What’s a Monotype?
A few posts back – the one about printmaking ink I accidentally left on a monotype plate for several weeks – I got a flurry of questions about monotypes. So let’s review, shall we? Monotypes are a printmaking method that don’t require carving, engraving, acid or solvents, and depending on your approach and materials, you don’t need a press to print them. Images are simply painted onto a smooth plate, and while the pigments are still wet, the plate is pressed firmly against a sheet of paper. When the paper is pulled from the plate, the inks and paints have been transferred to the paper, creating one print – in reverse of the original design on the plate – and that print is called a monotype. The mono in the root of the word refers to One. (NOTE: a Monoprint is different from a Monotype: if there’s a mark or texture in the plate that can be repeated, regardless of variations of ink application, that’s a monoprint.)
Before I started drawing on this plate, I sanded it (see the details below) and coated the surface the night before with a thin layer of Gum Arabic. To transfer the image from the reference photo to the plate, I used the grid method – drawing the grid with an ivory Caran D’ache water soluble crayon, and then laid the drawing in with a burnt sienna crayon from the same set.
Using a Drawing Bridge
My awesome step dad TC made me this drawing bridge, above. The bridge allows me to stabilize my forearm, without resting my hand on the plate and smudging the pigments. Both ‘feet’ of the bridge are covered with felt so they won’t damage the plate. (I also use this on larger graphite and charcoal drawings.) Before I purchased a press, I spent time using the presses in the Print Lab at College of the Canyons. The handy folks in charge there fabricated drawing bridges, and painted them bright yellow in an attempt to deter theft. By the end of the semester, there was only one yellow drawing bridge left. My step dad made a pile of new drawing bridges in various sizes, and sent them to the college. See what I mean about awesome? Lucky me. If you don’t have a woodworking person in close proximity to make you a handy drawing bridge, you can buy one online here. A mahl stick would also work, especially if you like your surface upright, rather than flat.
Preparing a Large Sheet of Plexiglass
Since so many folks have written to ask about how to prepare a plexiglass plate for watercolor monotypes, I’ve documented the process here so you can play along. (If you’re not much into process, and you’d prefer to scoot from here, let me beam you over to check out this cool list of art show aggregators.) In the photo above, I’m using an 18×24 Polycarbonate sheet (.080 inches, Optix brand – from Lowes).
No Accidental Scratches
The Polycarbonate sheet was secured to a table with my snazzy, red Bessey clamps (below). I laid a sheet of paper underneath the plate as a cushion, and another scrap of watercolor paper under each grip of the Bessey clamps to protect the plate surface. I used 320 grit sandpaper (with a respirator on – you don’t want to breathe this stuff) to sand the surface gently & evenly in a circular motion from edge to edge all over one side of the plate. This will give the plate a bit of tooth so it’ll hold pigment without so much beading up. (Watercolor gathers like little beads of mercury when you paint on a polycarbonate plate. The scuffed surface helps, but it’ll still bead a little bit unless you treat your plate beforehand with a thin coat of gum arabic.) By sanding one side of the plate, you’ll have the option of using a slippery side for oil paint or thick printmaking inks, and the opposite, more toothy side to use with your wandering pigments.
I have a trusty set of Besseys: 2″ x 4″ Wood Clamps. I use them to hold acrylic or metal plates firmly against a table – with a bit of overhang so I can use a metal rasp to file the edges of the plate into a nice bevel. (Bevels are a good thing – see below.)
Why Should You Bevel?
I made a short video about beveling acrylic and plexiglass plates, if you’d like a tutorial with moving visuals. You can watch it below.
The Right Tools
I use the rasp to file down the pointy corners on my acrylic printmaking plates. This helps to reduce the inadvertent poke in the ribs or scratch across the forearm when you’re handling the plate, and it makes a really nice plate impression on the four corners of your print.
Sand First, Bevel Second
After I finished sanding the entire surface of the polycarbonate plate, I used a medium to fine metal rasp, to file a forty five degree bevel on all four edges. When the angle felt right, I switched to 320 sandpaper wrapped around a block to smooth the grooves left by the rasp in the bevel so they won’t hold ink or paint during printing.
About that Animal Hair in the Art Studio
Here’s a little close up of the plate just before I printed (below). There’s always a risk of cat fur in my art supplies, and sometimes, it finds a way into my work. I pulled these little feline bonuses out before printing. (Scout is contentedly purring & yawning behind me as I type this.) I know a lot of artists who have a furry form of company in their studios, so this is not unusual. Making art full time can be a very isolating job. You might even forget how to talk to people. Listening to audiobooks (I’m listening to this one now) and getting encouragement to take frequent breaks to walk the dog or cuddle the cat is a very good addition to the creative process (if you like animals). But there’s fur. 😸
Embrace the Bevel
There are a couple of reasons for beveling a plate, and they’re kind of important to note here; If you’re printing on a press (especially a borrowed press), with layers of wool and felt blankets and a rubber pusher, the sharp right angle on the edge of your un-beveled plate under heavy pressure from the roller on the press will slice right through a full set of blankets during printing. 😱 That would be very bad. (Press blankets are expensive.)
In Praise of Margins
Another reason – the same chop, slice and dice from the un-beveled edge of your plate can go through your paper too. So, instead of a nice plate impression in your beautiful full sheet of BFK Rives, your print will be cut to the exact size of your plate, with no margins around your art. Not as crucial as the first scenario, but worth avoiding.
Safety in the Art Studio
The last reason (I promise) relates to cutting your hands. Whether you’re using metal or acrylic plates, you’ll handle the plate a lot. It’s in your hands during surface prep, inking, wiping, moving back and forth between the press and your work table, and cleaning after printing. It’s so much safer to bevel the sharp edge off the top of your plate. Don’t forget to also use a coarse sand block (see above) to scuff the bottom edge, because it can get razor sharp as the bevel sweeps to the base of that slope.
Printmaking Paper Soaking When you don’t have a Bathtub
As an aside, this (below) handy-dandy little item is another Lowes goody: an all purpose tub, which works very nicely for soaking paper before printing. (And it was $7.) Need to soak paper but someone’s in the bathtub? No worries, just grab your new Tough Tub! (Here’s an alternative.)
Making a Monotype for the First Time
What do you think you’ll make for your first monotype? Look at videos on youtube (here is a playlist of monotype tutorials) to get better acquainted with all the ways you can make a monotype from the kitchen counter. Keep your first designs small-ish and simple to start. Expand your size and complexity as you get cozy with the process.
Let us know where we can see your work with a link in the comments. We’ll come visit and cheer you on. 🙂
Thanks for visiting today, and I’ll see you in the next post.
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P.P.S. Here is a great list of the 50 Best Podcasts from 2018.