What is a Serigraph?

A Serigraph is a rendition of an original artwork created by the silk-screen printing process.

In the past, the silk-screen printing process used a stencil to create the print of an image or a design. Stencils were used for centuries in the Orient to make fine art prints as well as craft items, fabrics, robes, Anil Relia with Amit Ambalal at Archer Graphic Studioscriptures and various decorative goods. In Europe, the stencilling technique was adopted by craftsmen for mostly utilitarian purposes. Stencils were also used to add colour to playing cards and religious pictures printed with wood blocks. By 17th century, the technique was being used to print ornate wallpapers. And by late 18th century, stencil printing had made its way to the New World but it was not until the early 20th century that screen printing was started to be used as an artistic medium.

The creation of a serigraph is a very labour-intensive hands-on artistic procedure that requires many weeks to be completed. Before the printing process is started, the artist who created the original image is consulted. Sometimes the artists like to make changes when printing the edition - treating the print as an original rather than a reproduction of an already existing image. At times, even a few changes in the image or the emphasizing of certain colours or design elements can create a dynamic new image.

Archer Serigraphs Studio

Having made these decisions, the serigraph printing process begins with the breaking down of the image into separate colours that are to be printed one after the other until the print is finished. The process of colour separation involves analyzing the original painting, selecting one colour at a time and creating a black ink representation of that colour. Colour separating was initially a process carried out by hand using paint brushes and black India ink on sheets of clear plastic film. Computers have gradually become a part of the process, which has made colour separation less laborious and has increased the accuracy of the image as well. However, the eye and experience of the chromist (person who separates the colours) are as valuable as ever and add to the computer generated separations by bringing in the subtleties of colour and texture.

Archer Serigraph Studio

Serigraphs are created by forcing ink through a series of fine meshed silk-screens. Each silk-screen is stretched tightly over a firm wooden or aluminium frame and is most typically coated with a photo-sensitive emulsion, although adhesive film is also used sometimes to create a mask. The chromist creates a separation by painting an opaque medium onto a clear piece of Mylar or acetate. This film is then transferred to a silk screen coated with photo-emulsion, and is then exposed to intense light. The emulsion exposed to the light becomes "cured" or hardened, and the areas blocked by the opaque separation on the Mylar remain soft and uncured. The uncured areas of the silkscreen are then washed out using a high pressure spray gun.


Serigraphy Process

After the screen has been exposed, washed, and dried, it is carefully hand-touched to block out any specks or "pin holes" that may have resulted from stray dirt or over washed areas. The screen is then set up on a press, which is calibrated to move the screen up and down with consistent registration. This allows the printer to feed a print in a set of guides, lay the screen over the print, print the colour, and then lift the screen up again to feed the next print into the guides.

Before printing a run, a colour mixer carefully prepares the ink. The colour mixer and chromist communicate over what is needed to create the desired effect. The opacity/transparency, viscosity, hue, and intensity are considered to receive the maximum mileage on each colour separation or screen. Transparent or translucent inks, for example, can create a variety of colours and effects  when printed over several different fields of colour. Opaque inks can cover unwanted areas or create a physical texture. The chromist considers all of these factors while separating the colours in order to keep the number of separations or screens at a minimum. In the same manner, the printer has a lot to consider as well, one important factor being the mesh of the screen.


Anil Relia with Manu Parekh

Separations that require large fields of colour or heavy texture require screens with a course mesh to achieve greater coverage while separations with fine detail require screens with fine mesh. In addition to the screens, the printer can control the print quality with different types of squeegees. Squeegees come in different hardness and materials to adapt to a variety of technical situations. The angle, pressure and stroke also contribute to a number of effects.

The printing is then carried out - one colour at a time, beginning with the base colour and ending with the finishing coat. After each colour run, prints are air-dried on racks before the next screen is set up. All colour runs are completed in this manner over a period of several weeks or months.

Ganesh by M F Husain; Serigraph on paper in 16 colours

Once all of this is done the artist checks and verifies each print minutely and then signs and numbers the prints to be released to the galleries. The notation 1/100 means that this particular print is the first of 100 in the edition. By signing and numbering the prints, the artist guarantees that there will never be more than the originally designated serigraphs of this edition.

Bharat by S H Raza; Serigraph on paper in 39 colours

Serigraphs have a long and fascinating history as a printing art more versatile than any traditional printing technique. The use of silkscreen as a modern artist medium began in 1938 when a group of New York artists, under the auspices of the Federal Art Project, experimented with silk-screening. This group coined the term "serigraphy" and later formed the nucleus of the National Serigraph Society, which actively promoted the graphic form.

As original fine art, serigraphs gained acceptance from both collectors and galleries in the 1960s when artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Wesselmann and Robert Rauschenberg began creating major works in this medium by experimenting with colours and textures that were unavailable in other mediums. At Christie's and Sotheby's art auctions, serigraphs have been sold for tens of thousands of dollars and have been accepted into prestigious art museums of the world as well.

Marilyn Diptych by Andy WarholIn the earlier years, artists didn't have at their disposal the sources and people who possessed the know-how and expertise that goes behind the printing process. But today, after screen printing has gained such wide acceptance, a number of studios specializing in the same are available to the artists. These studios possess the expertise to work in collaboration with the artists and produce prints of higher quality.

Fine Art Print or Reproduction: There is great confusion between Prints and Reproductions. If you were to invest a large sum of money on an Andy Warhol print, you would want it to be the real thing and not something with the value of a mass produced poster. A reproduction print is merely a colour picture of an existing artwork made by photograph and machine methods.

A fine art print (like a serigraph) will always have value, in fact, fine quality prints made by leading printmaking artists sell for thousands to millions of dollars. Print collecting is a great way to start an art collection.

Women in Gossip | 30 x 40 inches
Limited Edition Serigraph by Thota Vaikuntam printed in 57 colours

There are several ways a fine art print can be produced, but they follow a set procedure of professional artist involvement. The artist conceives the work as a print and personally involved in its production. The artist signs, titles and numbers each print and then destroys all stencils (therefore limiting the edition absolutely).