What is a monotype?

A Monotype is the result of a printmaking technique that is hand-executed, and that typically only produces one good print impression from a single prepared plate. It is a planographic technique, meaning that the final image is printed from a flat surface, as opposed to a raised surface as in relief printing (see What is a relief print?), or an incised surface as in intaglio printing (see What is Intaglio printing?). Monotypes are unique images—one of a kind prints—though they can be hard to define because of their rather complex relationship to the notion of uniqueness.

To create a monotype, the artist applies ink or paint directly to a designed plate, which is usually made of glass or metal. The image is then transferred by hand-pressing the paper and the plate together, or by running them through a printing press. In order to apply color, the artist can create layered prints, using masks between the paper and the plate to leave areas blank for further color application. Most of the ink or paint is removed from the surface after the first run, and what remains is usually not sufficient to create another impression. For this reason, the image created in Monotype printing will be unique. When subsequent impressions are carried out, the resulting image is much fainter and one gets what is called a ghost print.

It was in the 17th century that artists first began to experiment with the technique using copper etching plates to create their prints. Flemish artist Antoon Sallaert is generally regarded as the inventor of the process after he started to create his first monotypes in the 1640s. In the 19th century British artist William Blake developed a different technique, using egg tempera to create colored works. Alongside French artist Edgar Degas, William Blake popularized the technique after spending many years experimenting. In the 20th century monotypes became more widely used amongst artists, with artists such as Paul Klee, Marc Chagall and Helen Frankenthaler.

For examples of monotypes see Matias Faldbakken’s series Hilux Variations, 2014, Cabelo’s series Untitled, 2015, or Ida Applebroogs Untitled, 2003.

Read also What Is A Monotype?—Edgar Degas at MoMA.

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