Monotype Printmaking in Seven Steps
Alphotographic / Getty Images
Monotypes are a form of traditional fine art printmaking that’s easy to learn, needn’t be complicated (though you can make it so), nor involve special equipment or ink (unless you wish). You can use the paint you usually work with (whether acrylic, oils, or watercolor) and some paper from a sketchbook.
What you use will influence the result you get, and you’ll need to experiment to learn how much paint to use, how much pressure to apply, and whether the paper wants to be dry or damp. The unpredictability is part of the fun (and lessens with experience).
Art Supplies Needed for Monotype Printmaking
- Paint or printing ink
- Paper cut or torn to size
- A basin or container to soak the paper in water (so you can try both damp and wet paper)
- Few sheets of large paper for blotting
- Non-absorbent surface for spreading out paint/ink
- Brush, stick, or piece of card for creating design in paint
- Something smooth and hard, like a big spoon, to rub onto the back of the paper so it picks up the ink (depending on the paint, your hand may work)
The monotypes in the photos were made using water-based lino printing inks. No reason other than I’d just bought them and was trying them out. I found them very slippery (rather than sticky like oil-based printing inks) and needed only minimal pressure to transfer to paper (especially if damp).
Put Out the Paint or Ink
Experience will teach you how much paint you put out on your piece of “glass” (just about anything non-porous and smooth will work, such as a painting palette). Too little and you won’t get much of a print. Too much and you’ll get a smudged print.
When you’re first learning to print, aim to have the paint fairly thin, not thick and lumpy, by the time you’ve created the design you’re going to print. Why? Because the paper will touch only the top surface of the paint so if it’s full of texture, it won’t pick up paint from everywhere unless you apply lots of pressure. But if you do, then the thick paint underneath it will squeeze flat, messing up your design.
Create Your Design in the Paint
Because it’s on a non-porous surface, the paint will slip and slide around somewhat. It takes a little getting used to, but you will! Remember any clear areas will come out white in your print (or whatever the color is of the paper you use). Use a brush, piece of card or folded up cloth to create your design in the paint. It doesn’t matter what you use, the marks you get in the paint are what will show in your print.
Finish Your Design
Be sure you’re happy with the image or design you’ve created in your paint before you print it onto paper. Depending on what paint you’re using, you’ll have less or more time for this. If you’re using acrylic paints, you might want to add some retarder (or use one of the slower-drying versions).
Make a mental note of how much paint or ink there was, how textured or flat it was. When you’ve created the print, use this “stored info” about the paint to assess the result you got, and adapt or remember it for future prints.
Put Paper Onto Paint
Carefully place the piece of paper for the monotype onto the paint or ink. You want to avoid moving it once it’s touched the paint, or the image will smudge. You can hold a sheet just above the paint and then let go so it drops down. Or put one edge onto the surface, hold this with one hand so the paper doesn’t move, and gently lower the other edge.
It may seem counter-intuitive to use paper that’s been soaked in water if you’re printing with oil-based ink (given oil repels water), but think of it as “loosening” the fibers of the paper so the paint/ink sticks more readily rather than “adding” water to the surface. Try with a dry and a damp piece of the same paper, and compare the results.
Apply Pressure to Paper to Transfer Paint/Ink
This is the trickiest bit, because too little pressure and you won’t get much paint/ink on your paper or it’ll be uneven. Depending on what paint or ink you’re using, too much pressure may ruin the result too. Experimentation is what it’s about, learning what result you get from doing X or Y.
Don’t forget to try damp paper as well as dry. You don’t want it dripping wet, or with water lying on the surface. Blot it between two sheets of clean paper (you may have to repeat this). I do it in pages of a big sketchbook with fairly thick cartridge paper.
Pull the Print
Carefully lift the piece of paper from the paint/ink, to see what your print looks like. (It’s called pulling a print.) Don’t rush, do it in a steady, slow movement. You don’t want to accidentally tear the paper and you don’t want to move it while it’s still on the paint (which will smudge the print).
Put the Print Somewhere Safe to Dry
If you’re using oil paint or oil-based printing ink, your print will take a while to dry. Put it somewhere out of the way, out of reach of little hands and paws, and somewhere dust won’t blow in from a window onto it. You can lay it flat to dry, or hang it up.
Time to Make Another Monotype?
Take a look at what paint/ink is left and decide whether you’ll get another print from it or not. It certainly won’t look exactly like the first, and it may not be enough to give a satisfactory print, but at worst you’ll use up a piece of paper (which can always be recycled into a mixed media piece). At best, you’ll end up with a fabulous second monotype print. Again, experience will teach you whether it’ll be worth doing or not, and whether to use a damp piece of paper or not.