If it weren’t for my acquaintance with Sara, my daughter’s art teacher from the Art League in Old Town, I may have never had the pleasure of meeting her friends Charles Robertson and Tim Lovelace. These two young and extremely talented artists are running their own silkscreen printing business – Sediment Press – out of the living room of a one-bedroom apartment in Del Ray.
Sara hooked us up, and last weekend Katie and I had the pleasure of watching Tim and Charles work on one of their recent commissions – a set of one-of-a-kind invitations to a birthday party. By following along while they made one of the unique and gorgeous screen-printed cards, Katie and I learned more about the precise and captivating (and ancient) art of screen printing.
Tim and Charles do very well with keeping their DIY studio space confined to the edges of the living room the one-bedroom apartment Tim shares with Sara. They keep things neat and orderly, a must when working with delicate screen prints. The biggest challenge, the both admit with a chuckle, is not the small studio space, but most likely cat hair.
In our demo, Charles and Tim start out by creating the design and layout for the stencil with Adobe Illustrator. The front side of the two-color card will show the image of the birthday girl (who is now turning 90) as a child surrounded by hand-drawn flowers.
You can see here on the screen where the negative space (in yellow) corresponds to the positive image from the computer, and where the ink will come through onto the paper. The screen is made from a fine polyester mesh. When the technique was first created, the screens were made from silk; hence the name “silkscreen.”
They print the online image onto transparency paper. Here we see the backside of the cards with the invitation text in black and white. They then place the paper onto a screen that is coated with a light-sensitive emulsion. The screen sits under strong lights to expose the image onto the screen, thereby creating a negative. When it’s completely exposed, they rinse the screen in the bathtub to remove the remaining emulsion and then let the screen dry.
The next step is mixing the colors and getting them just right. They start with the same colors as used in a printer – cyan, magenta, yellow and black, or “key” (CMYK).
Here, Charles has the paper lined up under the screen. He’s pulling the ink through the screen with the squeegee.
Lifting the screen, we can see the pale red ink appearing as the flower designs.
Then, he meticulously wipes the screen clean between prints.
After pulling the green ink through a different screen that corresponds to the flower stems in the original image, the flower stems appear, and then after close inspection, the postcard image is done and ready to dry.
They hang the prints on a rack that Sara rigged up along the wall.
Finally, each image is cut to size.
Charles and Tim trade off and can each do every part of the process, but they also bring different talents and skills to their partnership. As a fine artist by training, Charles does a lot of the original design work, whereas Tim, who trained in commercial printing processes, handles a lot of the mechanical work.
What I found surprising is how scalable the process can be. After they design and produce one or two prints, it’s no big deal for them to create hundreds. They can do limited editions, but if you think you’ll pay more for a large quantity of the handmade prints, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. If you want to order a large quantity of concert posters, say, or event invitations, or business cards, each one a collectible in its own right, Charles and Tim are equipped to do the job. In this small-space studio, their business is currently fulfilling a commission to hand-print packaging for the Handmade Tea company:
Each box is hand-sealed with a wax stamp. As the owner of the tea company said about hiring Tim and Charles, “I also wanted to improve tea packaging and the experience of opening your tea package for the first time. I feel that quality tea is an art and it should be encased in equally beautiful artwork.”
Sediment Press gets their business logo on the bottom of each box as well.
After the demo and formal studio tour, Charles and Tim showed us the range of dazzlingly complicated and beautiful multi-color prints they’ve done to date.
This is a holiday card they made last year as a promo piece:
A “we’ve moved” postcard showing the exterior of a family’s new home. I can imagine a commission for a large screen-printed portrait of a home in the area.
Lately, they’ve been marketing their work to bands in the area, especially in D.C., to do posters similar to this design.
We look forward to seeing their future work. You can get in touch with Tim and Charles to discuss your own project idea at contact[at]sedimentpress.com and see what’s going on under their roof on any given day on their Web site.