How to Make a Monotype Print with Colored Pencil – inspired by John Everett Millais’ Ophelia

Ophelia woman floating peacefully in water with her eyes closed holding flowers in her hand

How do you make a monotype?Monotypes are a very painterly form of printmaking. There’s no carving into the plate, no materials glued to the plate, and nothing applied to the plate’s smooth surface, beyond pigment.

Inks can be rolled on the plate for full coverage with a brayer, and then removed with q-tips and scrapers to create an image in a subtractive process. This is called a dark field monotype, since you’re starting with a completely covered (or dark) plate.

a zinc plate, with a loaded brayer rolling black ink over the surface
Preparing a smooth, zinc plate for a dark field monotype (you can watch a video tutorial here).

Dark Field vs Light Field Monotype

You can also paint your image on the plate in a direct, additive manner, which is called a light field monotype. Dark field monotypes are (generally) single color, and light field monotypes can be either monochrome, or painted with a full palette of colors.

I’ve seen artists create beautiful full color light field monotypes by painting with thinned oil paints on a sheet of glass, and then hand pressing watercolor paper onto the wet pigments to transfer the imagery.

pulling a print in full color, of a landscape, from a sheet of wet ink on an etching press bed
This is a light field monotype, being pulled from a plate that is really just a sheet of drafting mylar supported with a scrap sheet of mat board. The ink on this one is by Akua.

You Only Get One Monotype

On all monotypes, once the image feels right on the plate, soaked & blotted paper is laid on the still-wet pigments, and pressure is applied to transfer the ink from the plate to the paper. This is called a monotype, with the “mono” part of the word referring to the fact that you usually get just one print.

There is no repeatable matrix, or incised marks on the plate that you can edition in subsequent prints. (If there were any lines or marks etched into the plate, creating a recognizable, repeated pattern, the resulting prints would be called monoprints, not monotypes.)

You are welcome to join this All About Monotypes group to share and discuss various monotypes on Facebook.

Let Your Art-Control-Freak Go

In either method, the pressure of the transfer usually alters your careful mark making in the inks, and reveals all sorts of surprises in the print.

Monotype printmaking will totally wrinkle the rug under your inner control-freak, because no matter how careful you are with ink placement and removal, the pressure of the press will have its way with the art, altering your deliberate, controlled plans.

But fear not, because the beautiful lessons in that are served on visual platters of delight.  You blink a few times, let go of your expectations, and soak up the new, surprisey goodness in your pulled print.

Pulling a dark field monotype from the plate with black ink and a portrait of a dog

Monotype Ghost Prints

In the image above, you can still see a faint film of ink from the dog portrait rendered on the plate. If a second sheet of soaked and blotted paper is laid on that thin layer of left-behind pigment, and run through the press again, you can get what’s called a ghost print.

These fair pigment cousins of monotypes are one of my favorite offshoots of this method, because the tonal variations in each print are wholly different from their saturated parents, and  they are perfect leaping off points for other media.

(If you have a Facebook account, watch this video posted by Pace Prints featuring artist Shara Hughes in her studio, creating large scale monotypes.)

The first print on the far left is the monotype, and the two lighter impressions are both ghost prints. This monotype was inked and printed from a scrap sheet of acrylic plexiglass with chabonnel inks.

Adding Media to Monotype Prints

The art in this post – Untethered Cultivar (cul·ti·var – noun BOTANY – a plant variety that has been produced in cultivation by selective breeding.) – started as a very faint ghost print. I’ve had it saved in my “unfinished” art file… You have one of those too, right? ?

Well, she’s been waiting patiently, while I pondered which media to dabble in. Since she’s printed on smooth Arches 88 printmaking paper, that eliminates wet pigments from the options.

Arches88 has no sizing in it, so wet pigments like watercolor or Dr. Ph. Martin’s inks would bloom, spread/sink through as if I were painting on a paper towel. So I started with colored pencils, and just kept going.

a faint print of a woman floating among flowers, loosely rendered on white paper in gray ink
The loosely rendered ghost print before adding colored pencil

close up of the marks on the figure, and faint, scraped ink printed on the paper
Close up of the mark-making and transparent remnants of scoring and scraping and wiping the image out of the ink in the ghost print
colored pencils on the monotype ghost print, near the face starting to emerge
First layers of colored pencil: the face and profile starting to emerge with soft layers of shading

using colored pencil on the monotype ghost print to increase details and contrast
More layers of colored pencil to increase saturation and values. The finished art is Untethered Cultivar 8.75×6.75 Monotype Ghost Print with colored pencil (available here)

Art Studio Quicksand

You know when you sit down to work for just 15 minutes before less savory obligations arrive?

And then your art supplies take over, and you get pillowed into the cozy, creativity vortex…. and an audiobook makes time stop (currently, this one), and a cup of tea tastes so good, and the entirety of your maker self hunkers down, till you’re wholly engulfed in a very good art-making zone? Yeah, *those* moments.

I had a long list of To-Do’s the day I started this, and the wheels came right off that cart. I kept shading and layering color All. Day. Long. ;~D #butboywasitfun

When was the last time you Ditched-Your-Day for Art?

How to Title Your Art Online Course
Having trouble titling your art? Let me help you with that….

And Before I Forget

I just published a brandy-new online course called How to Title Your Art. ?

The curriculum includes everything I’ve learned to help title your art, after it’s completed, or before you start.

The art-title methods work on single pieces of art, or you can conjure titles for an entire series.

You’ll use relevant parts of each element of your art work to inform the title, without having to rely on “subject” titles.

Instead of naming a painting of a red barn “The Red Barn”, you can explore a more imaginative approach to naming your art with this three-option system.

If you struggle with finding compelling titles for your paintings, I hope this course and the worksheet downloads will help you. Click the graphic above to visit the course-page, and use that coupon code for a discount till Monday!

Thanks for your support in this new endeavor, and Happy Titling!

It was great to hang out today, and I’ll see you in the next post!


P.S. If Spring Cleaning is on your To-Do list in your creative space, grab a beverage, a pad of grid paper and a pencil, and visit these studio layout ideas and tips photos on Pinterest. #inspiration

Art Quote

Ophelia was painted when he (John Everett Millais) was 22. A painting on a minituristic detail on a non-minituristic scale, it is a tour de force of detailed depiction which at the historical point when photography was just emerging as a visual threat, out-records the recording power of the photograph. Art-historically. It marks a last stand in the war of the painter as sole guardian of visual truth. A photographer could get a woman to lie fully clothed in a stream but not a robin to perch above her head. The painter, Millais’s picture argues, has an imaginative and emotional advantage over the photographer. Ophelia, is passionate without the melancholy yearning of a young man waiting for love to happen; and imbued with a the delight in nature instilled by his fisherman grandfather, Ophelia’s stream, apart from anything else, is a fry fly-fisherman’s dream.

John McEwan, date unknown

Four steps in photos to create a monotype on the kitchen counter using ink, paper, a brayer, a silver spoon and some paper.
Make another form of monotype – with no carving & no press. Here’s a playlist of tutorials on my YouTube Channel.

10 thoughts on “How to Make a Monotype Print with Colored Pencil – inspired by John Everett Millais’ Ophelia”

  1. Pingback: Watercolor and Colored Pencil Illustration - Twirling Sangria - Belinda Del Pesco

  2. Pingback: Adding Watercolor to Monotype Ghost Prints - Belinda Del Pesco

  3. Pingback: Dark Field Monotype Pet Portraits - and a video tutorial - belindadelpesco

  4. Pingback: Monotype: Climb Back In - Belinda Del Pesco

  5. Pingback: Monotype: Between Friends - and a video tutorial on Trace Monotype - Belinda Del Pesco

  6. Pingback: Monotype: Gentle Giant (Great Dane) - Belinda Del Pesco

  7. Love this whole blog, and the stunning image. My brother used to make the oil paint on glass style
    monoprints, and they were great. There is so much here. Thank you.

    XOXOXOXOXO Barbara

  8. Its been awhile since I’ve made any monotypes. your post has me inspired to give them another go… especially after seeing what you are doing with your ghost prints. I have been focusing on printmaking, and sometimes wish I had more time for painting. This seems like a great way to bring the two together. thanks always for sharing!

    1. Hi there, Ken! I think so many of your prints – even the relief work – would be perfectly suited for pastel or watercolor. It’s definitely more time-consumptive than a straightforward linocut or monotype, but it’s super fun, and I think it informs the future prints by encouraging simplicity, and more expanded areas of flat planes, because of the way they lend themselves to later application of pigments. I can’t wait to see what you do.

Write something.... pretend we're neighbors, and we’re painting watercolors together in the garden....