Two-tone turtle prints

At last I managed to expose two screens without incident this week, so was able to experiment with adding a second colour and different finishes to the first colour I’d already printed.

(Incidentally, rather than using the design on tracing paper to expose the screen, I photocopied it with higher contrast onto white paper, and then made two copies on acetate, which I taped together. This resulted in a much sharper design on the screen.)

As you will see, registration was a problem. I tried to line the screen up by marking the positions of the corners on the print table with masking tape, but it wasn’t entirely successful!

Anyway, here are some of the results.

Deep pink ink:

Copper foil:

Silver pearl binder without any pigment added. Ironically, though it is also shiny, it actually tones down the red foil that I printed last week:

White flock:

Puff binder with red pigment added. This binder is much thicker than normal binder. You pull it through the screen as normal, let it dry, then put it in the heat press – but without applying any pressure. The heat makes the binder puff up, producing a slightly rubbery embossed effect. Very interesting:

Finally, I had a bit of time to experiment with an open screen, so I cut out some “paper chains” and used them to make positive and negative prints on a bit of faintly-dyed pole-wrapped shibori calico:

As ever, it’s the bits that go slightly wrong that are the most interesting. Because I used newsprint, it got very soggy with the ink, and as I lifted the screen, the paper lifted up and sometimes dropped back onto the fabric.

You can see where this happened along some of the edges and in the corners, where the ink is speckled as it was disturbed. I actually like this effect – maybe something to develop next week!


Abstract turtle prints

I haven’t written much about screen printing recently, mostly because my progress remains painfully slow. This is partly down to problems with equipment and space, but also due to silly mistakes that I’ve made – of which more later.

To cut a long story short, I abandoned my first turtle design after printing just one colour. It wasn’t really working for me, and given the time it takes to make each screen, I didn’t want to waste time on something that didn’t inspire me.

So it was back to the drawing board (literally) to come up with some new artwork. This time I decided to go more abstract, based on the pattern of a Testudo radiata shell.

I made a couple of different separations, so I have a couple of different first layers:

I also experimented with foiling the first version, which is a bit overwhelming:

And I also printed the first version onto transparent polyester in a couple of different colours, which creates an interesting effect when overlaid on the cotton print:

This week I was supposed to print the second colour on top. But a problem with the exposure machine ruined one screen, and when exposing the other I managed to place the artwork the wrong way round, so it didn’t line up with the first layer. Aaaargh!

Our tutor, Mark, said I shouldn’t waste the screen, so I used it to experiment with foil and flock.

The foil one turned out quite well, but the flock was less successful because the fabric was synthetic, so the flock stuck to the binder on the first layer as well as the glue on the second. But I learnt that if this happens it can be brushed off with a dry toothbrush. I also learnt that it is much more difficult to line up the screen properly, even without ink or glue, if the fabric is dark rather than light!

Hopefully next week I will finally get round to printing a second colour on top. In the meantime, I tried adding a second colour with embroidery, using a bit of wadding to add extra texture and evoke a turtle form (not very easy to see in this photo).


Museum of Life Sciences, King’s College London

This afternoon I dropped into the Museum of Life Sciences, part of the Gordon Museum belonging to King’s College London. This is because it was open to the public as part of the Festival of Materials and Making organised by the Institute of Making.

The museum had a small exhibition on animal material, such as wool, silk, skin, feathers and honeycomb, and how humans make use of the materials. I had a go at writing with a quill pen (aka pheasant feather), and there were also displays on honey and making candles from beeswax.

But what caught my eye was a tortoise shell with some of the scales missing. What I hadn’t realised is that the patterned “shell” is actually scales of keratin overlaid on a structure of bone. The bone is also divided into plates and is slightly ridged, though not as much as the keratin – as you can see from the photo below.

When the museum staff heard about my interest in tortoises, they very kindly produced some more specimens from the cupboards, including a wonderfully patterned Testudo radiata from Madagascar.

They also had a couple of tortoise shells with parts of the skeleton still attached to the inside of the bony dome. Again, in my (extensive) ignorance of turtle anatomy, I didn’t know that the skeleton was actually connected to the shell. I suppose I assumed that the softer head and limbs were just joined to the shell by skin – which is pretty daft now I think about it!

The photo above isn’t great, due to reflections from the perspex box, but I hope you can see how the spine runs along the centre of the bony shell and how the bones of the limbs are connected to other bony protrusions.

I think I shall be returning with my sketchbook. The museum is normally open only to King’s College students and staff, but the curator Dr Gillian Sales told me that artists are very welcome it they make an appointment in advance. The museum has zoological and botanical collections, as well as dried medicinal specimens, microscope slides and various skulls.

Starting screenprinting

For the past couple of weeks at Morley College we’ve started learning about screenprinting. I’ve never done any screenprinting before, and if I’m honest, it’s been a bit frustrating.

For a start, there is quite a lot of hanging around anyway – for example, waiting for screens to dry after coating with emulsion. But this has been exacerbated by the number of people on our course – 15 or so, around 10 of whom, like me, have no experience of screenprinting – and lack of facilities. So there is not enough room in the drying cupboards to put all the screens after coating with emulsion (important so that they are not exposed to light); the fans in the drying cupboards don’t work, slowing down the process even more; the rubber cover on the single exposure bed has become detached from the frame, so we need to take extra care when setting up the screen for exposure; and if both sinks are used at the same time for washing down the screens, the water tank tends to empty, meaning no or little water at a crucial time.

None of this is the fault of the tutor, Mark, who does his best in trying circumstances to shepherd 10 tyros through the technicalities. But he hasn’t been helped by the fact that the new emulsion we used to coat the screens last week has different properties from the old emulsion, so all the screens had to be washed off and recoated, or by half the screens we prepared last week being taken by other students on other courses.

Anyway, enough of the griping, and back to the process. Sticking to my turtle theme, I wanted to do a design based on photos of some of the tanks of baby turtles I saw in Sri Lanka.


I am pretty hopeless at drawing, so I traced around the outlines of some of the turtles, reversed some of them and changed the sizes, then arranged them in a circular composition in two colours.

Then I made two separate tracings, one for the orange screen, one for the black screen. The photo below shows the tracing for the orange screen – although the printed colour will be orange, the artwork has to be black to prevent the screen from being exposed to light.

And this is the screen after being exposed with the artwork and washed down.

Then came the fun part – experimenting with printing on different fabrics. There are a few photos below, showing the orange ink on cotton, fleece, organza and broderie anglaise, among others.

Sadly, you’ll have to wait a few weeks before I can show you the prints with the black layer. It’s half term next week, and I haven’t coated my screen to be able to expose the black layer next – and you know how long that will take!

Turning turtle

Debby, our textiles tutor at Morley College, asked us all to think about a theme for our work over the next few weeks.

I was finishing my assignment on Sri Lanka last week when I came across a photo of an albino turtle (above) I took at a turtle sanctuary at Kosgoda on the south-west coast. Local fishermen dig up turtle eggs buried in the sand and used to eat them, but now the sanctuary offers 10-15 rupees for every egg brought to it. The sanctuary reburies the eggs, and when they hatch, the  baby turtles are released into the sea.

The sanctuary also has several injured adult turtles, including the albino turtle above. Some of these can be treated and, once healed, released back into the wild. Others, including the albino and one whose front flippers were amputated by a boat propellor, will never be released because their chances of survival in the wild are practically zero. (And they live to 200-300 years old – that’s a lot of fish!)

I hadn’t realised before this that turtle shells could have such distinctive and beautiful patterns rather than the mottled brown and orange you see on “tortoiseshell” combs and boxes. Then I went online and found a few other examples.

Image by Swamibu
Image by 20/20 Communications
Image by Shahzad Hamed


So over the next few weeks I’m going to be exploring the shape, texture, pattern and form of turtle shells in textiles. I’ve got loads of ideas and I’m really excited – so watch this space!