Pamela Mills Poulson Serigraphy
What is it?


Serigraph is a combination of two Greek words, seicos, meaning silk, and graphos, meaning writing. Serigraphy (sir-IG-graff-ee) is more commonly known as screen printing.  Serigraphy and other stencil-based printing methods are the oldest forms of printmaking.

Printmaking is a process for producing editions (multiple copies) of artwork. Painting, on the other hand, is a process for producing a single original piece of artwork. In printmaking, each print in an edition is considered an original work of art, not a copy.

Sometimes called screen printing or silk screen printing (we use polyester now), serigraphy is a stenciling method that involves printing ink through stencils that are supported by a porous fabric mesh stretched across a frame called a screen. Serigraphy is ideally suited for bold and graphic designs.

Serigraphy can be traced as far back as 9000 BC, when stencils were used to decorate Egyptian tombs and Greek mosaics. From 221-618 AD stencils were used in China for production of images of Buddha. Japanese artists turned Serigraphy into a complex art by developing an intricate process wherein a piece of silk was stretched across a frame to serve as the carrier of hand cut stencils.

Serigraphy found its way to the west in the 15th century. The original material used in Serigraphy was silk. Today polyester is the fabric of choice.

Familiar serigraph prints by Andy Warhol, Robert Indiana, and Roy Lichtenstein

In the United States, Serigraphy took on the status of art in the 1930s when a group of artists working with the Federal Art Project experimented with the technique and subsequently formed the National Serigraphic Society. American artists began making "fine art" screen- prints and devised the term "Serigraph" to distinguish fine art from commercial screen printing. During the 1960s, Serigraphy was popular with POP artists, who were attracted to its bold areas of flat color.

How is it done?

The basic printing process is the forcing of ink through a stencil onto paper with a squeegee. This is called "pulling" Each color must be printed in the same place and in the same order for each print to resemble the original.

An original image is the first step in the process. Then the Serigrapher uses his knowledge of and preferences for color to develop a separate stencil for each color. Each stencil is then adhered to its own screen.

Johnny Jump-Ups was printed in 10 colors.

Johnny Jump-Ups

Inks are custom mixed by the artist and matched to colors of the original and desired outcome of hue and value. In my prints, the number of colors on a Serigraph varies: usually there are at least six different colors, but there may be up to 40 colors on a single image.

The Serigrapher pulls ink across the printing frame, which has been placed above a sheet of paper that will hold the art work. The ink is then forced through the screen and onto the paper below. This process is repeated on all sheets of the edition, then the stencil is destroyed.

Cinnamon Nut in Progress

The printing process is very labor intensive; from the creation of designs, to transfer to the screen, mixing of colors, and printing of an edition. Typically a Serigrapher allows 10% more of what he wants for an edition size to account for images rejected due to errors in printing. In my printing, large prints can take 2-3 months to complete while a small print can be finished in as little as two weeks.

Editions, Signed and Numbered Prints

A Serigrapher usually makes a limited edition of his designs. An edition of a fine art print includes all images published at the same time. Editions of Serigraphs range from 1 to 500 prints. Edition size can be determined by the printing process itself, as when a stencil wears out, but usually the edition is limited by the artist. Since the stencils are destroyed after printing, each edition is unique.

Prints are signed and numbered in the bottom margin of the print with what looks like a fraction. The upper number represents the impression within the series and the lower number indicates the edition size. A print marked 2/25 is the second of twenty-five images. The number indicates the order in which prints were signed, not necessarily the order in which the impressions were pulled. This, plus the fact that later impressions are sometimes superior to earlier pulls, means that lower numbers do not generally indicate better quality impressions.