About screen printing.
In many ways Norman Lassiter reinvented the screen printing process. Best known for adapting screen printing to Photorealist imagery, Norman adapted screen printing to the needs of many artists, producing original prints that stand alone, apart from the source paintings. With the screen printing process requiring a series of individual screens and "stencils", the process is not friendly to gradients -- variations in tone. Screen printing is often apparent as a result of a limited range of colors, each color applied one screen at a time. Each color squeegeed through individual screens, often produces discernible flat shapes, the individual screens easily identified by the experienced viewer. However, Norman Lassiter could transform the individual screens into seamless imagery, owing to transparent paint and many screens, or impressions. While the most noteable inventiveness is apparent in working with photorealist imagery, Norman was consistently inventive. The Erte prints of gold on black laminate are elegant, distinct and perfect. The Chard and W. F. Jones prints present yet another approach, the imagery developed with layers of paint, the Chard print including 90 colors – 90 impressions (the process demonstrated with stage proofs below).
Norman used transparent inks for many of his prints, color effects produced by light passing through several transparent colors. With this process the ink could become deep and rich, like the color in hard candy. On many prints the ink had a build-up that could be seen and felt. Norman would advise that such prints should be stood on end, the ink taking many months to complete drying (Laying the prints flat could result in the prints sticking to each other.). But more important, it's in the layering of transparent colors that the illusion of gradients appears. The particular technique is called posterization, characterized by the irregular and randomly patterned edge, familiar to artists as a posterized edge. This is a word familiar to Photoshop users as this software allows the conversion of a photographic image from seamless gradients to a finite number of flat colors. Printed photographs in magazines use CMYK, the four color process, to replicate a film photos with minute dots patterns in each of the four colors; a magnifying glass can reveal the dots comprising each color.
Photographers often experiment with high contrast film, a film that takes strictly black and white photos, no grays, no gradients. With no gradients, the edges of the white on black, or black on white, are quite irregular and random looking, without the dot patterns of four color printing. For the photographer, the amount of white or black will be determined by the amount of light that hits the film -- from adjusting the lens speed and aperture (see the four heads below representing different exposures). Such high contrast images are necessary to make stencils for screen printing. Photo-like screen prints can be made from high contrast black and white photos by altering the exposures, gradually enlarging or shrinking the black or white. As a result, the transitions from black to white can be feathered, or softened. Add transparent paint -- instead of opaque paint -- and the edges can be further softened, into a black and white photographic look. The greater number of exposures the smoother the gradient.
Below (Figure 5) is an example of a mock print done with Photoshop. Each of the high contrast images was converted to a tone as would be the case in a screen print, the lightest tone on the left and the darkest on the right. the ink would pass through the screens in the white ares of the black and white image. This is posterization applied to screen printing, of course, here without color and here using but four tones.
Given high contrast film, large format cameras can be used to create high contrast transparencies that can be enlarged to create stencils for printing screens. Now add another technique: each of the primary colors in a painting can be photographed and separated. Photographers use filters to photograph the red, yellow, blue and black in a color image, creating separate stencils, or positives, for each color. Add another important variable: as with the black and white high contrast photographs with varying exposures, the high contrast photos with filters for C,M,Y and K can be shot with varying exposures, the exposure determined by the information (detailed patterns). For example, if the reds sought are are light tones then the red filter shot can be underexposed to record that particular information. Lastly, and most important, add Norman's genius to the process. One can know these techniques and still not produce effective results with screen printing. Norman pushed the screen printing medium beyond known possibilities. Further, knowing digital technology, this process can be used in new ways. As a result Norman contributed to art history.
The upside to the high contrast photos is the random pattern on the edges of shapes, as opposed to the mechanical look of transitions in four color offset printing.
Charles Bell's Gumball Machine is a good example of the application of high contrast photos as a means for creating gradients. The irregular edges of the shapes each impression are part of gradients that create the look of a photograph.
These images show high contrast images with varying exposures.
Figure 5 Tonal print facimile comprising four layered grays.
Figures 6 and 7
The posterized edge on left and the mechanical gradient on right.
Norman Lassiter was an artist and master printer with many resources. He had incomprehensible command of the screen print medium and he had a discriminating and artistic eye. Norman could see opportunities for using screen printing to capture an artist's vision. While photorealist imagery involved photography and the "look" of the photograph, he was not bound to the photograph in creating realist imagery. Both the Chard and the W.F.Jones prints show the screen print medium used to capture the phenomena of the landscape, beyond a mere description. The surface quality in these prints becomes quite textured and active, providing a viseral feel. the prints have an actual build up of paint.
Below are a series of progressive stage proofs that Norman produced for the Chard print, "Salem County." He thought it would be neat to share the process and this is the perfect place to show his working methods. Each screen was created with a drawing from a painting, the drawing medium was ink on acetate. The stage proofs show the additive process of building and evaluating the image step by step. Each new screen was based on the image in progress.
"Salem County" 20.5" x 34"