Written By: John Bobey
As a child of the 1970’s and 80’s, I grew up in classic rock t-shirts that were traditionally silk-screened, the kind of shirts that regularly fetch $300+ in vintage stores across Los Angeles. (I wish I still had my Van Halen Diver Down tour shirt from 1982, my first concert…I think it was ten bucks back then and I’ve recently seen it sell for more than a car payment). Today, as an adult in the new millennium, I own many examples of rock posters than are silk screened in the same traditional manner, and they exhibit all the cool, innovative design as my shirts of old. When I saw a class offered on Verlocal that taught the same screen printing technique, I knew we (Tara, my partner and the one responsible for the accompanying amazing pictures) had to give it a shot. Tara’s artistic background is far more extensive than my own, but no prior experience was necessary, so we put on clothes we didn’t mind getting “inky,” and headed for the Heavy Gel studio in the Mid-City neighborhood of central L.A.
It’s worth noting that this ended up being a five-hour class (talk about bang for your buck), so we were very glad that we stopped for breakfast along the way. Tara navigated us to Tak’s Coffee Shop on Crenshaw and 39th, the kind of small out of the way place that you’d never know was there if you didn’t know it was there. It was brimming with locals as we snagged the last two stools at the end of the counter and filled up on generous portions of the usual breakfast suspects. It was hot and a lot and on the cheap—well worth seeking out.
When we got to Heavy Gel, we were buzzed in by our teacher (and screen artist) Jayes Caitlin. She told us it was going to be a big class, and that turned out to mean there were a total of four students (she often teaches one-on-one, so I guess the notion of a big class is relative). Suffice it to say, there ended up being a lot of personal attention throughout the afternoon. Heavy Gel is a professional working studio and it looks like one, so don’t expect a pristine classroom setting. This place was dripping with artistic cred, and it was inspiring to be in such an authentic space.
Jayes’ teaching style is casual and informal, avoiding handouts and do’s and don’ts in favor of having us dive right in and explaining as we went. The first thing we learned was that this art form is a time consuming one, and a great deal of that time is spent waiting. I won’t go into the step-by-step procedure (please take the class and learn it for yourself), but each one along the way usually required drying time or exposing time or washing time or yet more drying time. But rather than having everything at the ready for us at each stage in the process (like a TV cooking segment), we learned the screen printing technique in real time, and Tara and I agree that was valuable.
We feel as though the skills are more deeply embedded in us, and were we to start a new project at home (or at Heavy Gel…you can use the space for a day rate), we have a firm grasp of the whole shebang. The one exception to this is (for me anyway) preparing the desired image or text in Photoshop. Separating colors is a big deal in screen printing (each color goes down separately via its own screen), so some familiarity with a computer imaging program is invaluable.
The other silver lining to the necessary waiting game we students got to play was the opportunity it provided to chat and get to know one another. One of the goals Tara and I have in taking these classes through Verlocal is to meet new people who ideally become new friends.
We thoroughly enjoyed getting to know our classmates, an architect and a woman in the greeting card business, both incredibly interesting women who were clearly having as much fun as we were. When all our screens were ready for use and the “flooding and pulling” stage began, the class alternated between working on our own designs and walking around to each other’s stations, offering admiration and encouragement. Seeing our finished products on drying racks…right alongside Jayes’ and other artist’s…instilled a real sense of accomplishment. (We all chose to print on paper, but could have printed on our own t-shirts had we liked.)
In our post-Etsy universe that has wholeheartedly embraced Craft, Tara and I highly recommend taking this wildly hands-on, down and dirty, labor intensive and uniquely satisfying class in silk screen printing. Yes, there are other ways of making art on paper and cloth that are quicker and arguably easier (and we look forward to enjoying Verlocal experiences in those disciplines as well), but there’s nothing quite like learning a mechanical, decidedly low-fi skill from a true master. We’re proud of the work we brought home (we could have kept on printing…Jayes was exceedingly generous with her time), and if you’re ready for an immersive afternoon that favors doing more than “talking about doing,” we’re sure you’ll feel the same.
Photos Credits: Tara Boras
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