Friday, June 15, 2012

Painterly Printing

I was introduced to the monotype printing method at the Salmagundi Club's recurring Monotype Parties which are hosted by Master Printmaker Robert Pillsbury.  The monotype (or "monoprint") technique creates a single, unique print and allows a very painterly approach to printmaking.  Ink is rolled onto a metal plate and then wiped away by using the "subtractive" method that is identical to creating an "open grisaille" or "wipeout" underpainting.  In the subtractive method, the plate (usually copper but can be plexiglass for tracing a drawing)  is covered with ink and the lights are "rubbed out" with a variety of brushes, styluses and other mark-making tools.

When the print is pulled on wet paper, the result is Tonalism at its best: smoky, atmospheric, and moody with loose, expressive edges. This style was exemplified in the 19th century by painters like Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, George Inness, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler.

"East Hampton Beach Path No. 1",  2012.
Monotype Print, 6x9 inches, by Thomas Shelford

Monotype printmaking tips:

  • Create a medium-value  "ground by covering the plate with a  "mid-tone" using a soft rag.  Soften the ground tone into a cloudy, smoky haze by brushing it with a soft makeup brush such as the type that is used to apply blush.
  • Work into the ground tone both additively (by adding ink) and subtractively (by scraping away ink).  
  • Work soft-to-hard by beginning the drawing with a broad, soft, hazy application, (for example, by using Q-Tips to loosely "draw" the light areas)  and then gradually hardening selected edges at the center of interest as the drawing progresses. 
  • Use two types of ink, sepia and cold black, and mix them together to create a rich color with a unique warm-cool balance that is to your liking. 
  • Use a very diverse combination of drawing tools to obtain a wide variety of surface effects and a "layered" feeling.  Makeup Q-Tips, makeup brushes of all types,  bristle brushes, wooden chopsticks and toothpicks leave unique marks.  

Charles Brand Printing Press
Tools of the Trade

A great place to learn and practice monotype printmaking is The Lower East Side Print Shop which offers residencies to working artists, providing 24x7 access to their facilities which include a Charles Brand press.  I recently completed a residency at LESPS and exhibited the results, a series of monotype landscapes, with Grenning Gallery in Sag Harbor.

Lastly, here is a recommended book for learning about the history of monotype printmaking:

The Painterly Print: Monotypes from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century, by Sue Welsh Reed.