For monotype printing the design is made with ink on the printing plate leaving the printing plate unmarked. This can be achieved by inking a plate and making marks by removing paint to achieve lights (unless when printing with a light colour on dark paper of course). Depending on tool and pressure variations the marks become more or less light and more or less sharp (subtractive or “dark field” process). The opposite of this is the “light field” process where ink is added to a clean plate with a brush, cloth etc. Other techniques involve drawing on the back of a paper (verso) lying on an inked plate, where the pressure produces marks on the front (recto) side of the paper as the print (traced monotype), or by blocking out parts of the inked plate with objects or stencils. These techniques can of course be combined with each other or with other drawing techniques, either prior to or after printing. Common to all is the fact that there are no permanent marks on the plate and each print therefore is unique. Ghosts can be drawn – second or even third prints from the same plate – but they tend to have a very different character compared to the first draw. Hence the mono in the name.
This kind of print making can seem like an unnecessary detour. Why not make a drawing if there only will be one print anyway? Sherry Camhy from Drawing puts it like this:
Because prints have an aesthetic quality all their own and because there is something quite special that results from the process of printmaking itself. There is a balance between control and accident that inspires new techniques, new visual ideas and the courage to pursue them. Printmaking is freeing. (Camhy, S. 2017)
Monoprint, sometimes used for monotype, refers to a print making technique where parts of the design are permanent marks in the printing plate. The design is then varied by also marking the ink on the plate. This results in a series of related but distinct works. Rembrandt (1606-1669) for instance has used this to add areas of tone to his etchings.
I suspect monotyping to be deceptively simple, one of those techniques that only become more and more intricate the closer one studies them. Image googling produced a wide range of printing styles from coarse, expressive pictures with a sombre quality to finely detailed, drawing like prints with playing light, some monochrome, some multicoloured.
Giovanni Benedetto Castilglione (1609-1664) was the first to use monotype. He invented the dark field process where he inked a copper plate in a dark tone and then removed paint to achieve lights.
Compared to his etchings, the monoprints have a softer quality, they seem like paintings. David with the Head of Goliath (ca. 1655, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC) is very detailed with a wide range of tones. The darkest darks in Goliath’s head seem to be painted with a brush. I wonder if he did this onto the printing plate or afterwards onto the the print.
Noah’s animals has a more expressive quality with only a few tones that make the lights more marked. The hard contrast between the sharp lights and the soft shadows very much stresses the thunderstorm in this scene. I like this very much! Castiglione has captured the animals with only a few lines. I especially like the horse shaking his head in the rain.
Paul Gaugin (1848-1903) made traced monotypes which he referred to as “printed drawings”, producing a drawing on the verso and a print on the recto side of the paper. The lines of the print seem to be quite uniform showing only little variation in thickness and tone. On the other hand the paper touching the printing plate picks up pigment in unexpected places, more where the drawing hand has touched the paper, less where only the weight of the paper transferred the ink. This gives these prints an accidental quality the drawing is lacking.
Edgar Degas (1834-1917) was introduced to monotype in the 1870ies and was captivated by its possibilities. It was a new medium/technique very well suited to expressing a new time. Degas could develop a much more gestural and experimental style to render movement (landscapes seen from a train, faces passing in the street) and new phenomenons like factory smoke or electrical light. He worked in dark field, light field and a combination of the two, often drawing ghosts and enhancing them with pastel. In his later prints he used oil paint rather than printing ink which allowed for colour. These works, especially the landscapes are very experimental, abstract and radical for his time. The freedom of monotyping had a strong influence on his other works, especially concerning the mark making.
For a selection of contemporary artists I used the not very scientific method of image googling and picking works that struck a chord. So this selection is neither representative nor exhaustive. Rather it tries to narrow down an open field of possibilities to what I like and to give an idea about where I would like to go with my own work.
Janet Mary Robinson is a British artist and natural history illustrator. Although I am especially taken by her mixed media pieces and watercolour landscapes I also like this carp.
It is a simple monotype but shows a range of different marks, crisp ones and soft ones, that give volume and interest to the fish. Also it shows clearly that this technique is sensitive to precedence of line. I think the artist used this to great effect. I also like the velvety quality of the background.
Kathrine Hagstrum is an American artist specialising in monotype. She makes coloured prints in atmospheric tones by using inks of different viscosity. Runnier ones will stick to dryer ones, she says. I would like to learn more about this technique. Does it involve several printings on top of each other or are the pictures achieved by one pull, like from a “Gelli-Plate”?
David Maddrell, a British artist, makes fantastic prints of forests and water with intricate detail in black and white. Although many of his prints contain a lot of black, it is the bright light that catches my eye. They make me think of cool shadow on a hot summer’s day rather than sombre darkness like in many of the other prints I saw on google. In some of the prints he made splashes of some sort. It looks as if he splashed on something that repels the ink on the plate. I would like to know how this is done!
In P.C. Lawson‘s prints I like the way she uses colour in the background, both the colour as such and as an abstract contrast to the more realistic depiction of the animals. It mimics the colour of the surroundings, but is in itself not representative. I can also relate to what she says about monotyping – it sounds exciting!
I use this printmaking technique because everything about it is dynamic and breathes life into an image. The painting tools are unlimited: rollers, fingers, rags, brushes, Q-tips etc., each with a unique gestural quality. They can add paint, or lift it, create subtle light or brilliant whites. The process is fluid, moving back and forth between application and removal of color, adding to the liveliness of the image. (P.C Lawson)
(where not linked to in the text)
- Camhy, S. (2017, Winter) Painterly Prints: Monotype and Monoprint. Drawing 14(52), 20-25