Meshworks: Episode 2

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of publishing with a small press is its embrace of all the faculties, especially the hands. Not only does it stretch the brain with its wild styles and word art, but it also asks the mind to translate to the fingertips the very art it imagines, bypassing the mediator we call a computer. 

Book covers for “Why Poetry?” at Meshworks Press, Wilkinsburg PA © Michelle Gil-Montero.

Prior to our second trip to Meshworks, I’d never experienced screen-printing. Our SVC printmaking class last semester attempted it, but couldn’t compete with all the “big” gear with which Meshworks was outfitted—huge screens burned with the cover of Why Poetry?, every color of ink imaginable, aprons, an array of tools, generous work stations, and a fantastic instructor. Haylee Ebersole, founder of Meshworks Press, enthusiastically guided us, and even completed the remaining quantity of covers when we failed to produce 300 in our allotted time. Her dedication was touching, and she was a pleasure to work with! It was great to be back at her studio after our first excursion there (where we discovered the art of letterpress).

We began with a short lesson, and proceeded to team up at one of four printing stations, with an additional group of students mixing ink. Excitement swept the room when Haylee demonstrated the process and pulled out a brilliantly-colored trial print from beneath the screen. After selecting a blue-green theme, while allowing for some variance, groups set to work. Ours made a system: one person to run the ink through the screen, two to help her with set up and paper removal, and one to lay out our final copies to dry. We suffered through several failures as we adjusted how to properly flood the screen with ink or use the squeegee, and printing the bar code on the back of the cover proved a challenge. By the end of the evening, we were printing like pros and enjoyed the process immensely, despite our green and blue fingers! 

Something about seeing hundreds of covers flooding the floor, drying racks, counters, and every available flat surface, and knowing we’d produced them together, was inspiring. We chatted and laughed, while working diligently, and enjoyed Haylee’s encouragement as well as the supervision of artist Jim Kozak, who had designed the cover from a block print he created. When we first entered the studio and greeted him, I was shocked to find he looked familiar. In October, I took a block printing class at Ligonier’s art center, Main Exhibit Gallery, and he had also participated in that. I hadn’t put the face to the name, but it was a pleasant surprise! 

Learning to screen print was an epic adventure, and gaining “bragging rights” to say that we hand-printed the covers for the books was well worth it. A beautiful sense of healthy pride comes with handiwork, and we received a generous dose of it on our excursion, not to mention deepening our class camaraderie!

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