Reflection on Assignment 1 : Monoprints

Reflection on Assignment 1 : Monoprints

I worked on this first chapter of the Printmaking 1 course for a longer time than expected, due to various personal circumstances, which affected me quite intensely and consequently affected my work.
I have to admit that I found monoprinting far more complicated than I thought, and this especially because it was a totally new territory to me.

I think overviewing the whole monoprinting experience my biggest issue has been textures and how to make them stand out, probably due to the technique’s high chance of unpredictability. You can plan the various steps, make accurate measurements and registration, but you cannot really control the way the ink will appear on the paper as the factors contributing in modifying it are so many.

Monoprinting revealed to me completely new way of image making, however I have to admit I didn’t enjoy the process as much as other printmaking techniques I tried.
Working on something that comes difficult to me has been extremely useful though, and it is certainly something to explore further, in combination with other techniques.

I have done my best to adapt my drawing style to monoprinting and I felt it gradually got better throughout the unity.

Also the quality of the outcome got better, aided by the many mistakes made in the process.

It was very difficult to gather information about mono printing history. The books I had available only summarised the process and on the internet as well I could find the same few redundant informations.
Regarding the process of monoprinting, I found very useful video resources on youtube and OCA students website.

Thanks to mono printing, a window has been opened on my creativity, however I think there is far more work to get done to enhance this aspect.


Project 4: Textured and combination monoprints

Project 4: Textured and combination monoprints


For this fourth project I started off with a portrait, and particularly a self-portrait.
I was planning to get the portrait done in back drawing, on two different background colours, one for the hair and one for the skin tone. Firstly I sketched my portrait from a mirror onto paper. Then I traced this sketch onto another sheet, to have a reference when back drawing and to select the lines I wanted to reproduce.

I mixed the colours for the base and roughly spread them with a palette knife in the central area. I didn’t use any registration method on purpose, to obtain a slightly shifted image, which hopefully would have turned more interesting and expressive.

I took 2 prints of my background colours, the first one on a coloured paper and the second on a white one.

A printed a third time with the same colours on white paper, this time applying them with a brush.

Once I had my backgrounds done I started with the back drawing.

The first print on coloured paper was back drawn using a ballpoint pen.


The second print has instead been back drawn with a coloured pencil.

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Finally, the third print back drawing has been obtained taking a second impression of what the previous back drawing left on the plate.

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I am really satisfied with all of the portraits, and I find all of them very interesting, however the one I think stands out the most is the first one.

Still life

I went on with a still life, sketching 3 of them. In the first place I decided to go for the matryoshka doll so I started cutting masks from the drawing. I decided that I wanted to have an oval frame and I rearranged the masks of the doll so they could fit in it. But I didn’t think that I would actually need some kind of guide to align the shapes through the various stages, so when it came to printing the faces and the apron I messed it up.



I decided to go for another subject, a jam jar, a toast and a knife.
This time I traced the drawing on another sheet so that I could use it as my guide for registration. This second time was definitely better than the first one but I must say I struggled quite a lot, maybe especially because I felt it was quite difficult to get a good definition of the shapes, due to the technique itself and so, making it really hard to create a recognisable still life.

I also tried using some objects to give texture, but the result was very poor, I guess the best way to make textures stand out is by using a press instead of hand printing.

Furthermore, it looked to me that layering those printing inks too many times didn’t allow them to dry properly, so when I tried to back draw the label of the jam vase, it turned out really weird.

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The abstract composition was the best to realise. I tried to plan it a bit in advance but I confess that I let myself go on this one and that is why I felt I reached good result enjoying the process.
For the first layer in violet, I used some stripe shaped mask teared from a newspaper and a bamboo mat I found in the kitchen to give some texture.
For a second layer I cut some shapes from a folded piece of paper (the kind of things I was always doing when I was a kid!) and used yellow ink, while on the other side I directly squeezed some white ink on the plate, which gave nice circles.
The next step was splashing some red colour (this was acrylic) and working it with the stick of a brush. I loved the way it melted with one of the white circles.
Finally I added some back drawing in black ink mixed with some blue.


I realised I liked the result more because I didn’t have precise expectation on this one, being an abstract. I find mono printing really unpredictable and even though I think this is the beautiful side of it, it also is the hardest aspect to control, when you are trying to refer to reality.


Lastly I worked on a landscape. I imagined an industrial landscape and I did a quick sketch.

The first layer I printed has been the background, which I textured with a feather. Even though some of my fingerprints are visible I quite liked the result, as the shapes obtained together with the colour I used reminded me of trees.

I printed the top hill as a second layer, using a palette knife directly on the plate and darkening the same colour used for the background.

The next step has been back drawing in black the thin structures onto the background and over printing them with the dark silhouette on the top of the hill.

I then painted with a brush onto the plate the two darker hills in the bottom, texturing the darkest corner with a smaller feather.

the final touch has been the smoke coming out of the factories chimneys.

I quite liked the final result of this landscape, even though I still found difficult to texture the ink and to plan everything to get a what is in my mind.


Project 3: Two coloured masked mono prints

Project 3: Two coloured masked mono prints

I chose the subject for this project from the sketches done previously and particularly I chose a silhouette drawn from an old picture of mine.

I simplified the image trying to adapt it to the purpose, then I cut it.

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On my first attempt of printing I realised straight away that the picture’s details were too small so I changed subject, a face drawn with a continuous line.

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That was definitely a better choice as the colour could easily cover the large areas of my masks. Unfortunately the pencil I used to draw the mask was too soft so it got transferred onto the paper.

I had one more go with different colours.

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I was quite happy with the result, even though I am still adjusting the right amount of paint and its thickness, which I find very difficult to get right so far.

Variations using masks and multi-colours

Using the same mask, I printed this time in three different colours, trying to create an interesting effect by expressly getting the registration wrong.

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To get familiar with this process and loosen up my creativity, I tried printing overlapping colours and using simple geometrical masks cut and ripped quite freely.


I found the outcome quite interesting especially because it helped me to get a better idea of the ink’s thickness necessary to obtain certain effects.

Another experiment consisted in modifying the ink surface by using found objects: I used a kitchen cloth, some cling film, a make up brush, a garlic net, a T-shirt and my fingerprints.

On the first print I used some dark green leftover ink which I thought wasn’t really good for this purpose as the image resulted really confused.

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A better result came out using blue ink.

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I found it very difficult to represent a landscape in monoprinting and with textures, the main reason being the fact that printing by hand gives already a texture to the ink. It has been really difficult for me to achieve a readable image and very difficult to make the textures stand out.


In this example, I proceeded by layering the sky at first, using the back of a sponge to create some clouds. I then put a darker layer of blue and tapped a t-shirt on it to create a base for the sea. The darkest part of the sea has been layered later, with a palette knife and a sea sponge. For the cliff I used a dark brown first, rolling some pasta over it, and then repeated the process with a lighter brown, applied with a palette knife. The vegetation on top of the cliff has been applied with the palette knife and tapped with a sponge. I had problems in getting the quantity of ink right, as it seemed to me either not enough (making difficult to impress a mark in it) or too much (it was expanding in the process of printing, hiding the textures impressed in it).


The last step for this project consisted in back drawing.

I experimented first with white ink on black paper, trying to choose a subject with few lines. The first print has been done drawing on the back of the paper with a stick which produced an interesting thick line.

Scan 1

A second print has been done with a simple ball point pen. I found it way easier and the line produced more versatile.

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The next print has been done in the same way, just changing colour and paper.

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I also tried to repeat it using a more diluted ink, but I think the outcome here is quite confusing, even though the line looks soft and expressive.

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I tried back drawing with three different colours. I used the design that didn’t work for the negative and positive masks prints, which in this case worked very well.

I first drawn the main figure in red, then proceeded with a light blue background and lastly using bordeaux to make the figure stand out.

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Finally I tried drawing from life, using the back drawing technique. The only place available to work at this experiment was next to the window, so I took an impression of the view.

I tried keep the drawing quite loose and free. The print came out quite clear, even though the ink has overlapped in some areas. Also the darkest green ink used for the trees was too liquid so it moved on the sides of the lines, producing a white space.

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Summing up this project, I have gone through different difficulties and made quite a lot of mistakes, but all of it helped a lot to get a better confidence with the process of monoprinting and to get my creativity stimulated by using processes completely new to me.

Research point

Researching about back drawing I found very interesting results in prints from Paul Klee, Tracey Emin and Richard Downs. by simply observing some of the images, I found that while Richard Downs’ prints seem to be a little more ‘planned’, probably because of his illustration background, the Paul Klee and Tracey Emin’s ones look more ‘instinctively made’. In all cases the lines are very expressive and warm and that is my favourite aspect about back drawing. What I am learning from these artists is too experiment using the lines more freely and just take advantage of the fact that the technique itself adds character to the final result.

Paul Klee
Richard Downs
Tracey Emin
Project 2: Positive and negative masked mono prints

Project 2: Positive and negative masked mono prints

The design I chose for this exercise has been modified from a picture of a real fox. I sketched some images first and then copied the fox onto light newsprint, before proceeding with carefully cutting it out.


I then mixed the ink and I rolled it onto the glass plate, trying to obtain an even coloured layer. I placed the mask onto the plate and then printed off on simple cartridge paper. I was really pleased as my first attempt came out quite clear, even though I used water based inks, the process was quick enough to produce an interesting result.

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I took a second impression from the plate, which is really faded, and then I removed the mask to take a third impression, also very confused.

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After that, I started working with the positive image cut out from the mask, this time with a dark colour. I inked the plate, placed the cut out onto it and printed off. A very interesting effect was produced by the contrast between the dark background and the light silhouette, as it looked exactly as a fox that has just been spotted in the middle of the night.

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I was not careful enough in printing the bottom of the image, so the second impression lifted more ink from that area.

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But the most interesting result of all was obtained by printing a third time, after the cut out silhouette was removed. The figure is here defined by a blurred edge which I find really interesting.

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I worked at this exercise with a second subject and obtaining the masks from tracing paper, rather than newsprint. When printing off the first time, from the negative mask, I realised straight away that it was a little too rich in small details, despite the simple design.

Also the ink felt weak, maybe because of the light colour chosen, so the second print was taken straight after lifting off the mask. The result is actually more interesting than the first one, but there are some imperfections due to the mask being creased under pressure.

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Using tracing paper seemed to me a wonderful idea until I realised it got all curled up, didn’t really stick to the ink and also was too thick for the purpose. However, I kept going with the positive mask: the first print turned out to be very bad, as I couldn’t get any detail.

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The ink looked again to weak for a second impression, so I jumped to print after lifting off the silhouette and that is where I got the best result. The details are quite defined and at the same time the blurry appearance matches with the subject.

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I had a second go using the same masks but trying to use acrylics instead of printing inks. Unfortunately it didn’t work at all. The colour dried up in no time leaving just a faint impression of the image and the masks kept curling up, making the process quite difficult and messy.

I was quite frustrated by those experiments, but I definitely learned a lot from all the mistakes I made and discovered new interesting effects and textures.

Research point

I think Matisse’s Blue Nudes power lies in the ability of the artist depicting the subject in few sinuous lines. During the process I realised how difficult was to simplify an image and make it recognisable. I kept it simple by choosing to represent the subjects from a side view, but Matisse’s point of views keep the images vibrant and with a sense of tridimensionality.

Project 1: Your first monoprints

Project 1: Your first monoprints

Experiments in mark making and painted plates

In this first project of Printmaking 1 course, I started exploring how monoprints work.

The relief printing inks I used are quite cheap and water based; I used red, blue and yellow for these experiments and obtained other hues by mixing them.

In the first mark making exercise I realised how quickly the colours were drying, so I had to try my best to be quite fast, as I could not add much water.

I used different kind of brushes and also a small palette knife to spread the colours on the glass, finally used ordinary cartridge paper to lift the ink off the plate.

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I have to say the most interesting part came when I started to mix the colours. By then I also started to gain confidence with the medium and tried to spread a background colour rather than just making marks.

When painting over the background, the colour looked like moving rather than mixing. The palette knife point dragged through the ink also moved it to the sides, exposing the plain glass.

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Considering that I had never tried mono printing before this was a very useful experiment to explore new techniques and effects and to start becoming familiar and confident with them.

Research point: Monoprints by Edgar Degas

I looked at Degas work with monoprints and actually realised how interesting is his approach to printmaking.

He was working on etched plates, modifying each single print by manipulating the ink and adding other mediums over the finished prints. What he was actually producing were monotypes.
The freedom in the approach is definitely what I can learn from Degas and his printed works. We are often scared by the ghost of perfection, mostly trying to do things following the rules, without realising how imperfection and experimentation produces far more interesting results.

Painted monoprint from life

I worked on a still life choosing two very simple objects, I placed them in different ways and sketched them a couple of times.

I then started with inking the plate. I found it quite hard in the first place to depict something onto glass with quite fluid colours, trying to make it recognisable and at the same time trying to work quickly.

The first print I pulled off was in fact quite a disaster. I found interesting the brush strokes in the depiction of the objects, but the overall impression is quite confused, due to the colours being exposed to the air for to long.

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In my second attempt I tried working faster and adding a bigger quantity of colour on the plate. I also fixed the paper to the plate, so that I could work a second time on the areas that where less clear, by adding more colour. It definitely worked better, but I realised that the confused impression was also due to a poor choice in matching the colours, so I decided to try again, using a light background.

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My third and last attempt worked definitely better, the image is more recognisable and at the same time it present interesting textures. Changing the orientation from portrait to landscape also helped to get a better overall impression.

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I am satisfied with the last result, considering how poor was my confidence at the beginning. However I am definitely considering to get to work with some oil based inks, for richer textures and longer time span to work on more complicated figures.