time. Anxious for a bright sunny day, I went to work figuring out what images I would use for my first stencil. The image should be black and white and the black should be heavily saturated so that the light will be 100% blocked. You will either have to print out your image on your printer or draw it directly on the paper. The company is very specific regarding the type of paper to use. It should be 20 pound paper with 88 brightness or less. Remember, the light has to get through the white areas so the less bright the better. I chose to print my images from the computer so I used a couple of photographs first. I used a photo of a marbled white butterfly and made some adjustments in photoshop to increase the contrast, I did the same with a photo that I took of a cardinal sitting in a tree in our neighborhood, changed it from color to black and white and then ramped up the contrast so that it was now black and white, I played around with PhotoShop to get it to where I wanted it to be. Then I made a fat Sharpie drawing on heavy paper and scanned it into my computer. The only thing that I had to do here was resize it. I was able to make three different versions of this butterfly, one each large, medium and small sized.
Then, the bright sunny day came and I was able to run my first series of tests. The company provides small swatches so that you can test for exposure time. I was able to determine that in our full sun about 5 minutes was all that was needed. I went into our guest bathroom with the door open providing just enough light so that I could set things up. The kit comes with a black board, a clear plexi sheet, clips, stencil sheets, squeege, vinyl net, a few sheets of paper, two sheets of clear film, and instructions. You first place the image on the plexi image side up, then remove the protective film from the stencil sheet (this is the hardest part of the whole process). Once you have the film off place the sheet where you want it on your image shiny side down, then put the black board on top, making a sandwich of your image and film. Place the clips around the sandwich and I wrapped the whole thing in a towel. You want to transport the frame outside for exposure. Keep a close eye on the clock! Once the exposure time is up, wrap it back up in a towel and bring it inside. The film gets placed in a tub of water, I used a large Tupperware container. The room should be dimly lit. You'll soak for at least 15 minutes. When the soak time is up, you'll run the film under running water to remove the areas that were covered in black. This is where the plastic net comes in, you'll place the film on the net and use a soft brush to remove what needs to come off. I used the high resolution film and the instructions say that it can be more difficult to remove all of the film on the high res film. Keep working it until you get all of the film removed, you want to be able to see the small white threads. This will help you to have a better image. Next step is to blot the film dry and place it back in the sun to dry. This last step hardens the stencil and makes it durable.
Now with the stencil magically created, I was able to go to work actually using the stencil. I used bisque tiles first and the cardinal image was my first attempt. I watered down my underglaze so that I could create a watercolor type wash effect for the background, then I taped, using blue painter's tape, the stencil and using the squeege provided I laid down some black underglaze and drew it over the stencil. I lifted up a corner to see if all was ok and it was, so I removed the entire stencil and tape, then I filled in the cardinal with a red underglaze. Then applied three coats of clear glaze and fired the tile. I went through similar steps to use the stencil on the mug shown. I've used a combination of squeegee and using a stiff brush to lay down the glaze. It can be a bit tricky with some of my mugs that have a lot of curves to them, but with the help of the blue tape, and flexibility of the screens, it's possible.
Besides being such a quick process, one of the really cool parts of this whole thing is that there are no special chemicals required, just good old H2O (well I guess that's a chemical if you want to get picky). Most think that the obvious use for these screens is tee shirt silk screens using ink versus glazes on clay. And I challenge you to find even more uses for these cool screens.
I'm really happy to report that this kit gets my seal of approval. If you want to get more information, their website is http://www.ezscreenprint.com/