Have you ever heard of, made, or seen a monotype print? Maybe you are an expert; maybe you have absolutely no idea what it is; or, maybe you have heard of it, but never made one. Well, wherever you fall on that spectrum, I can guarantee that you have at least seen one, even unknowingly.
Before Tuesday, Oct. 11, I fell into the second category. I had some experience in printmaking and heard the term “monotype” before; however, I never had the materials or opportunity to actually make a print.
But thanks to Lena Rodriguez and Student Art League, I finally had the chance to learn the process, create and bring home my own monotype print.
Student Art League, a student run club focused on bringing art to the UNCG community, organizes various workshops each semester. During each workshop, a member of Student Art League invites students to participate in learning and experimenting with a particular artistic medium. The leader of the workshop is usually an expert in their field, willing to share it with other curious students.
For this workshop, Rodriguez, a drawing and printmaking major, introduced monotype printing. Although not the most well-known form of printmaking, monotype has been used by numerous artists, and even famous painters, like Edgar Degas and Camille Pissarro.
The most basic definition of monotype printing is: “A transfer of ink from a plate to paper”.
Further, the process is divided into four main steps: soaking the paper in a bath, mixing the ink, painting the plate and running the plate through the press.
After a quick, impromptu demonstration by Rodriguez, it was our opportunity to create our own prints.
Before the beginning of the demo, we each grabbed a piece of paper and placed it into a plastic tub. Filled with water, the tub served as a bath to soak the paper.
The paper must soak in water before running it through the press. By having the paper damp and softer, it will be able to concave more into the plate when ran through the printing press. Therefore, the paper will be able to pick up more subtle lines and marks drawing onto the plate.
After placing the paper into the bath to soak, it was time to mix the ink.
It is not recommended to the work from the tube to plate. Rather, you should mix your ink on another surface; then, apply it to the plate itself.
In order to allow the ink to spread more easily, oil is added. Then, by rolling over the ink with a tiny roller, the oil and ink is mixed.
When the ink is ready, it is time for the experimental part: drawing on the plate.
The plate is a flat, thin piece of zinc. In other cases, a plate can be Plexiglas, or another kind of metal. Any part of the plate that is not inked will be the color of the paper when placed through the printing press.
The first method, subtraction, was demonstrated by Rodriguez. Basically, a layer of ink is rolled onto the plate. Then, using fingers, paper towels, cotton swabs, rags, tools or any other material, ink is wiped away from the plate, leaving the plate clean in some areas.
The fun, experiential aspect of this is that, each different material creates a different texture on the plate. It is also a very forgiving process, in that if you mess up, you can just cover it with more ink.
The forgiving nature of this process is not common in most printmaking techniques. In other types, if you mess up or smudge the piece at all, the project is ruined. In monotype, it is not even a concern.
Another form of applying the ink that I noticed some people experimenting with, is a more additive process. This process, is basically drawing or smudging the ink on a blank plate, versus subtracting it. Both, I noticed, had interesting results.
When doing this, I automatically thought of a sheep in that I figured that the texture of a sheep’s wool would be fun to make with the subtractive technique. So, I constructed a friendly looking sheep on my plate.
The next and final step, is running the plate and paper through the printing press.
After dabbing soaked paper, it is placed over the inked plate. A layer of newsprint paper is placed over to protect excess ink from getting on the press. Blankets are placed over to allow some safety.
Then, the press is cranked by hand.
Once fully pressed, the blankets and newsprints were removed. After the paper was removed from the plate, there is the image. And in my case, a sheep!
The workshop was a fun, informal and lighthearted way to experiment with monotype printmaking. It was definitely fun for all involved, not just the artists. Rodriguez said that future art workshops were to come later in the semester.