A New Studio Aims to Spread the Craft of Silk-Screen Printing

There is an art work in the corner of Jordan McQuaid’s studio that kind of sums up his collaborative approach.

It shows the black-and-white outline of a face that he screen-printed on a coarse chalkboard, scribbled over in pastel colours. “It’s very reflective of how I work in here while I’m working with artists,” he says.

He saved it from an art project he did in Temple Bar, laying out the chalkboard faces for others to draw on.

A couple of small kids watched him put in a new board. They were curious, but started to walk off as it was too high for them to reach.

McQuaid ran and got a stepladder for them to clamber onto. He took the image away as soon as they were done.

“That’s my most favourite one,” he says.

Making a Printmaker

That was in 2014.

These days, he works from the Apollo Print studio that he set up in the colourful Tara Building on Tara Street.

McQuaid studied printmaking at the National College of Art and Design, but when he graduated last year he felt he hadn’t learnt the full breadth of what you could do with it, he says.

He headed to London to learn from the experts at Jealous, a studio there – moving up from an internship to doing some paid work.

“It was over in London that I realised, wow, this is an amazing craft, it’s not just a fun project or a fun process,” he said.

He found it hard when he came back to find screen-printing studios to use for blocks of time, as and when he needed. “It’s difficult to just hop in and do an hour or two’s work and then leave again,” he said.

Through his involvement in the IN PLACE art project that looked at vacancy in the city, he ended up getting a space here, overlooking the city. He’s been open since April.

He aims to do two things, he says: provide an easy-to-access studio with courses for those who want to learn from him; and work on commissions from artists using the high-end techniques he learnt in London.

“Trying to bring that element of craft and precision to Dublin. It exists, but not in abundance,” he says.

Spreading the Love

McQuaid gets out a strong magnifying glass and opens a hardback book to a random image.

Through the glass, the image is no longer a smooth mass of ink; it’s made up of clearly defined dots.

A photo close-up looks like a big-dotted screen-print. “I teach people, what we are doing here, you see it all the time, you just never notice it,” he says.

McQuaid runs two courses a month for those looking to learn to screen-print, or to revisit the craft. Or a one-day crash course.

You start off learning the basics of how to coat and prepare the screen, and how to work the images on Photoshop, he says. Then, he moves on to how to expose the images and how to print them.

The prints that have come out of these workshops so far are varied: one is a bright-coloured abstract face, another an image of the inside of a laundrette in faded colours. A third is a wobble-lined print of a Garda car.

People come in with ideas for what they want to create and those can sometimes be complicated. “In the back of my mind, I’m like, oh my god, that’s going to be so much work for me,” says McQuaid.

But he tries to make it happen, so that they’ll be satisfied. One guy really wanted to do a nine-colour print – more colours that there is usually time for – so McQuaid let him come in and finish it off later.

One group of women who did the evening course are starting to pull together a homeware printing business with cushions and tea towels and the like.

It is rewarding to have people in the corner, mixing paints, musing over whether it’s good or not – and then coming to seek his advice and input on that. “That’s the most gratifying,” he says. “Trying to give my time to people when they come in, as much as I can.”

It’s hands on, he says. “There’s no numbers, there’s no maths, […] everything’s done with your eye and your kind of gut instinct,” he says.

That’s what he tries to tell people when they come in, sometimes expecting reams of rules to follow. “But it’s really just you, a load of ink, and a screen.”

The Commissions

When it comes to working with artists, he isn’t the kind of printer who just presses a button and hands over what comes out the other end, he says.

He spends a proofing day with the artist, mixing up and refining the colours, working on the image.  “Together, we build this print layer by layer to what we are both happy with,” he says.

Once the artist has signed off on the print, he then reproduces it.

He gets out several of the past works he has done: the bold type and colourful geometry of a Maser poster. The softer floral image and precise colours of a work by Mark Will Logan.

“When you have an idea of how the medium works, you can get two totally opposing styles with the same tools,” he says.

He’s teamed up with the artist James Earley, too, on silk-screen printing, as part of the Iverna project; together, they approach other artists to make prints of their works.

He has also been working with the artist Leah Hewson, who not long ago finished a six-month residency at the Royal Hibernian Academy.

Lots of people there told her to look at doing screen-printing, as it would suit some of her work, she said.

She had done a bit of screen printing at college, but not much. “The problem with doing it is the equipment,” she said.

When she looked up courses, they were all booked up until she came across Apollo Print and decided to give it a go.

Only later, she realised that her sister had bought her one of McQuaid’s prints in the past as a present after Hewson had fallen in love with it. “When I went in to his first class, I was like a super fan,” she says.

The course was a chance for her to experiment with different colours, overlapping colours to make new colours. “It’s actually really exciting for me to work in that way for the first time,” she said.

His Own Art

McQuaid says that there are some other artists who have inspired him, such as Neil Dunne, who was a couple of years ahead of him at college.

But, mostly, he fell in love with the craft. “It was the actual process that made me fall in love with it,” he said. “It was really just seeing my first screen exposed, pulling my first squeegee.”

His first print was called “The Dancers”, made from a faded photo of an elderly couple. When he took it to get it framed near Portobello, the shop asked if they could sell it.

“What I do is, I tend to use only found materials,” he says, glancing up at the chalkboard image behind him.

He would dig through second-hand shops for old point-and-shoot cameras, flipping them open to see if they had rolls of film inside.

“I’d get it developed and often you’d have all of these lost of discarded family photographs from the ’80s or the ’90s,” he says.

Everything seemed to be so constructed in the theory of art, he says. “They were like, this is why we use this colour, and this medium, and this person is a political figure from … and so on and so forth.”

He was interested in work that is the complete opposite. “Almost purposefully using things that have no meaning,” he said. He did this final-year project called Allegories of Play-doh with screen-printed sculptures on wood.

That involved highlighting how classical objects had been so overused, from advertising to album covers, that they no longer have any meaning.

“So once they had this context and people understood them to be a historical person from a certain time, same as with Buddha, when we’d use these objects with cultural ties, and using them so frivolously, and so popular,” he says.

He tried to take that kind of appropriation to its extreme, he says – and also to poke fun at artists taking themselves so seriously.

A similar logic underpinned his Temple Bar project, he says. He was interested in the printed image and how it had become so often associated with advertising – and he wanted to create something that was as close as possible to the opposite of advertising.

He turned to graffiti for inspiration. “In a theorised way it’s seen as a revolt against advertising, it’s people taking back their walls, people taking back their cities,” he says.

So, like those two little boys, people could come and draw on the chalkboard prints and change the work. And rather than the bold, in-your-face images of celebrities, he created black-and-white understated images of faces found on recovered rolls of film.

“The photograph of the people – you don’t know them, you’ll never know them,” he says.

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