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Monoprint madness

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

After a few weeks of cutting up Yupo and kitschy plastic place-mats from the 2-dollar shop, I have finally begun monoprinting. I haven't used stencils or relief ink in a very long time - as I believe I had mentioned in a previous post - so I wasn't sure what I was in for when I started rolling out the ink. I knew I wanted to collage the stencils I had prepared - not only as a means to construct an otherwordly landscape, but also to discover characters that could be used within them. I tried to make shapes that were versatile enough to create and recreate a range of architectural forms and organic bodies, and I played around with them at my desk to see what was possible (as also outlined in a previous post).

Before I got too carried away with cutting out shapes, I decided that it was high time to stop and just get printing. Getting prepared to print in the studio - like a lot of craft-based work - feels a little bit like cooking. You need to have your space organised with a mis en place before you actually begin printing - it's hardly ever worth doing all the set up only to pull one print!

I had precut and dampened several pieces of paper - some exactly book dimensions, and some a little larger to invite the possibility of folding or cutting the pages. I decided to go in a different direction with colour as well, choosing darker and richer blues and reds. Unfortunately, my colourmixing of ink is quite out-of-practice. I was after a more purple tone in my blend, and ended up with more of a blackish brown (perhaps because I mixed two warm colours together, rather than a warm and cool). Despite this, I was not entirely put off by the blend, and just 'rolled' with it. The saving grace with things that don't work out the way you plan is that there are possibilities for 'happy accidents' - when it comes time to layer these pages, I am hoping to surprise myself.

Here are a few snapshots of how things went for my first monoprinting day:

Ink is rolled out onto a sheet of perspex, and then the stencils are laid on top to stop out the ink.

Stencils are laid on top of the ink before printing...

...and creatures are beginning to emerge in the scene

Before laying any of the stencils down, I had to prepare a composition - this isn't always necessary, but I felt that because I'm making use of a very small space (the pages only being 16 x 22cm) I should make sure all the information I want remains in the frame. So I used a black sheet of paper to help me plan this.

I started monoprinting by stopping out the ink with the stencils - anywhere the stencils lay, no ink will be picked up. These turned out reasonably well, but I wanted to see how the transferred ink onto Gampi would turn out too. A problem I encountered along the way was the way the ink was interacting with the paper. I was printing on a very cold day and the studio was freezing (I had brought my space-heater inside to use in the office). Heater or no heater, the garage can get quite cold, which means the newspaper that I use to blot the printing paper doesn't really dry. Because I'm using water-washup oil-based ink, if the paper is a little too damp, the ink will start to bleed around the edges - and bleed it did!

Again, I wasn't too put off by this - it enhanced that 'soft' element I was after, so I didn't see this as a complete technical failure (maybe a happy accident?). The pages are usable, so I'll see how I might find a home for them in the book. I much preferred how the Gampi pages turned out, as all the delicate fine details in the textured stencils really came through beautifully.

On a side-note, I had waited for the prints to dry before photographing them - the reflection is from the poly-sleeves where they are currently residing (as yes, they are acid-free)!

These are the 'stopped-out prints:

You can see how the ink bled into the paper, as my blotting paper wasn't drying quickly due to cold weather. It's also possible that I used too much water, so I may consider just a very light mist next time.

And the printed offset stencils:

As you can see, they'll need a bit of flattening (and maybe another layer of a different colour?). They are resting on top of another blend of colour, which you can see coming through.

One thing that completely slipped my mind on this particular day was the ghost printing I should have done once I had completed the 'stop-out' and 'offset' printing; I was freezing and perhaps my brain was, too! You can ghost print the ink that remains on the perspex after you lift off the stencils. I noticed these prints on the newsprint I was using that day, and I did print one image on glassine, but the Japanese papers have far better result, I find.

Here's an example of two things: a) a ghost print and b) how cold weather is affecting the drying time of the ink. I left this print for a week in the garage and the ink is still not dry. Spraying it with water causes it to run. This happened with my collagraphs a few weeks ago, unfortunately. I suppose I'll need to switch to non-water washup, oil-based only ink (more on that later, and the epic failure that occurred with that, though).

In the meantime here are some photos of my second monoprinting session - which started out as yet another epic fail (the non-water, oil-only ink that I had was much too tacky and tore my damp paper)! Subsequent prints were more forgiving, but I ditched dampening my paper and just printed dry this time. I'm not sure if it caused my offset prints to be too pale, but it seemed to work a treat on the ghost prints.

You would not believe how fiddly these stencils are - not to mention how long it took to piece them all together - I was using tweezers and my fingernails interchangeably. I loved it, it was rather fun, but to say it wasn't also frustrating would be a little more than a lie.

The prints are still drying, but indoors this time - lightly placed in my indoor set of plan drawers (as I have no other place for them to dry). Here is how they're looking so far - some a complete wreck, the others not too shabby:

You can see how the fibres lifted due to the tackiness of the ink. My titanium white hasn't been used in a long time, so it is far tackier than I expected it to be, and unfortunately, I didn't have any burnt plate oil on hand to loosen it up.

More disastrous results...

And not-so-disastrous...

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