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Creating a Monotype
Today I thought we would explore the creation of a monotype. I have a great deal of fun with this art form. So I thought I would show you my process.
But first, let’s have a bit of background.
A monotype is a unique art form combining elements of painting and print making. Ink or paint is applied to a flat surface, referred to as a “plate”, and then transferred to paper through pressure, either by using a printing press or by rubbing and pressing the paper into the plate. The resulting art work is the mirror image of what had been on the plate.
People often ask why I don’t work directly on the paper. Why go through the awkward and indirect process? And the answer is that the process allows development of effects not possible by working directly.
The first known artist to create monotypes was Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, an Italian printmaker. He worked in the mid 1600s and worked in what is known as the subtractive manner. This is the way I work for the most part. He would apply ink to a metal plate and the wipe it way with rags or other tools such as brushes, leaving an image on the plate. This was then transferred to paper by the use of a press. More recently, artists like Degas, Gauguin and Matisse experimented with monotype.
Rembrandt van Rijn used monotype techniques, such as selectively wiping away areas of ink, in some of his etchings. This resulted in unique one-of-a-kind artworks known as monoprints. The difference between a monotype and a monoprint is that, in the former, the plate used is smooth and each artwork created using it is totally unique. In the latter, the plate has some incised areas, like an engraving or an etching, which will reproduce the same in each artwork created. The resulting artwork may be unique because of the monotype techniques incorporated into it but some element of the composition will be identical in each work created.
Clicking on the photographs will enlarge them.
To the studio
First, the artist needs a place to work. This is my former studio. The workbench has drawers for holding drawings, completed artworks, prints, whatever. You can see my easel, with a painting in progress, some completed watercolors framed on the wall, a trash can in the foreground; all the elements of home.
In another part of the room is an etching press, which is used in the printing process. When the large wheel is turned, the bed of the press passes under a large roller. The distance or gap between the bed and the roller can be adjusted to create a uniform pressure. Anything that is between the bed of the press and the roller is mashed firmly together as it passes under the roller. I apologize that the roller is not clear in this picture. The felt blankets in the middle of the press are obscuring it..
You will also notice paper stacked under the press. I use this in making monotypes, lithographs and woodprints. To the side of the photo you can see part of the drying rack. Once a monotype is complete it is put in the rack to dry.
So let us get started. Here you see brayers used to roll ink onto the plate. To the right is a glass palette. In the boxes are various inks.
And, there is the plate. I use clear plexiglass because it allows me to draw a design on what becomes the underside of the plate. This is important because I use multiple passes through the press, each time applying different colors, to develop my composition. Not all artists do this. Some work directly on the plate in a painterly manner and produce an image with one pass through the press. But that is not normally my process.
First, I develop a plan or design on the plate. Above you can see the start of the design, a drawing in grease pencil.
And here is the completed design. This will be a still life of two fish on a platter set on a table.
As a first step in the printing process, Ink is rolled onto the plate using the brayer. This gives an even coating. In this work I put an extender in the ink to allow the ink film to be thin and transparent.
Using rags, q-tips or alcohol wipes I clean away the sections of the design where I do not want the color to appear. This is known as the subtractive method of working.
Next, using a brush, I add highlights of color to the composition in specific areas. The plate is now ready to be printed.
It is placed face up on the bed of the press. You will notice two built-up lines of tape on the bed of the press. These are registration guides. The plate is placed squarely in the inside guide.
Paper is laid over the plate, being careful to squarely align it in the outside guide. Using the registration guides assures that, in subsequent passes through the press, the plate and paper will be correctly aligned.
The felt blankets you saw in the first picture of the press are laid over the paper. The wheel on the side of the press is turned, moving the bed with the plate-paper-blanket sandwich under pressure under the roller. The pressure mashes the paper down on the plate and a mirror image of the plate is transferred to the paper.
Now you see the image after the first run through the press.
Now, we prepare for the second pass through the press. First, the residue of ink from the first pass is cleaned from the plate. Our design which is on the under side of the plate is clear to guide us. Next, a new layer of color is rolled onto the plate and then wiped away where it is not wanted.
The plate is placed back in the guide on the press and the paper is laid in place over it and the printing process is repeated.
Now we have a more complete, but still not fully developed, image.
Again we clean the plate and rework our design. At this stage the ink is applied by brush. We want it to be irregular and expressive. This is the stage that pulls the composition together.
For a third time we go through the printing process and when complete we have our monotype: Still Life on an Ochre Table.
So there you have it. Monotype is expressive and fun. And, it is not necessary to have a professional press. Monotypes can be created by rubbing the paper onto the plate using a baren or large wooden spoon. Barens can be found at any good art supply store. You might want to give it a try.
The following are other examples of my monotypes
More to come
- Kissemmee, if you dare (tomtribby.wordpress.com)