light field monotype portrait

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What is a Light Field Monotype?

Monotypes are a hybrid between painting and printmaking. The name monotype has the root “mono” meaning one. Monotype printmaking results in a single image.

These beautiful prints cannot be printed in quantity or an edition, like other, repeatable printmaking methods (woodcuts, etchings, etc.).

Light Field Monotypes are painted or drawn with oil paint, printmaking ink, water-based paint, or other transferable media on the surface of a smooth, un-etched plate. The ‘Light Field’ refers to a clean plate; you start with an open, unpainted, light field, and you add pigment to it. Your image is made with pigment alone, and that manipulated pigment is pressed from the plate to a sheet of paper.

You can print on an etching press, or by hand with a baren or some other rubbing tool, like a spoon or even your fingers. The transfer process results in one, unique, painterly print.

Light Field Monotype with watercolors
applying pigments to a smooth sheet of plexiglass
dark field monotype
A dark field monotype in process….

Light Field and Dark Field Monotypes – What is the Difference?

A Dark Field Monotype begins with the same smooth plate, but the entire surface is coated with pigment at the start.

Most dark field monotypes begin with a thin, smooth layer of printmaking ink, applied with a brayer to cover the entire plate, like this. The desired image is wiped from the ink in a subtractive process, as though you are “carving light” into the ink.

Since the plate, or the “field” you are starting from in a dark field monotype is coated completely, it’s called a Dark Field Monotype. But let’s get back to our light field version….

watercolor monotype print
After the light field monotype takes a trip through the press, the printmaking paper hugs the plate, and the watercolor pigments peek through the verso of the print.

Light Field Monotype Variations

With so many variables in monotype printmaking, it’s helpful to read about the process, or get a little help to guide your creative success. (I’ll be adding a course to my online school soon.)

The monotype in this post has a plexiglass plate treated beforehand to help watercolor stick to the slippery surface. Without that step, the watercolor would simply bead and roll away from passages it was meant to cover.

Textural elements were added to the plate with water-soluble crayons. Some brands transfer better than others, so be sure to experiment. The printmaking plate can be a sheet of plexiglass, metal, polyester film, Yupo paper, or Gelli plate, etc.

Printmaking papers vary enormously. Finding the best brand, weight and type of paper to use if you’re printing by hand, versus printing on a press makes a big difference. (Smoother – not a lot of texture or “tooth”, and more pliable is better for hand transfer.)

You’ll also want the right paper to layer watercolors from a plexiglass plate, and then add colored pencil on top of the print after it’s dry.

watercolor monoprint
Pulling the print from the plate; always full of surprises in dynamic textures and colors after the pigments mix under pressure.

Light Field Monotype Classes

Can I tempt you to learn how to make art with this painterly, flexible printmaking method? You won’t need a press, or even drawing skills with some of these methods! You can get notified when my online Monotype course is published. Here is the Let Me Know list where you can sign up. You’ll get a note as soon as the course is posted.

cleaning a monotype plate
Cleaning the plate with water and a paper towel, because the pigments used in this light field monotype were all water-based. And now, you get to make another monotype! With every pull of a new monotype, your creative brain is lured towards new ideas, materials and methods to try with the next one.
After the ink dries, you get to have a party with your art supplies on a light field monotype. This monotype has Prismacolor Colored Pencils added to the print.

Who Wants to Make a Monotype?

Monotypes are so much fun! I think everyone should know how to make one. I’m excited to share the infinitely varied methods of monotype with you! Artists can transfer a dark field monotype as a single pigment image all at once. Or you can paint the plate and print in full color. You can also print each color in separate, layered sequences… It goes on and on!

While drafting descriptions of the online classes I want to build for monotypes, I filled too many pages in a notebook. I had to stop at 20 methods, so I could get to work and start filming! I can’t wait to share these courses with you!

In the meantime, here is a link to a light field monotype tutorial of a still life. This version was made from a sheet of polyester drafting film for the plate.

I hope you’ll give this painterly printmaking method a go. If you’ve made a light field monotype, and you know resources to help beginners, please share links in the comments.

Thanks for stopping in to say hello, and I’ll see you in the next post!


P.S. If you’re new around here (hi!), you can sign up to get each new post via email over yonder.

P.P.S. This is the last week to take advantage of 24% off my online course How to Title Your Art. Here is the discount link:  Check it out here.

light field monotype portrait
Countenance 10.5 x 8.25 Monotype with Colored Pencil on paper (sold)

Art Quote

There is no way of explaining the Italian fondness for form and color other than by considering the necessities of the people and the artistic character of the Italian mind. Art in all its phases was not only an adornment but a necessity of Christian civilization. The Church taught people by sculpture, mosaic, miniature, and fresco. It was an object-teaching, a grasping of ideas by forms seen in the mind, not a presenting of abstract ideas as in literature. Printing was not known. There were few manuscripts, and the majority of people could not read. Ideas came to them for centuries through form and color, until at last the Italian mind took on a plastic and pictorial character. It saw things in symbolic figures, and when the Renaissance came and art took the lead as one of its strongest expressions, painting was but the color-thought and form-language of the people.  And these people, by reason of their peculiar education, were an exacting people, knowing what was good and demanding it from the artists. Every Italian was, in a way, an art critic, because every church in Italy was an art school. The artists may have led the people, but the people spurred on the artists, and so the Italian mind went on developing and unfolding until at last it produced the great art of the Renaissance.

A Text-Book of the History of Painting, by John C. Van Dyke, 1894

Quick Supply List for Monotype Prints made from Plastic Food Containers

If you're planing to make a monotype print using re-purposed plastic from food containers, this list will help you gather the supplies. This monotype video tutorial of the process will help you visualize the steps to get your first monotype made, without a printing press!

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5 thoughts on “What’s the Difference Between Dark and Light Field Monotype Prints?”

  1. B. I’m specially taken with the beautiful textures you achieved with this process! Very intriguing. I keep looking deeper. Love it.

  2. Ujwala Prabhu

    Beautiful piece Belinda. I look forward to your posts. It’s been a while since I made some monotypes. Your piece has spurred me on. Thank you.

    1. Ujwala! Thank you for your compliments! I’m so glad you feel inspired to create another monotype! I’ve been totally enjoying your portrait posts on instagram! Keep them coming!

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