The Making of Silkscreen Monotype

How Long Did It Take to Make This Artwork?

Monotype Canavs Prints

Longer than you might think.

When someone asks an aged American artist, J. Heller, how long it took him to create one of his monotypes, he answers, “Three hours, and eighty-two years.” This sounds like a throw-away line, but it is actually a rather profound answer.

In order to understand the implications of this statement, it is first necessary to know a  little bit about monotypes. A monotype is a printing process that yields only one original work. This is different from the more familiar printmaking techniques, such as woodcut, etching, and serigraphy (silkscreen), which an artist uses to make an edition of a certain number of prints each one of which looks exactly the same as all the others, and each of which is a true original.

To produce the kinds of monotypes that he has been making since the 198os, he starts by covering a thin, rectangular plastic plate with printer’s ink, to which he sometimes adds additional texture by shaking on drops of a solvent, which dissolves the colored ink, leaving irregular spots of white. He then uses pastels to draw on tracing paper, which he has torn into small shapes. Next, he carefully places the paper fragments onto the wet plate, creating a composition that he finds pleasing. After a few more steps, the plate is put onto the bed of a printing press. Then a sheet of dampened paper is laid on top of the plate and the whole thing is pulled through the press, so that the image (made by the paper, pastels, and ink) will be designed onto the paper only backward so that the finished the reverse of what he had originally arranged on that plate. The paper is slowly peeled away and allowed to dry because there is no longer much ink left on the plate, the same print cannot be “pulled” again. That is why this sort of print called silkscreen monotype.

Andy Hanson is the Chief Editor of Artify Your Walls by 

N. Heller., “A Guide to Understanding and Enjoying Modern Art”, Princeton University Press, 2002

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