I have a confession to make. I have a love-hate relationship with monotype.
I create monotypes (one-of-a-kind prints) by painting on a blank sheet of plexiglass and transferring the image to paper using an etching press.
Usually I think about the image for days or weeks before I start the process. I do composition sketches – small black and white thumbnail sketches – to get a feeling for the layout and movement of the composition
When I am satisfied with the general composition, I may take a sketchpad or a sheet of butcher paper and do a rough sketch of the composition in full size. This can be laid on the table under the plexiglass as a rough guide for the development of the composition in oil paint.
If I want a solid field of color as for a cloudless sky, I mix the color and apply it to the plate with a roller.
I use rags and rubber “color shaper” or “clay shaper” tools to remove color and create the line between color areas, or pick out highlights or linear patterns.
I use damp rag or paper towel to lift some of the color, making it more transparent or creating texture or pattern. When the plate is printed, any part of the plate that is not covered in paint will appear stark white, since the paper will be untouched by paint.
I try to mix the major colors before I begin, in sufficient quantity to complete the monotype. I do some color mixing on the palette as I work but I want to have the main colors mixed in advance with the appropriate amounts of extenders and retarders because those need to be mixed more by measure than by sight. It can be very difficult to estimate the transparency of the paint or it’s drying time if mixing “on the fly”!
The retarder is particularly important, I have learned to my chagrin. When I make a monotype, I need to complete the print in 4-6 hours – depending on the heat and humidity. If I work too long, it is likely that the paper will stick to the plate, instead of the paint transferring to the paper. Sometimes this occurs in just a small area, tearing a hole right through the image. Quite a disappointment after working on the print all day! This is when I “hate” monotype!
“Big Sur”, pictured at right, was just such a disappointment on the first and second attempts. Third time was the charm for this monotype!
I develop the image, using water to thin the color and even sometimes pool water on the surface of the plate and drop color into it. Because the plate will be rolled through an etching press to transfer the image onto paper, it is necessary to let the pooled water dry before printing! The application of paint must be thin enough that it does not “squirt” or blot when rolling through the press. It takes a little practice to get the right film of paint to achieve the color density desired, without causing the paint to run.
When the monotype works well, it is a magical feeling. No matter how many monotypes I do, I cannot predict exactly what it will look like once it transfers to paper. I can get an approximation of the final result by lifting the plexiglass plate, and turning it over to look through it to the white table, or at the skylight. Neither of these views gives a perfect idea of the final print. I don’t know the outcome until the paper and plate have been rolled through the press, the blankets are thrown back, and I peel the paper from the plate. This is the magic moment! This is when I love montoype!