Project Phoenix: Screen Printing with Scottsdale Artist Jon Arvizu

We got an inside look at Jon Arvizu's screen printing process.
We got an inside look at Jon Arvizu's screen printing process.
Evie Carpenter

Happy New Year, Phoenix! What, you've already broken all your resolutions? Yeah, us too. But we're bouncing back with some inspiration. Whether you've been considering a new hair style or a new kitchen project, we're here to help with Project PHX, our annual "how to" guide. Step into Pane Bianco's kitchen to learn how to pull mozzarella. Or brew beer, crochet dread locks, learn how to build an electric guitar and make a screen print. Five local experts are here to guide you. Today: Screen printing with Jon Arvizu.

"I like to try new things," says Jon Arvizu.

It's a phrase we hear often from creatives, but when it comes from the mouth of this Scottsdale-based artist, there's one key difference: He means it. Although Arvizu considers himself an illustrator at heart (he's fortunate enough to rely solely on his craft as his bread and butter), it doesn't stop him from exploring other artistic avenues.

See also: Project Phoenix: How to Roast a Pig, Restore a VW, Distill Bourbon, Farm Organically, and Make a Wedding Dress

Arvizu finds all sorts of inspiration in Phoenix.
Arvizu finds all sorts of inspiration in Phoenix.
Katie Johnson

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In his backyard studio, he is surrounded by a multitude of projects past, present, and future. Along the walls, he's framed some of his more iconic works including a handmade screen print of W.A. Sarmiento's building for Western Savings & Loan (better known as the Souper Salad building by Metrocenter Mall). On his desktop is a red Dodge A100 in the early stages of illustration and on the floor is a bucket of T-shirts soaking in light-sensitive dye that he plans on experimenting with later.

The organized chaos around him is a testament to his personality. He's easily distracted but pays close attention to detail, taking risks but handling each new project with care.

As he flips through a stack of old screen prints, he points out his trial and error: prints with which he played it safe with two-tones, others with which he hand-cut the stencils himself.

There are screen prints that allude to what he was into at the time of their creation: a series of vintage cars, a series of pinup models, there's even a free-handed screen print he made after being inspired by a Latin art exhibit. It looks nothing like his usual style, but he still likes it.

"If you're not failing, you're not learning anything," he says. "I know it's cliché but it's true. I'm always pushing it to see what I can get away with."

His portfolio of work is sizable. And when you consider the fact that he didn't start screen printing until 2010, well, it's downright impressive. That's because screen printing is not for the impatient. The process requires multiple steps and, for many, multiple days.

Arvizu silk screens his brand logo.
Arvizu silk screens his brand logo.
Katie Johnson

First, Arvizu places a transparency of an image (in this case, his brand logo for Trapdoor Studio) on the silkscreen, applies a photo-sensitive emulsion, then exposes the screen to light, sometime from the sun but usual from an industrial work light in his studio.

This blocks the pinholes of the screen, creating a negative or backward image of the intended print, so that when Arvizu applies his acrylic paint, only the blank spaces on the screen (in this case, the empty letters and icons) will be filled with color.

Arvizu lines the border of his image with masking tape to prevent unwanted ink from bleeding through.

Once his designated image has been secured onto his silkscreen, Arvizu applies his paint with squeegee, pressing hard to avoid any inconsistency in shade or color. This is the step where Arvizu can really get creative, experimenting with color, mediums, and application.

Because Arvizu loves a challenge as much as he loves complete control over his work, he has since developed a new, more labor intensive, technique to create prints. He calls them handmade silkscreens, and they sell for as much as 10 times more than his traditional prints.

For these, Arvizu painstakingly cuts out stencils by hand. He'll create multiple stencils for a single image, ultimately layering them over each other to create a color spectrum of shadows and highlights.

Contrary to what one might assume, no two screen prints are exactly the same. Far from it, in Arvizu's case. 

"I started screen printing because painting is a one-off process," says Arvizu. "I want multiples. I want to create unique pieces within the framework of a series."

A series can range anywhere from 30 to 40 editions for a screen print poster but only five to 10 editions for a handmade silkscreen, which is actually a lot when you consider that 10 editions of a handmade silkscreen with three layers of stencils would require 30 hearty pulls of paint across the screen. Artist, beware: Screen-printing is a medium that makes you work for it.

But Arvizu is happy to do the hard work as long as his heart's still in it, which, for him, is always an indefinite period of time. "I just don't care to stay with one subject," he says.

Lucky for us, Arvizu has yet to find a shortage of inspiration in Phoenix.

Prickly meets pin-up at Trapdoor.
Prickly meets pin-up at Trapdoor.
Katie Johnson

 

Inside his backyard studio, Arvizu works in a variety of media.
Inside his backyard studio, Arvizu works in a variety of media.
Katie Johnson

How to Screen Print

• Print your desired image onto a transparency.

• Place the transparency onto to your silkscreen and secure before applying a generous layer of photo emulsion. Do this step in a dimly lit room.

• Expose the screen to direct sunlight for several minutes. Rinse the screen thoroughly and allow to dry.

• Touch up any remaining areas that you do not want colored with masking tape, including the edges surrounding your print.

• Secure a piece of paper to your designated work area with tape.

• Place the silkscreen directly over the paper.

• Apply paint to the top of the screen and use a squeegee to spread the paint across the entire area. Apply slight force to ensure that the paint is pushed through the screen.

• Lift the screen and allow freshly printed image to dry.

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