I have always wanted to learn screen printing. And I always thought I’d be great at it. It just seemed like something I would take to very naturally. I started my first project this semester and guess what? Not only have I not taken to it naturally, I am terrible at it and struggling through every step of the process. The only way I can describe it is to relate it to knitting. Shocker.
I once knit a sweater that I made a mistake with right in the beginning, maybe a few rows in. I was so anxious to see how the finished piece would look that I decided I could live with it and didn’t fix it. Well, that stupid little blip nagged and taunted me all through the knitting. When anyone asked what I was making I answered “a dumb sweater I messed up”. Every time I picked the thing up it would glare at me. I resented that sweater and everything about it. “God, it’s SO green, why did I choose a cardigan–I hate purling, omg this ribbing is never ending…I HATE THIS SWEATER” Resenting a sweater that I was making by hand and pouring hours and hours of valuable time. I could have bought the exact same thing (sans mistake) at Loehmann’s for $12 bucks on clearance. I mean…Needless to say, knitting this torment of a garment was all the things people list when they say they could never knit. Too hard, takes too long, no patience, BOOOORIIIIING. But I finished it anyway and went on to knit again. I’ll tell you, knitting isn’t hard because it is challenging, it’s hard because there are always mistakes that can feel like attacks against your character. It can be very humbling. But it’s important to remember that it’s also very forgiving.
Above: images of printing in progress | some shots of the New York Public Library–the most beautiful place on earth? | the green sweater
So here I am back at my first print. I am lugging the thought of finishing this assignment around like a ton of bricks. I’ve spent more time in the print shop than I care to admit and accomplished very little. I’ve messed up all of the addition of 20 and can barely look at them. I still have 3 layers to go. It’s brutal. I can’t stand it and feel guilty and frankly a little betrayed that I suck so bad at something I was prepared to love so much. Jerk.
But then, something happened. My silkscreen class took a field trip to the NYPL yesterday and we got to see something amazing. We had a private viewing of select pieces from the print collection and it was ridiculous! I’ll drop a few names to give you a point of reference, Matisse, Rodin, Ellsworth Kelly, Anni Albers, Jackson Pollock…
There was incredible variety from the 1800s to the present and all kinds of techniques (Pochoir, lithography, silkscreen). We couldn’t touch them, but did get right up close. It was thrilling. My favorite was a book from Sonia Delaunay-Terk that I don’t even want to share I love it so much. So beautiful and inventive and apparently designed around a mistake? Ok, here. The thing I could not get over was how may of these pieces had clearly visible mishaps incorporated into the design. A drop of ink that becomes the hair of a woman on a Rodin or a misaligned layer that added a new perspective. I left there thinking one thing–just finish it.
I will finish and go on to make more. I’ll learn from mistakes and embrace the qualities and process of the hand made, just as I did with the green sweater (which turned out quite nice in the end). Sometimes joy in labor is hidden somewhere in the process. And sometimes you have to finish to find it.
“You gotta put up with the rain if you want the rainbow…”