Wood Sequoias

(Paper prints available on Etsy – now offering guest checkout)

It’s hard to say what I’ve been waiting for, but I’ve been meaning to expand my offerings for some time. Recently, I’ve become enthralled with hand painted signs. The stylish familiarity. The retro appeal. The slick, smooth action of a trained hand going one-time over any surface. I guess there’s a lot that’s similar to screen printing. It has a craftsmanship that is unseen anymore. And sign making has to be the most basic of enterprises for anyone in the arts. It’s the first point of contact for a business and an old school form of communication that probably translated into the infamous LOGO and BRANDING that we all talk so much about these days.

So when Jerry (see his website), told me about his photography project printing images in various formats he naturally shifted to getting a print done by screen from ol’ Roblotter himself. Little did he know that I had been itching to do something like this for some time and this gave me an excuse to try out two new ideas.

First, I wanted to do something on wood. Jerry mentioned something about photos of the Sequoias and immediately I went to wooden panels. Maybe a little on the nose, but I’ve always wanted to understand what it takes to print on materials other than paper. Glass is another one and even while I was planning for the wooden prints I had an idea for glass and even epoxy prints that I might have to try later.

The other great opportunity that sprung out of this seemingly innocuous request was four color printing. Normally, when you print from your desktop or your local print shop you are going through CMYK. A machine reads the digital file and prints percentages of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (aka Black) to blend into a full color print. Which is why you sometimes get orders that are labeled 4/0 or 4/4. It means full color front or front and back. But screen printing four colors seems a lot better than trying to breakdown a richly colored photo into seven or seventeen screens, printing one color at a time. Some people actually do this. Not me.

So with my new excuse in hand I finally came back around to printing, from a hiatus following my Mother’s death.

Like anything new there were challenges. The films used to “burn” the screens tend to flex under the heat of the exposure lamp. This causes the film to lift up just enough to cause distortion and loss of clarity. Most prints, it’s not a problem and screen printing can be a very forgiving medium, but in this case I lost sections of color due to gaps letting light in and overexposing parts of the cyan screen. I corrected the issue on subsequent screens by dismantling a picture frame idylly sitting in the hallway and taking the glass out to use as a perfectly clear weight to press on the film. Higher class print operations have a vacuum exposure unit to prevent such issues. Since I’m low rent I have to punk rock my shit.

The other major challenge was figuring out how to align the wood panels so that each color would line up properly to create the proper color mixtures – otherwise known as registration. Normally I would have registration marks. In bigger print shops these marks look like crosshairs in a gun scope: a circle with a cross through the middle. I just use a couple of dashed lines at the corners that also happen to be my crop marks, or lines where I cut the prints down to the proper size. Only, on the lumber I had already trimmed the panels to size (more of a logistical issue than a printing one), so I had to line up the wood just perfect each time or else the registration (alignment) would make a psychedelic, 3D looking separation which could be cool, but really what I am going for. In the end I only made one wood print because it was way too time consuming and I’m not really set up for it. However, there’s one weakness that I’m working on addressing now which is having a centered exposure.


If I had set up my screens the right way I would have been able to hit the same spot every time through each screen. That turned out to be difficult given the equipment I had so the final kink in this shit show was an irregular registration from the screen where each color required a new alignment. With some small investments I hope to correct this on the next run.

Even when I made some prints on paper I ran into some issues. During that week the weather turned warm and very, very humid. That makes the paper expand and prevents the ink from drying. I probably could have pre-humidified the paper by letting it air out for a day or so, and used a heat-gun (which I just purchased for the wood) to help set the ink, but circumstances being what they are it was more important for me to finish the damn thing.

In all, the idea was pitched in, what, mid-Spring. Maybe April. I didn’t finish the lumber until late August, early September, and the prints were completed right before my last show in early October. In total hours it was probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-30 for production of the panel and another four or so for the paper prints, making this a full-time, unpaid job (really it’s an investment in future payment, so don’t feel too bad).

Pain in the ass that it was I can’t wait to do more of it and I’m thinking up ideas as we speak. Hopefully, with my cycle of frustration, breaking down and crying, binging on alcohol, throwing my life into disarray, and coming back to my senses, I can find my way through to a better, faster, homegrown solution to pull myself forward.

Thank you Jerry.

Prints are available on Etsy now.

Copyright © 2017 Robert C. Olson

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