Screen printing is a very simple craft, but the precision and patience required to produce a single print are skills in itself. You might have seen Peckham Print Studio at their Boxpark pop-up earlier this year- Yin first came across their work at an event last summer. It’s been a long time coming but last weekend, we had the pleasure of doing a workshop with screen printers, Hugh Barrell and Nathan Bryant of Peckham Print Studios.
The workshop was actually our second visit, on our first visit; we had a chat with the duo about PPS, the craft, the industry, Peckham’s rapid gentrification and just got to know more about them. For the workshop, I brought my little brother, dubbed Mini Yang even though he’s already taller than me at age 15 ¬_¬. Anyway, we’ve merged the two, here you’ll get to hear their story and learn about the screen printing process step by step. We went prepared with a set of questions for this feature but we ended up having one big conversation, transcribing was fun. Read the interview below.
So tell us a bit about Peckham Print Studio?
Nathan: It has evolved when we started we wanted it to be mainly membership based where we did workshops. The initial model was to be somewhere people come and pay a membership and use the equipment for their work- also to have weekly workshops where we’d teach people how to print. But when we opened, there were so many opportunities like people wanting us for events, and commercial printing. Then it just grew into so much more. So I suppose we are commercial printers and Tom, our Studio Manager takes care of all the memberships. We’ve got to a place where every aspect is well run, we have quite a few members of the studio, and we run regular workshops and constant commercial jobs.
We’ve also got a shop that we run at the moment; it’s more of an artist commission. So we fund artist to produce work that we’ll print in our studio and sell it for them for a small percentage. It’s a nice way to get artists we like to produce more work.
We just started a graduate award with People of Print, recent graduates submit work and we’ll choose the one we like best and ask them to come in and print their work. We fund all the materials and similar to the shop, we’ll sell it for them in our shop. We’ve definitely grown a lot more from being a print studio.
Thanks guys you managed to answer the next question too! So we’ll go on to the next one… How did you fall into the printing business?
Hugh: It’s an undying passion. There is something about screen prating that said you could do this for the rest of your life and enjoy it. It’s got technique, you can apply physicality to it, its manual labour as well so it’s really rewarding. We both had ideas but we knew that whatever we did would be print based. We both really respected the medium of screen printing and what it can deliver. We went to Art school; I studied illustration and Nathan, Print Design… both of which heavily included screen printing.
Nathan: We’d literally just left Uni and the opportunity arose to use a space underneath this disused archway and on a whim we thought, why not, let’s try and build a studio. When we agreed to have the space, we both looked at each other and thought… how on earth is this going to work! We had no money; literally all we had was Ebay. Bidding from 8am till night time. We even called some of the “ebayers” and told them what were doing. One of them actually gave us equipment for half the price because he just liked the idea that we were trying to open the first community membership studio in South East London to give students and the local community a space to practice this craft. We weren’t going to give up after that!
We spent a very long time getting this place in order from about February to August 2012. There was no electricity, it was leaking and it definitely need some work. We sourced all of the equipment we needed second hand, drove all vans available from South East London to everywhere else that wasn’t South East London, literally no one around here had the equipment we needed. It was worth it, screen printing equipment, if taken care of will last forever. Everything in our studio has been sourced from somewhere second hand and it’s actually some of the best equipment we ever worked on.
That sort of brings us onto the next question… Were you consciously looking to be based in Peckham?
Nathan: Well we were definitely looking to be based in South as we do have a genuine love for this part of London. We went to uni here and we’ve lived here too. But when we were offered the space it was before Peckham started to become gentrified… so maybe it was good timing.
So the name wasn’t intentional?
Hugh: When we came to deciding the business model, its identity and name, I think our conclusion was “this is where we will be, this is where you need to be to see us”; therefore it made sense to capitalise on that. So no one could ever be confused about our name, it tells you where we are… and what we do! That’s it.
We had all sorts of names in mind, we debated for months! I vividly remember every major van journey to pick up bits of equipment; we would discuss these sorts of things. But I think one day we sat down at our old uni for the day in the library and then just like that we thought, Peckham Print Studio. So it’s funny, the name holds a lot of gravitas now.
So any runner up names you can share?? *collective and slightly nervous laughter*
Hugh: Okay we’ll give you one… and only because it’s the least offensive! We did think of Peckham Printers at one point. We didn’t go with it because we felt it suggested we were just a bunch of printers and we wanted to get that studio element in there too- so it’s clear that this is an open space.
Cop out!… Just picking up a point you made earlier about the gentrification of Peckham, how do you feel about it?
Hugh: There is a strong community of vested interest in preserving its delicate inner workings. There is a woman Eileen Conn who runs Peckham Vision, she updates business owners and residents on what the council think they should/shouldn’t be doing. It’s a very delicate thing at the moment. I don’t necessarily think it will be a bad thing for Peckham as a whole, but if you look at things like house prices, that’s when it starts to get a bit sour.
For example, we love this business, we love the art that goes on in Peckham, and it’s always been a creative hub. But we’ve realised it’s becoming more of a challenge for people like us who run these kinds of businesses to live. It’s interesting to see, hopefully because it’s South of the river, it will hold its own for as long as possible.
OK let’s go back to the work that you do. With Digital taking over the world, have you ever feared for your business? Ever felt like it will have a negative impact on what you do?
Nathan: Yes and No. Personally sometimes I think about it but a recent conversation with a major player in the screen printing industry made me realise that there isn’t really much to be concerned about. There are many processes that evolved to be done digitally but years after have gone back to screen printing. People started to realise its advantages over digital- there are some details that you simply can’t get with digital printing. For example, the way colours are produced you can’t get digitally; even metallics can’t be printed well enough digitally. Screen printing is a spot colour process, you work with the actual colour you want. The vibrancy and longevity of the colour is much better too. Also screen printing comes with a certain value, someone will be willing to invest in an piece of art that’s been screen printed because they know the amount of work that goes into the craft.
Hugh: This might be a bad example but I imagine it’s how the Japanese treat Calligraphy *Yin and I look at resident ninja Derek expecting him to know Calligraphy originates from Japan… we then go off on a tangent about Japanese culture and film* It’s ancient but it’s no less valuable today, in fact it probably resonates more because the physicality of it is raw, it will always be a human essential.
Let’s talk collaborations. We’ve seen your projects with brands/artists like Sunspel and the V&A so we get the feeling collaboration is something that you value. What is it about it that you like?
Hugh: One simple thing about screen printing is that regardless of what you have, you only need three things. A screen with an image on it, a squeegee and then you need any flat surface. That’s it. All the equipment and intricacy, you can bottle down to be something very simple. Once you have that in mind, you can show the world, you can break it down to simplicity. It’s the fact that you can go anywhere… and share this craft- we’ve even screen printed on windows! The event we did with the V&A was amazing; they said about 6000 people came through the door wanting to screen print. It was such a great feeling to see people in the queue and not be bored, they were more than willing to wait. Makes it all worth while.
Nathan: Collaboration is a great way to break out of what you do on a daily basis in the studio. We’ve got the equipment, we’ve got the studio, and we’ve got the know-how. So we can be part of events and run all the logistics where screen printing is concerned. It’s also great because we’ve met so many artists that we wouldn’t have met otherwise. From day one we said we’d have an open door policy, we want anyone to be able to come in and work with us. It keeps things interesting too, we definitely want to work with more illustrators and we want to do more events.
*There is some discussion on future projects- I’m not going to mention those but I can say… they are great ideas*
So what is it that you love most about your job?
Nathan: I guess it doesn’t really feel like a job. Hugh and I built this studio, week in – week out we don’t know what opportunities are going to come our way. On a growing scale, we’re contributing to “the arts”, we provide opportunities for artists and graduates and that’s the greatest thing for me. Generally it’s fun for us- we’re running a business which means we have to have those meetings and all the other things that comes with it; but we really enjoy it and that’s the main thing. We do this 3 days a week at least and it’s a process where you keep improving your technique. There is so much involved and that’s one of the reasons we like to run workshops as a lot of people don’t know the processes and how much work goes in to what we do.
Hugh: For me it’s… putting overalls on. Once they’re on, I know I’m getting on with it…And also what Nathan said! I don’t want to repeat everything. That’s it, our chat with Hugh and Nathan was really insightful; it’s always great to speak to people who’re passionate about what they do.
It’s good to know that their business is home-grown, rooted in their skills as screen printers and passion for the craft. We spent a second day at the studio learning how to screen print, see how Yin, myself and Mini Yang fared trying to get to grips with the screen printing process. Y&Y Tote’s anyone?
Well before you do anything, you’ll need to prepare your image. Your image will need to be black so that when exposed to the lightbox, it will be able to mark the screen. You get the best results by using a black image on transparent or translucent surface like clear film.
Coat your screen (the one you’ll use to print) with photosensitive emulsion. We’re unsure what’s in it but it’s not toxic at least. Coating the screen requires a technique and the guys taught us theirs. You dab your squeegee in the emulsion, with a straight wrist you coat the screen from the bottom upwards, and you repeat the process until it’s completely covered. Use a thin piece of card to scrape off any excess emulsion back into the pot…that stuff costs a fortune!
Leave your screen to dry. We used a hair dryer for quicker results… If you’re going to do the same, you need to make sure you keep the dryer moving or you’ll burn a hole through the screen, which isn’t ideal.
Once dry, you place your image and expose the screen to light using a Light box which will cause the emulsion to harden and bind to the fabric on the screen. So elements of the image are placed on he screen where the light is blocked (the black parts of the film). We were warned, the lightbox omits a ray strong enough to cause serious damage to your eyes. That was my queue to stay well away, my eye sight is bad enough!
After you’ve exposed the screen, you need wash it down to remove the emulsion which should leave just the imprint of your image. We used a water hose; again if you choose to do the same then you need to make sure you keep the hose moving to prevent breaking the screen. Once you’ve done that, you should see your image clearly on the screen- the clear area is where the ink will be pressed through.
Tape the edges of the screen before proceeding. You don’t want the paint to leak into the frames!
Place your screen into the frame, then turn on the vacuum, choose your ink and apply it to the top of screen. Then using the squeegee, drag the ink over from the top downwards to the other end of the screen. Print onto the plastic test film beneath the screen. Remember to keep your wrists steady at about a 45-degree angle, using firm pressure (not too much). Before you remove the screen, collect the ink by dragging the ink upwards. Mark out the alignment of where you want to print next by place paper beneath the test print on film and using scraps. After marking it out, repeat the process with the material you want to print on. We chose to print on A4 paper. Now repeat the process until you produce your perfect print.
Lastly you have to clean out the screens before they dry up. Who knew cleaning a screen made you look as scary as this? Manhunt vibes.