Every print is unique, hence the mono – there is only one of each print made. Several prints can be pulled from a plate but each will be different. The first print is usually the clearest but second and third prints can also have interesting results.
There are two main methods for monoprinting, additive and subtractive.
Additive – Add paint to the plate surface before printing.
Subtractive – Cover plate with paint and then remove before printing.
For either of these methods paint or ink could be added by using standard tools such as paintbrushes or spatulas or handmade tools such as cut pieces of card or found objects. Items, such as bubble wrap, can also be pressed in to the inked plate surface and the resulting texture printed.
Direct monoprinting requires paint to be applied on to the plate surface and the print then taken.
Reverse monoprinting requires paper to be laid over and inked plate. The back of the paper is then draw on to and ink from the plate below transfers on to the paper. Alongside the intentional marks made on the paper with this printing method there are often some unintentional marks also. These can add to the print or might overwhelm the drawn lines made.
Stencils or masks can be places on the inked surface to prevent ink or paint from transferring to the paper used to print with.
Ink up plate and place ink side up on a sturdy table. Place paper on top of the inked plate and rub across the back of the paper. Hold a corner of the paper away from the section being smoothed on to the plate to ensure the paper doesn’t move and give a fuzzy print. Tools are available to print in this way but the back of a spoon or the heel of the hand can also be used.
I suppose any type of paper could be used to print with however thin surfaces might not retain large volumes of ink without tearing or buckling. Also textured papers may leave an imprint of their texture on the inked surface that may be picked up by any print taken afterwards.
Water-based ink or paint can be used for monoprinting. These are easy to clean up and, in most cases, dry quickly.
Plates can be almost anything that has a smooth surface. Perspex or glass work well. Make sure these have smooth edges so that they don’t slice through the paper when printing.
Gelli plates (www.gelliarts.com) are synthetic printing plates made of mineral oil. They are meant to mimic the surface of plates previously made from gelatin. They can only be used with acrylic paints or ink. They must be stored flat and in a cool place so that the surface of the plate doesn’t buckle when not in use.
Materials or objects can be fixed to a support – card or mountboard for example – this is then inked and can be printed from. Items used should be relatively flat if possible. Only the surface of the item will print when inked up. If combining several types of material different heights of materials might not print when placed next to each other.
Another method of producing plates requires polyfilla to be applied in an even layer and then drawn in to or press items in to the surface to give texture. This can then be inked and printed once dried and sealed, such as with spray varnish or PVA glue.
Mountboard can be used to produce collatype plates too. This thick card had a paper surface that can be carefully cut into and peeled away exposing a fibrous layer inside the card. When inked the two layers retain different amounts of ink giving two different tones when printed. Sticky back plastic may also be used to give a lighter tone area or sand added to give a darker tone area.
Collatypes can be printed using a relief method, where ink is rolled on to the surface of the plate and sits on the highest parts. Or can be printed intaglio where the ink is forced in to the surface texture and then damp paper pushed in to the surface to retrieve the ink. Due to the nature of collatype plates it may be possible to apply two colours to the plate one on the surface and one into the surface. Several colours may also be added to the plate by rolling or wiping them on to distinct areas and printing all at once.
For collatype it should be remembered that the finer the surface texture the more ink will be retained and the darker it will print.
For both monoprinting and collatype it should be remembered that the image made on the final print will be the mirror image of the image on the plate used.
Also that the ink or paint used on the plate will be beginning to dry from the moment it is exposed to air. Work quickly to avoid the ink setting on the plate and being unprintable or the paper used sticking to the drying paint or ink.
While the print taken might be the final image for a printing project it is also possible to draw on to the image once it has dried.
If the print made isn’t quite as expected it need not be wasted. There may be sections of the print that have interesting marks that could be used or the following could be applied.
Over print – use ‘bad’ print as a background and print something else over the top.
Draw on to print surface – as above
Add more colour – fill any blank sections with some colour blocks
Cut out any good areas – there must be something good on the print? If so cut it out and use that. Apply one of these other rescue techniques to the remaining part of the print.
Cut up print and rearrange pieces – Perhaps rearranging the print would give more interest.
Artists – monoprint or collatype
There are many people credited with ‘inventing’ back-drawing or oil-transfer drawing and Gaugin was one of them. In 1899 he produced a series of works where by a sheet of paper was covered in oil paint and a second sheet of paper lay on top of the paint. This paper was then carefully drawn in to. When pulled away the oil paint had been transferred to the paper when marks had been made on the papers reverse.
The top layer of paper with the pencil drawing on its reverse was the final piece using this method, however a second print could be taken of the inked plate. This gave a positive and negative image of the same drawing.
Gaugin’s work is very delicate and contains accidental marks that seem to add to each piece. He also trialed this method using lighter materials such as pastel and watercolour. The pastel would be drawn on to a glass sheet and picked up by placing a damp watercolour on the top of the pastel. This gives a more diffuse print.
Degas looked at the method used in monoprinting and began experimenting with ways of applying and removing ink. He used the retroussage method whereby an inked plate was reused with a different colour on top to give a more rich print. He also trialed removing and adding ink in different way and with different materials such as rags and brushes
There is a very painterly quality to his work and as with Gaugin’s work some very delicate lines have been achieved such as in the monoprints taken from the studies made of dancers at the Ballet School. Their tutus have the immediate look of the net they are made from. This has been achieved by the material or tool used to scrape away the ink from the surface of the printing plate.
Another artist credited with inventing transfer drawing, but at least in this case his method was a little different. He painted a sheet of thin paper with oil paint and when dry to the touch would lay it on top of the paper he wished to print on to.
Due to the fragile nature of the painted paper a second sheet was laid on top on to which he could draw. A drawing was sometimes already on this top paper sheet so it would be traced through with a needle. This pushed the paint or ink on to the bottom layer of paper leaving an ink line.
This method is the first I have read where it specifies that the ink should be dry before drawing in to it. As a result there are less accidental marks left on the final prints and the images produced are much cleaner.
After producing these drawings Klee would add extra colour via gouache or watercolour, often targeting it to specific areas of the print.
The burr left by the needle when drawing is visible in the final print and give a much more interesting line than if it was completely uniform along its length. The watercolour washes give a good texture to the final print often delineating areas of each print to give more context.
Brenda Hartill uses collatype plates to print from. I particularly like the range of surface textures she uses in each piece. Some colour is added before printing and some afterwards. Many of her pieces are embossed or blind printed with no colour and then areas are highlighted by hand painting them.
If ink is used it is swept on to the plate using balled up fabric and directed to specific parts of the print.
I wasn’t sure if the images made by Ross were printed as single plates or if coloured backgrounds had been employed for large areas such as sky. Either way I was very taken with his bold approach where every layer appears to be made up of a different material, and often, colour. I also like the repetition of shapes in his work such as in a hillside full of houses or the layer of rock on a mountain side.
Rudling feels that even though a collotype can be used over and over again, in contrast to a direct drawing on to a surface that is then pulled as a monoprint, they should be considered monoprints as the paint or ink applied can be retained in different ways across the plate and that each print will essentially be different to the last.
I like this work due to the large amount of detail in each piece but also the slightly fuzzy print that is achieved in the final prints.
I found out about Suzie Mackenzie’s work while finding out more about using mountboard as a collatype plate. The mountboard method appears very simple but Mackenzie uses it with great detail to produce large landscape prints.
These highlight the use of plastic covered areas to add in light and shapes to her pieces. She also prints mostly in Prussian blue with additional sludgy brown and orange which I very much like. These are good examples of printing relief and intaglio at the same time.
Large areas or very dark areas appear to have been over-printed from a second plate or block in black ink.