"The Scream" by Walter Kuhlman, pastel over monotype, 21.6cm x 16.5cm, 1988 - Source: The Walter Kuhlman Studio
If you have been reading our other guides to the identification of various print types, you should have become familiar by now with various types of relief and intaglio print. However, there are certain printmaking techniques that do not fit into either of these categories, one of them is the monotype.
Painting The Mono Lisa
Monotyping is a highly painterly process that is often said to be the closest printmaking technique to pure painting – think printing a painting. Monotypes are created by drawing or painting on a smooth plate surface, with the resultant image then being transferred to paper.
Two Monos Walk Into A Bar…
What's the difference between a monotype and a monoprint?
The above is one of the first questions typically asked by those interested in identifying monotypes, with the confusion not being helped by the historical tendency for both terms to be used interchangeably.
However, they are actually two different types of printmaking, with monotypes being created from a flat, featureless plate, in contrast to monoprints, which are made from plates with permanent features, such as grooves. Monoprints have a reusable matrix or plate, albeit, both monoprints and monotypes produce non-identical results from one print to the next.
It’s All In The Planning
Monotype: a planographic printing process
A monoprint, then, may be created with a woodcut, etching or lithographic plate, and thereby bear the signs of such processes that we have outlined in our respective identification guides, such as clear, sharp lines and plate marks.
Monotyping, however, is a truly planographic printing process, with the plate itself being devoid of the permanent cuts, grooves or textures that characterise intaglio or relief printing.
Therefore, if you are observing a highly painterly-looking print that is largely flat on the paper surface, any textures being provided by the printing ink itself rather than any grooves or plate marks, you may already be well on the way to identifying a monotype.
You Only Print Once
Uniqueness is another key factor
The sheer one-off nature of a monotype is another factor that can aid in identification. There may be an indication somewhere on the print that it is a '1 of 1', or you may have to go by relative instinct - does this image look like one that could have been produced again and again? Or are there indented or embossed sections that suggest the use of a printing plate with permanent features?
I See Dead People
Those creating monoprints can use the same plate to repeatedly create new prints, whereas the monotyping process enables the creation of one clear image and a few more 'ghost' images at most, using the ink left on the plate. The discovery of such a 'ghost' print may therefore further aid identification.
In addition, you may sometimes see blurriness in the image. This means the paper moved out of position when pressure was applied by the press.
Remember, however, that even a monotype may not be entirely flat. Not only do you have those painterly textures to think about, but monotypes may also use found objects such as feathers - another quite literal 'feather in the cap' of those attempting to confirm a monotype rather than a monoprint.
To sum up the Monotype:
- It is not a monoprint.
- It is a planographic printing process.
- It is the closest printmaking technique to pure painting.
- The image produced by a monotype is generally flat ie the ink and the paper are on the same level unless found objects have been applied.
- Monotypes are 1 of 1 and therefore the highest value prints available.
- Do you see any ‘ghosts’?
- Look for any blurriness in the image.
- Are there any plate marks? If so, it is not a monotype and most likely an etching or engraving.
Have fun picking out monotypes - they are arguably some of the most interesting prints around. 😜