Monotype “printing” has long fascinated me. Recently, I started experimenting with the process using textile paints and acrylics on fabric, various stabilizers, and unusual papers.
Going back many years to the remnants of an art appreciation course, I remembered the name but was unsure of the technique and what the final piece would look like. Then, we visited the Tara Museum in Chicago where there are several Maurice Prendergast Monoprints. I was in love! To me, the images captured my attention and imagination with the spontaneity and the flow. Little did I know that art historians use similar terms to describe the success of the method.
Researching this topic, I came up with the following history. Before throwing out some “what ifs…,” I found the following excerpts which tell the tale more succinctly than I would have. (And why reinvent the wheel, so to speak.)
First, some definitions:
According to what I learned, a monoprint is a halfway stage between painting and printmaking. Color, in some medium such as watercolor paints in my case, is applied to a non-porus surface. Paper is placed atop the surface. A brayer, could be a spoon, your hand, a tall glass, whatever, goes over the back of the paper and voila! there’s an interesting image on the front of the paper. Usually, only one detailed image can be captured. (Hence the name monoprint.)
The Original Print Gallery (Dublin Ireland) says, “The process is simple: the artist paints, rubs, or wipes the design directly onto a plate, using a fairly slow drying paint or ink. The image must be printed before the ink dries. Printing may be by press or by hand, and as the name monotype implies, one can usually get only one strong impression. The effect must be guessed right from the start; there will be no trial proofs or different states unless the design is redrawn for a second impression. This term is used to refer to any print made in one version and incapable of being repeated. A monoprint cannot be editioned.”
Second, this brief history – courtesy of monoprints.com
Most early singular prints were monoprints, rather than monotypes. An early Dutch landscape artist, Hercules Seghers (1589 -1638) experimented with monoprints, but Benedetto Castiglione (1616-1670) … “is believed to have created the first monotype by applying a heavy film of black or brown ink onto an etching plate, drawing his white lines with a blunt stick. To create tonal areas he used his fingers, rugs and brushes. The plate was then printed using a press, just like we do today.”
It was more 150 years before William Blake started making use of monotypes as a medium. He became “one of the most important artists to work with monotypes. He painted with egg tempera onto millboard which rendered a textural and granular quality of the prints which were sometimes retouched with pen and brush.”
Blake was alone in his use of monotypes and it wasn’t until the impressionists (circa 1860) came along that “creative use of inking” and “experimental wiping” became popular among artists.
“Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) … develop[ed] his own unique technique called trace monotype. His method consists of inking a sheet of paper, laying another sheet over it, and drawing on the fresh paper which received the ink in a linear manner.
“Maurice Prendergast (1859-1924) … described his way of making monotypes …
‘Paint on copper in oils, wiping parts to be white. When picture suits you, place on it Japanese paper and either press in a press or rub with a spoon till it pleases you. Sometimes the second or third plate is the best.’
“The writer Van Wyck Brooks related an account of Prendergast’s procedure, told to him by the artist’s brother, Charles: ‘He could not afford a regular press and his quarters in Huntington Avenue were so cramped that he had no room for a work-bench. So he made his monotypes on the floor, using a large spoon to rub the back of the paper against the plate and thus transfer the paint from the plate to the paper. As he rubbed with the spoon, he would grow more and more excited, lifting up the paper at one of the corners to see what effect the paint was making. The clattering of the big spoon made a great noise on the floor; and soon he and Charles would hear the sound of a broomstick, pounding on the ceiling below. That meant the end of the day’s work.'”
Pierre Bonnard, Pablo Picasso, Degas (check out the backgrounds on his ballerinas), Chagall, Miro, Dubuffet, Matisse, Paul Klee, and many others produced hundreds of monotypes.
“The beauty of the monotype medium is its spontaneity and its combination of printmaking, painting, and drawing mediums.”
It amazes me to realize that many of these famous works started with such a simple technique.
Today, we who are textile or fabric or quilt artists are adapting the technique from paper to fabric. An easy example to view is in the latest issue of Quilting Arts Magazine (April/May 2007, Issue 26) pg. 51. Frances Holliday Alford’s “Monoprint 2.” Look beyond the black quilting lines to see the array of colors and the texture produced through monoprinting. What fun!
Here are a couple of Alford’s monoprints. This first one is a work in progress. As Alford says, “a monoprint on fabric which has not been overpainted, quilted, or otherwise altered.”
Her second is finished:
Alford continued, “This piece was made using a mono print gelatin plate. I used paints and
markers to further embellish the surface. The use of free motion machine
quilting gives the piece the extra life developed by multiple colors of thread and
the quilted texture itself. Maybe I should call it Lab Specimen.”
That brings me to the “what ifs.” I dabble on a 2’x3’ piece of Plexiglas. My “what ifs” begin with cotton (colored and white), silks, unusual papers, stabilizers of various sorts, including fusible. What if… I use screening atop the glas, apply medium and then print from both the screen and the colors remaining on the Plexiglas? What if… I apply another water-soluble media? What if… I attempt a second image on a more sheer fabric or paper? Once I start, however, there’s no end in sight. I just grab whatever’s handy and keep at it. Yes, my reactions are akin to those of Prendergast picking up those corners.
I’d love to see the results of other’s attempts at this very simple technique. Do you have some “what ifs?”