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Under the Midnight Sun

(January 2006) posted on Mon Jan 09, 2006

The prospect of teaching Native American artists how to screen print led Andy MacDougall to Canada's Yupon Territory, a place known for its hidden treasures. Find out how the workshop he conducted helped these craftsmen strike gold of their own.

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By Andy MacDougall

Once the class got a taste of how easy it was and the clarity of the result, the next few days turned into a blur as the artists started working on more complicated two- and three-color designs, learning about trapping, print order, and mixing colors (Figure 3). Dennis Shorty, a quiet fellow with probably the most distinct and realistic graphic style of the group, was quite taken with some split-fountain blends he had seen on a few samples I brought. Next thing we knew, he had designed a four-color image that depicted an intricately detailed moose silhouetted against a lake and sky, cut the rubies, and proceeded to run some almost flawless blends on two of the colors. He produced one of the better pieces to come out of the week’s printmaking sessions. As the days passed, the printing and production pace increased to the point we ran out of Rubylith and had to send into Whitehorse to scrounge up some more sheets of art paper. I could hear the sounds of the vacuum going long after I went to bed on Wednesday and Thursday. The Yukon now had its own chapter of Squeegeeholics Anonymous.

In addition to art prints, everyone was curious about T-shirts and fabrics, so we set up a simple jig and printed water-based textile inks on a few shirts I had brought along. Jared Lutchman, one of the younger members of the group, showed up with a stack of shirts and proceeded to complete a run of his own design for distribution to family and friends (Figure 4). Dwayne Johnson, a paraplegic confined to a wheelchair, literally ran circles around everyone else, excited to find he could perform every process step from coating to reclaiming to printing his own screens (Figure 5).

After finishing two prints with intricate knife-cut artwork, he got curious and picked up the tech pens and produced some pen-and-ink sketches directly on clear film. These were exposed and ended up screened on some animal hides and wood. Once the group saw this result, you could almost see the room get brighter as light bulbs started going off. The screen-printing process had just developed legs and walked off the art paper and into their imaginations. Talk turned to future designs on carved wood paddles, moccasin patterns printed on hide, decorative glass and mirror, printed fabrics, and T-shirts. These artists had just discovered something better than gold in the Yukon: the power of the squeegee and the knowledge and ability to use it!

Well the knives all flew, as they cut that film
And we burned screens all day long
Then the ink got mixed and the screens got fixed
Soon the squeegees were singing their song
And the prints that day, blew us all away
They were beautiful, colorful, bright
With an inner glow that could warm your toes
In the cold of the Yukon night

-- with apologies to Sam McGee and Robert Service


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