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Creative Process / Monoprints and Monotypes / Printmaking / Painting Terms & Definitions / Painting Techiques

Monoprints and Monotypes

Monoprints and monotypes are original works of art created in a manner superficially similar to the production of prints and posters. The latter are commonly prepared in large quantities through the repeated application of an inked plate to paper, whereas the former (just as their names suggest) are prepared individually and uniquely by the single application of an inked plate which cannot be re-used afterwards to create the same final product.

The first step in creating a monoprint or monotype is the preparation of a “substrate.” In the case of a monotype, this is a smooth, clean sheet (often copper). In the case of a monoprint, it may be a plate with permanent ridges, etchings, or other topographical features.

In both cases, the next step is the application of ink. The artist has great freedom in his or her preferred method. It can be simply applied with a brush, imitating painting, for instance, or it can be laid on in thick sheets which are subsequently modified with rags and scrapers. A combination of these additive and subtractive techniques is often necessary to produce the desired image.

Finally, the plate is pressed onto paper, which depletes all or most of the ink that was so carefully applied. Some artists have been known to make a second pressing with the slight amount of ink that remains, creating a faint, ghostly mimic of the original. It is also quite common for the artist to use his or her print as just a starting point, completing it with conventional painting, inking, and penciling by hand.

Monoprints and monotypes are occasionally numbered or labeled to clarify the manner of their production, but are just as often not. This is reflective of the “gray area” that they can be said to occupy between conventional prints and conventional originals.

The history of these forms begins with the seventeenth-century Genoese artist Castiglione, who is considered the inventor. It is arguable that he was inspired by Rembrandt’s mastery of shadows. It took centuries before monotype artists enjoyed fame and credibility, however. This was accomplished only with the debut of monotype virtuosos like the poet William Blake and the Impressionist Edgar Degas. Household names like Picasso, Pisarro, Matisse and Chagall all made major contributions to the form in the years that followed.


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