On Experimental Black & White Monotypes
by Thom Wright Oct 2020
Besides being a watercolorist and then a painter, I was also in to printmaking. After several classes taken at Orange Coast College, and after I purchased a large bed printing press from one of my instructors, I ventured into larger prints (18” x 24”), first doing color prints using oil-based printing inks. One of my first attempts at this size is shown below, a rather simple construction using just a few colors plus black.
The tricks of doing one of these larger prints is preparation beforehand, a design in mind, all of the necessary materials assembled, and go-for-it guts. The old “keep it simple, stupid” rule is especially true in monotype printmaking. Looking closely at this piece, one can almost guess at the sequence of events necessary to layer the parts together on the plate. And, of course, strictly follow the standard procedures for getting a fresh and clean print from the process. The printmaking time itself can only last about 30-40 minutes before the inks start to dry and and perfectly dampened paper begins to have dry spots. Anyhow, the materials used in this one are nasturtium leaves, string, a circular floppy disk removed from its case, and a variety of circle and ring making shapes like rubber washers. The white lines are made using a thick cotton string, and the red lines are made using a red oil-stick. I could visualize the end product, but when that paper is lifted off of the pressed plate, the striking and clean results are quite powerful, and I was happy to pursue more.
Years later in my first printmaking class at CSULB back in 2002, the final assignment was to do a series of whatever the students wanted to make, rather than the earlier directed assignments. I chose to make just black-and-white monotypes, using a mechanical drawing draft board set up that I first began learning to do mechanical drawings in my ninth-grade high school class. My approach was to make my own neuvoux-Cubist compositions. In addition, I wanted to show the rich qualities of black-and-white prints having a wide range of grey values and textures. The next image below shows my first print.
Again, this work has to be made pretty much in less than 40 minutes. On the tilted drafting board that dominates the center, there are several darker shapes in a light-valued surface that is made with diluted black ink, brushed liberally over the surface, and then sprinkled with mineral spirits to make the blobs and drips. Additional straight lines are made with straight-edged implements that are inked on the edges. The game played against time is to add all of these additive and subtractive marks, using different ink viscosities, to hopefully end up with a 2D flat print that tells the story of its creation.
In this work one can see that there is more light distributed outside the tilted drawing board, and more combinations of drawn lines, brushed thinned ink, and varying values of ink. The explosive chaos of the light wash areas are contained to some degree by the variety of dark and light lines. At the center is the standard 30/60/90 right triangle that looks representational, but is surrounded by soft-edged greys and located centrally by the diagonal lines. It’s a play on perspective versus 2D composition, with the drawing board on a tilted table top, just like the one I used in ninth-grade mechanical drawing. And there are a number of Cubist interlocking shapes surrounding the drawing board that make an alternating rhythm of darks and lights.
My third work shown above is a variation in this series with the heightened drama of lights and darks, and mounted on a black matt board. Even though the German paper is toned a warm light grey, there is a strong value constrast with the perfectly black triangle shape in the center. A medium grey wash on two sides of it look something like a cast shadow, and even a levitation of the black triangle above the drawing board. Even more dramatic to me is the broad bleed sprinkles of mineral spirits and salt grains over the upper drawing board. The results are uncontrollable, but can be a gift of richness to the surface. The drawn lines also play with perspective and flatness.
In my fourth and last work of this series, I use many of the dramatic inking and salt-grain texturing techniques used in the third work and also printed on the light-grey German paper. The center of the drawing board now shows a duel of the triangles, as they come together at their sharp points, and a few more line drawing triangles. The outer upper area is simplified to light and dark bands to add the circular movement around the outer space. The black triangle is all black and with straight lines drawn into the inked triangle to show the plastic indentations of the tool.
When I presented these four monotypes in the class final critique, I knew that I had an “A” in the class. I won’t go through the critical comments made, especially by the art professor, because they really apply to the next work to be made. However, I have not sold any of them yet, but did go on to do several more figurative black and white monotypes. Those are for another day. I hope that readers gain an appreciation for the richness of this kind of print.