Experiments for The Head of Nefertiti

Screen and equipment
Screen and equipment

You may recall that the final “Dreams of Amarna” pair of panels is intended to include the heads of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, screenprinted onto gauze, and floating over the top as free-hanging veils.

I decided to have a small screen done of Nefertiti, in order to practice the technique and experiment with the different types of gauze.

Too heavily printed
Too heavily printed

The screen duly arrived, and I did about six prints, all of which were dreadful. I put the screen away in disgust and decided to try another time.

This print shows some of the problems. I pressed too hard, obscuring some of the detail and caking the fabric – in this case a linen, because I have a plan to add silk and gold embroidered highlights. It would be impossible to get a needle through, and if I did, a metallic thread would be stripped in short order.

Printnig On Gauze
Printnig On Gauze

There’s clearly a trick to it – a combination of pressure (not too much), amount of ink (enough!) and angle of the squeegee (just right).

These two prints on gauze give me some hope. The orangey-terracotta is the small, blocky screen I bought to test out the idea first of all. I’ll embroider something over the top of this, just to see how it works.

And the head of Nefertiti is rather better, too. Next time I get out my Dreams of Amarna pieces to stare at them and play with layouts, I will be able to hang the gauze in front and play with distance and placement.

I’m beginning to think that it isn’t outside the bounds of possibility that I might finish the Dreams of Amarna one of these days, and even be pleased with it!

Adventures with a screen print

It occurred to me recently that when I finally finish the Dreams of Amarna panels I will probably want to exhibit them somewhere – displaying them at home would require a complete redesign, including moving walls! – and that, however large or intricate they may be, two panels do not an exhibition make.

Nefertiti rendered in "newsprint"
Nefertiti rendered in “newsprint”

At the same time, however, I’d had an idea for a design for which I could apply the combined silk and gold stitches of the Tudor Rose, and furthermore, that might allow me scope, later, to play with some of the mixed media techniques that are available…

So I went rummaging among the assorted copyright-free and Creative Commons images on the web (my goodness, there are thousands!) and found a photo of the famous painted head of Nefertiti which is in the Berlin Museum. Then with some cropping and processing, from a photo of the bust in its case it became a plain headshot with no background, rendered in the style of an old-fashioned newsprint picture. An email conversation and a payment later, that image had been turned into a custom-made Thermofax screen…

At which point, all the simplicity fell over. I’ve actually done four screen prints on the faience-coloured linen, and about three on sandy coloured linen, and none of them was good enough for my purposes. I’m not sure whether the screen is too detailed for the fabric or whether it is simply my technique that is faulty.

So I guess I just need to try harder!

An Experiment in Screen Printing

My current plan for the Dreams of Amarna panels is to overlay the embroidered panels with gauze panels screen printed with the heads of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, and since the panels would be hard to store safely and out of the way while I do the embroidery I have always intended to do the screen printing last of all.

Preparing my screen printing tests
Preparing my screen printing tests

Then, as I mentioned when I was beginning on the Lotus Fragment, I had a Dreadful Thought. What if the gauze killed all the colour in the embroidery? Would it be possible simply to brighten the colours of the embroidery (which would also involve abandoning nearly everything I have done so far) or would I be able to find a suitable fabric? Obviously some early experimentation would be required… Fortunately, “Creative Stitches and Hobbycrafts” happened shortly after my Thought!

I found the stand for Thermofax Screens, and explained what I wanted to do. When I explained that the image I intended to print (in the end) would be of the style of an old-style newspaper print, the lady’s face cleared. Yes, she said, it would certainly be possible to print onto gauze, and when I eventually get to the appropriate stage, it would be possible for them to prepare screens for me based on images I provided. She also said that I should experiment with fabrics, but that synthetic gauzes were likely to prove more transparent than natural fibres. So I bought a starter kit and a screen that had some of the characteristics I expect my final images to have, and got ready to experiment.

Gazing Through Gauzes
Gazing Through Gauzes

The photo shows, from top left, clockwise: Silk organza, Silk Tissue, Synthetic Diamond Mesh Net, and a Synthetic gauze.

I’ve overlaid them over a strongly patterned upholstery fabric, and it’s clear that the bottom two are going to be better bets. The silk organza all but obliterates the upholstery material, so embroidery is going to stand no chance, and the silk tissue is only slightly more transparent.

Diamond Net and Silk Organza
Diamond Net and Silk Organza

This photo shows the contrast between the heaviest and lightest of the fabrics I have tested. The silk organza took up most of the ink that passed though the screen, and the design shows up clearly, but it reduces the fabric underneath it almost to a pattern of light and dark, with very little colour. By contrast, the diamond net has to be laid over the organza before the print shows up at all, as you will see if you look at the middle picture at full size.

To be absolutely certain, I will need to set up some of the embroidery as I intend to display it, and then hang the gauzes about an inch in front, but as an early indication, I think this gives me enough to go on that I can feel reassured. There are suitable fabrics for my purposes, and basic single colour printing is no harder than I remember from university.

I can set my worries aside and continue embroidering – just so long as I bear my ultimate plans in mind!