Inside the Artist’s Studio with Heather Swenson: The Link Between Silkscreen and Collage

A little over four years ago I moved back to Rochester after graduating from Purchase College of Art and Design with a BFA in Interdisciplinary Visual Arts and a concentration in Painting and Printmaking. Since then I have continued to work across several mediums, moving between silkscreen, collage, painting, sculpture and installation. Currently I have been focusing on silkscreen and collage, noticing their similarities and working to integrate principles of collage into my prints.

My screenprints always start from a drawing, often one that I cut up and rearrange. This drawing often goes through many stages before I settle on a composition for the final print. Through the images below I will walk through the process of making one of my recent screenprints, Temporary Stability.

One of the first compositions for Temporary Stability.

One of the first compositions for Temporary Stability.

Final drawing for Temporary Stability.

Final drawing for Temporary Stability.

I sort through an ever-growing collection of old books and paper for inspiration, often adding new elements into the drawing.

Paper scraps from my collection.

Paper scraps from my collection

Once I arrive at the finished drawing I start making layers for the print. I lay a sheet of acetate over the drawing and trace a section with a lightfast marker.  With silkscreen, each color is laid down separately, so for every color in the print there will be a corresponding sheet of acetate. This process of separating colors and focusing on how parts make up the whole link up to the way I think about collage.

Making the layers for the print, this film will be used when exposing the screen.

Making the layers for the print, this film will be used when exposing the screen.

In my studio in the Hungerford Building, I have a small exposure unit that I built to expose the screens and a table with hinge clamps to make my prints.

My silkscreen table  with a screen in the hinge clamps.

My silkscreen table in my studio with a screen in the hinge clamps.

Aside from the loose palette I select for the silkscreen, printing is a spontaneous process for me.  I mix my colors as I work, often making changes along the way.  As shown below the final print, Temporary Stability, is slightly different from the final drawing I made. Instead of the grey shape at the bottom, I printed a scanned security envelope pattern.

The final preparatory drawing and the final print.

The final preparatory drawing and the final print.

Among other prints and a set of small sculptures, I have two pieces in the Upstate NY Printmaking Invitational that bridge the gap between collage and silkscreen. They are collages that I made from cutting up my screenprints. Repurposing of my work in silkscreen brings it full circle to the beginning stages of the process when I am arranging parts for the drawing.

Collage made entirely from cut up screenprints.

Collage made entirely from cut up screenprints.


Stop by Main Street Arts to see Heather Swenson’s prints in our current exhibition the Upstate New York Printmaking Invitational (runs through October 7). You can see more of Heather’s work online at www.heatherswenson.com or follow her on Instagram @heatherswensonart.

Take a look at our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post by printmaker Gregory Page.

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