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Make Some Prints

October 10, 2011

Edgar Degas "Dancers" (c.1880-1885) - Pastel over monotype on paper

If you’ve ever had a chance to make some prints with a proper printing-press, if you’ve smelt the strong smell of the printers paint lingering in a messy artist’s room, you should understand my desire to experience this once again. The problem is at the moment I don’t know anyone who actually owns a proper printing-press… So while looking at some possible assignments for a Decor-Art Online Creativity Course (this will be announced later on this month) I came across monotypes or the homemade prints.

By the way, did you know that even Edgar Degas (1834 – 1917) and Camille Pissarro (1830 – 1903) produced monotypes or the “printed drawings” as they were called those days? That’s a good enough reason to try them out, isn’t it? So if the colder weather has given you more time for your hobbies, executed indoors, read on!

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A bit of theory. Monotyping is a type of printmaking made by drawing or painting on a smooth, non-absorbent surface (spontaneously executed and with no previous sketch). The surface, or matrix, was historically a copper etching plate, but in contemporary work it can vary from zinc or glass to acrylic glass. The image is then transferred onto a sheet of paper by pressing the two together, usually using a printing-press.

Monotypes can also be created by inking an entire surface and then, using brushes or rags, removing ink to create a subtractive image, e.g.  creating lights from a field of opaque colour. The inks used may be oil based or water based. With oil based inks, the paper may be dry, in which case the image has more contrast, or the paper may be damp, in which case the image has a 10 percent greater range of tones.

Monotyping produces a unique print, or monotype; most of the ink is removed during the initial pressing. Although subsequent reprintings are sometimes possible, they differ greatly from the first print and are generally considered inferior. A second print from the original plate is called a “ghost print” or “cognate”. Stencils, watercolor, solvents, brushes, and other tools are often used to embellish a monotype print.

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Does it sound too scientific? Trust me, it’s not. All you need for your first attempt is a sheet of glass (or some other smooth, nonabsorbent surface that would be easy to clean after the whole printing process), brushes or palette knives, oil paints and some turpentine to thin them.

Ready for printing. The cockrel had been painted on a piece of glass using a palette knife. (Decor-Art, 2011)

If you’ve read the theory part you already know that your painting should be executed spontaneously and with no previous sketch. Be creative! Once you’ve decided on the subject, work fast. (By the way, if you are using acrylics instead of oils, work even faster – acrylics dry out much quicker. So if you wondered – yes, it is possible for your monotype to paint with acrylics, but for thinning use water.)

When you are happy with the result, put a piece of paper over your painting and press it hard with your hands. You can even do some “smoothing” motions over the top – the harder you press, the better the colours will be transferred onto your paper. I hope you will be happy with the result! (If you used oils make sure you put your monotype somewhere safe to dry – this paint isn’t so easy to remove and the drying process might take a few days.)

The framed monotype. Looks like a proper print, doesn't it? (Decor-Art, 2011)

If you’ve tried this technique and are satisfied with the result it’s time to start experimenting. Remember the theory part? Use different paints or inks, tools for painting or removing paint, dry or wet paper or even draw/paint over the monotype that has dried. As one of my teachers used to say – the sky is the limit!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. October 10, 2011 11:20 am

    I love monotype and did a lot on my art foundation, this is a good reminder to give it another go. I remember it was quite addictive, because of the spontaneity you can produce a lot of work in a short space of time. Good inspirational post.

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