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184: The 96-Layer Screen Print With Heather J.A. Thomson

In the world of commercial offset printing that I know and love, we most often print with 4-colours: cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK). These four colours have the incredible ability to recreate more than a million colours on press through the magic of transparent, overlaid inks and varying dot sizes, so small that they are imperceivable to our naked eyes. In fact, if you look closely at books or magazines (ideally with a magnifier or loupe), you'll likely see that a photograph is actually just... a whole bunch of dots. This is the magic of the illusion of offset printing.

But not all printing processes work this way. Screen printing is a great example of this, whereby ink is passed through a screen containing an image onto a substrate below (paper or fabric, for example). The ink film thickness is much greater than offset and ink is laid down as a solid area, versus as dots. Screen printing is also often accomplished using pre-mixed colours to achieve the desired final look, sometimes existing as single colour, 2 colours or a few more (and not necessarily c, m, y or k) depending on the desired final result. The Little Friends of Printmaking (who I chatted with in episode 112!) post incredible screen printing process videos often showing how the colours build to create their unique prints.

So while screen printing is certainly a little different than my everyday world of offset printing, never ever had I heard of a printed piece requiring more than 6 or 7 or 8 layers of colour... never mind 96 layers of ink!

Enter today's guest: Heather J.A. Thomson is a printmaker who has created an incredible 96-layer screen printed work that took 2 years with a grand total of 8 (!) copies existing in the world.

During this discussion, you’ll learn about Heather, her love of history and printmaking, as well as the specific process for her epic 96-layer screen printing project of banknotes from the Weimar Republic.

You’ll hear about the technical set up required for this project, as well as the unexpected hiccups that presented themselves and how Heather handled them (including the harrowing thing that happened when printing layer 96!).

You’ll also hear more about Open Studio in Toronto, as well as Heather’s work as a photo lithography instructor in the space.

Let's listen in...


Open Studio needs our help!

On March 11, 2024 Open Studio released an urgent update about the state of the community printmaking space given mounting economic pressures. The statement reads as follows:

Dear Open Studio Supporters,

We are writing this letter to share difficult news about the future of Open Studio.

For over 50 years, Open Studio has opened the door to printmaking. Since 1970, Open Studio has offered subsidized studio rent, educational access, and free dynamic print-based exhibitions. We have established ourselves as one of the oldest and largest print studios in Canada and we are extremely proud of how far we’ve come.

However, due to mounting economic pressures, Open Studio is months away from closing permanently if we continue in our current form. We have been severely impacted by funding cuts, the pandemic, and the rising cost of maintaining our 7,200 sq/ft space in downtown Toronto. We recognize the loss of our space and programming would be deeply felt and would immensely affect our current and former members, countless artists, and the broader arts community we have worked with for 54 years. For this reason, we are determined not to give up on Open Studio.

After careful consideration of our finances, we believe we can adapt, but we must do so quickly and make serious changes now. We plan to downsize, restructure, and optimize our existing space for Open Studio’s survival as an inclusive cultural hub.

To achieve this, we will temporarily pause access to the studio, classes, and workshops as of June 28th, 2024. We hope to relaunch in January 2025 for Open Studio’s 55th anniversary. This can only happen with your help.

If you care about accessible and innovative arts organizations, or have acquired art from Open Studio, visited our galleries, participated in workshops and events, received residencies, scholarships, exhibitions, or employment opportunities through Open Studio – we need your help. We are appealing for your support to get us through this difficult transition. Our goal is to raise $75,000 by June 28th, 2024.

One-time or recurring donations can be made at (As of March 23, they have reached 89% of their goal! Keep it going!)

Other ways you can help:

  • Support their upcoming online fundraiser, FUTURE PROOF 2024, May 2-9.

  • Purchase artwork through their online shop. Payment plans are available.

  • Purchase artwork & merchandise in person at 401 Richmond St.W, Suite 104.

  • Visit Open Studio’s gallery while the studio space is transitioning. The galleries will be dedicated to fundraising efforts including displaying art for sale, with permission, from Open Studio’s extensive archive.

  • Circulate this appeal to fellow supporters of printmaking and the arts in Toronto and beyond.

Let's keep this important epicentre of Toronto printmaking alive and well for future generations!

About Our Guest:

Heather J. A. Thomson’s practice amalgamates her passion for history and her desire to use a visual language. Her pieces are a culmination of research and visual study that adhere to a central question or concept. Thomson feels conversations about the past can inspire us to reflect on the present and question our values.

Thomson received her BA from the University of Guelph in 2017 and was awarded the 2017-2018 Don Phillips Scholarship at Open Studio, Toronto. She was a Printmaking & Publications Class Assistant at OCAD University from 2019 - 2023 and currently teaches at Open Studio. Thomson is based in the GTA and spends her time between Oakville and Toronto.

Music: First Bicycle by John Bartmann, Licensed Under CC0 1.0 Universal

Talk Paper Scissors Theme Music: Retro Quirky Upbeat Funk by Lewis Sound Production via Audio Jungle

Boat Origami Photo: Boat Origami Photo by Alex on Unsplash

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