A Classic Fojap Fuck-up

There are those fuck-ups we do that anyone can do, like locking yourself out of the house. Then there are those fuck-ups that are revealing about our characters. Over the weekend, I fucked-up in a way which, while not entirely unique to me, was certainly something I was far more likely to do.

I’ve mentioned on my blog that both my parents were teachers and that my mother was an English teacher. I don’t think I mentioned that my father was a graphic arts teacher. He began as a printer, then later became a teacher. If our chosen medium is indicative of our personality, let me note that my father preferred watercolor. Me, I’ve always favored oils. I’m never so happy as when I’m in the middle of a great big smelly mess. My mother used to call me a “mad scientist.” It all looks very creative, but frequently the only think I create is a mess.

So, I was reading about the great big march planned for today in Paris and wishing I could go when it struck me that perhaps there would be sister rallies around the world. I mucked about on the internet a bit, and lo and behold I found that there would be one in New York. Late Friday night, I had a brilliant idea. Okay, maybe it wasn’t brilliant, but it was an idea. I thought to myself, “I know how to silk screen t-shirts. I’m going to make up a bunch of t-shirts! Maybe I’ll hand them out at the demonstration!”

Now, saying that I know how to silk screen t-shirts is what a sane person might call an exaggeration. I did it a bunch of times with my father as I kid, but I may not have done it in forty years. Maybe thirty-nine. Who’s counting?

Still, the following morning I took myself and my overblown sense of competence down to the art supply store. You see, not having done this in thirty-nine or forty years means that I didn’t own one item I needed. Has reality ever stopped me! No! Boo, reality!

So I find the aisle with the printing supplies. I see a screen, some ink and squeegees and start filling my basket. Suddenly, it occurs to me that I have no idea what the hell I’m doing. I ask another shopper buying printing inks. She suggests that I look online. Great, but I need it now! I am currently having a minor break with reality in which I believe that I am the world’s greatest artist and I must take advantage of my delusional state. Finally, I settle on the “starter kit.” Now, I need to go and find blank t-shirts – cheap!

Carrying my bag of art supplies, I head to the garment district. I scan the street for a place that looks like it sells to the public. Seeing a sign that says, “T-Shirts Retail Wholesale,” I burst in.

“I need a dozen t-shirts, blank, extra-large.” In a fit of ambition, I say, “Make that two dozen.”

I get my two dozen t-shirts and leave the store. It didn’t occur to me that two dozen t-shirts might be heavy. I lumber down the stairs to the subway, looking perhaps a little too much like a homeless person. Standing on the platform, I suddenly realize that I was waiting for a train going in the wrong direction. I lumber back up the stairs. I put the bag down for a moment. Boy, two dozen t-shirts are heavy.

Finally, I make it home with my screen printing materials and my t-shirts, still, remarkably, convinced that this is a brilliant idea. Normally, at this point I get tuckered out and start coming back to reality. No! I’m still fired up. But it’s well past lunchtime and I’m also hungry.

I head out to get what I thought would be a quick bite, but it took much longer than I expected. Then I got some coffee filters, coffee, peanuts and was ready to work for the evening.

I was about to set to work, but then I thought it might be a good idea to view some YouTube videos on how to do it first. That was the smartest move I made all day because I suddenly realized, I really didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing.

I spread the photo sensitive emulsion on the screen. Now this needs to dry in the dark. So, I put some newspaper down on the floor of my bedroom and some overturned glasses on which to prop up the screen. Carrying the wet screen involved tripping over all my dirty laundry in the dark. I banged my toe on a tripod I had lying on the floor from last week’s project. Somehow, I managed to get the screen on top of the upside down glasses and leave the darkened room without breaking anything or injuring myself.

Did I mention that I didn’t start out with my apartment tidy that morning? Nothing shocking, but imagine last Sunday’s paper on the coffee table, on top of the Sunday paper from two weeks ago, the Christmas decorations which may very well stay there until next Christmas. (Hey! It’s not as if Christmas won’t come around again eventually. I’ll be ready.)

So I clear off the table, meaning the Sunday papers are now at my feet on the floor, and I get out some drawing paper, pencils, markers and other implements of destruction. So, the YouTube videos say that you need to paint the design in opaque black ink on clear acetate. By luck, I have some clear acetate sitting in a drawer for some project I did about a decade ago. Now, opaque ink… oh, okay. I know I don’t have the item they’re recommending, but I’m sure somewhere in the big mess of art supplies I have something that will work. The first bottle of ink I open is dried out. Unsurprising – since I probably had it for nearly twenty years. I find a bottle of ink for Rapidograph pens that’s been kicking around for over a decade. Luck was with me; it was still good.

A brush. Now, where did I put my nice sable brushes that I used to use for pen and ink drawings, which obviously I haven’t done in a little bit longer than I thought.

Things are really going swell now. I have all my materials. The Rapidograph ink is flowing nicely onto the acetate and it appears to be nice and opaque. It’s not even midnight.

Next thing, I need to expose the screen using a really, really bright light. Somewhere, among all my photography supplies, I actually have some photographers’ lamps and a 200 watt bulb. Fortune is truly smiling down on me tonight. I clear the table, essentially just tossing all the dirty dishes into the sink. No time for dishes tonight. I’m on a creative high!

Now, I’m missing one item, a piece of glass or plexiglass. What you need to do is lay the acetate with the design painted on it and expose it to the light. Putting a piece of glass on it keeps the acetate close against the screen and makes for a better impression. Well, I lay the acetate down on the screen, turn on the light and keep my fingers crossed.

Next thing, you’re supposed to rinse the screen with water in the sink using… that little hose sprayer thing that most people have next to the faucet… but I don’t. Damn, what was the likelihood that I’d have acetate in my drawer, but now I’m going to get hung up because I don’t have a little sprayer thing. I take the dishes out of the sink and pile them up on top of the stove. I run the water over the screen. It’s not working. I need a little more force.

I go to the bathroom and hold it under the shower. This works really well, but now I’m soaking wet. I leave the screen to dry off and go change my clothes.

One thirty in the morning… things are going great, but I’m getting a little tired.

Realizing that two dozen shirts were really too heavy, I print only a dozen. Then I do a few extras.

The result is not the most professional it could be. Some parts of the design didn’t come out because the acetate wasn’t flat enough against the screen when it was exposed to the light. On a couple of the items I got some ink-stained finger prints. I try to console myself with the thought that I wasn’t trying to make the world’s greatest t-shirt.


I wash off the screen and anything else that would dry up overnight and I manage to get in bed by four am.

This morning, I woke up and made myself coffee. I went to the internet to double-check the time and place of the demonstration. It… it… was yesterday.

So, now, I’m sitting here with a dozen t-shirts and a great big mess.

If anyone wants a t-shirt, let me know.

  1. I want a T-Shirt.
    But at least you managed to print them

    • fojap said:

      Shall I mail it to you, or would you like to come pick it up? 🙂

      Send me your mailing address, but type it exactly the way it should appear so I don’t muck it up.

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