Cycleback's 'Pack Secrets'
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monotypes by Edgar Degas (left) and Catherine Tuttle
A monotype is not a print in the traditional sense, and does not require technical printing skill. It is sort of a cross between painting and printing, and is used exclusively in the fine arts. The monotype is made from a single flat/smooth printing plate. On the printing plate, the artist draws or paints a design in ink or paint. The ink can be applied in a wide and wild variety of ways, including painting it on with a brush, rolling it on with a roller and drawing in. While the ink or paint is still wet, a piece of paper is place on top of it and pressure applied, either with a printing press or by hand.
The process is meant to produce a single print, but there is sometimes enough damp ink left on the plate surface to make a second, weaker, impression. This second impression is often called a ‘ghost.’ To add more colors, designs and textures, the monotype might go through several different prints from the same plate. As a result, some monotypes are sparse, while others are dense with colors and texture.
Monotypes date to the 1600s. Amongst the most famous practitioners were Edgar Degas and the poet William Blake.
There is wide variety of techniques and styles used in making monotypes. This brief article will show a few common techniques.
Step 1) Get a flat and smooth printing plate, such as a sheet of Plexiglas, metal or varnished wood. If you have to you can use cardboard or a rougher board, but the ink will not print as smoothly (which may be an effect you desire).
Step 2) Apply printer’s ink to the printer’s plate. A roller will make the ink smoother, though you can use a brush if you wish. In the pictures, two color inks were used, but you can use as many or as few colors as you wish. You can use paint instead of ink, but paint often dries quickly, which may be a problem if you are slow in creating your design.
two colors of ink rolled onto the plate
Step 3) Make your design into the ink. If you print before making a design, it will print as a solid ink. Anything you do to the ink now will make a mark in the solid printed ink. The simplest way to make a picture is to draw with the blunt end of a brush or a pencil erasure. What is drawn will appear as white, and in reverse, in the final print. You can also use a brush or paper towel to remove ink for different effects. In the pictures, the artist cut shapes out of paper (a boat and a cloud) and placed them on the ink. The cloud had ink painted to it, to create a different effect. If you want straight borders to your print, you can put tape in a straight line on the edges. You can also make designs in the ink with tape, such as spelling your name.
inked printing plate with designs drawn into ink and cutout stencils of boat and cloud.
Step 4) Place a piece of paper on top of the ink and apply pressure to the paper. You can apply pressure in a variety of ways, including running your hand or a large spoon over the paper. Make sure to rub all over, so you don’t miss a spot. Remove the paper, by slowly pulling from one corner. If you try to lift the paper all at once, it might smudge. Congratulations, you have made your first monotype.
Step 5) To make your second, ‘ghost’ print reprint step 4 with a second piece of paper. You will probably find that this second print is lighter. You may find that you like the ghost better than the first print.
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