Did you enjoy finger-painting when you were a kid? Or maybe you even enjoy it now.
When I monoprint, I get the same feeling I did when I fingerpainted. It’s the feeling you get when you just Let It Happen.
I’m going to show you how I created this monoprint, but don’t expect to create exactly the same thing yourself. Yours will be similar, but totally unique. You could follow these steps, exactly, with exactly the same tools fifty times, and you would have 50 unique monoprints.
So, what is a monoprint?
You get a monoprint when you apply color to a printing plate, then transfer the color to another surface by pressing it onto the plate. You could use acrylic, gouache, or printing inks.
Your plate could be glass, plastic, a temporary gelatin mold, or almost any surface that won’t absorb paint. Your transfer surface can be paper, silk – almost anything that will pick up the color. I’m using the Gelli Arts printing plate for this tutorial.
The terms I’ll use:
- plate = the printing plate
- paper = the surface I’m using to pick up color, that will become the monoprint
- pull = the transfer of color from the plate to the paper by placing the paper face down into the paint and applying pressure to the back of the paper
- print = the image you get after a pull
- monoprint = the finished image after color has been applied and pulled several times. You get only one strong image with these hand-pulled prints, and possibly some ghost images. This isn’t a process for creating many prints of the same image.
- masks = images cut out of paper to ‘mask off’ areas on the plate, where I don’t want to add color
It’s easier to see than to explain, so you can see how it happens in this video.
Printing can get messy, so there are three very important rules.
- Don’t wear long sleeves.
- If you forget and wear long sleeves, be careful so you don’t drag them in the paint.
- Remember, when washing paint out of your long sleeves, that you should dab at the stains, not rub.
Why did I choose a Gelli Arts Printing Plate? Well, I was sent one to do this tutorial, but I also have several others in different sizes and shapes, and have used them in the past. They are easy to use, and easy to clean. The Gelli Arts printing plate looks and feels like gelatin, but will last for years. It’s easy to clean and store. Many printing plate surfaces require gum arabic or some other medium to complete the transfer of color – the Gelli Arts plate does not.
For this tutorial, I used the following Gelli Arts products: a printing plate, mini printing tools, a brayer (the rolling pin-like tool) and a stencil. I used Hahnemühle Bristol paper because its smooth surface works well to pick up the transfer of color and it’s a nice weight if I decide to turn this into a Holiday card. Links for the tools are at the end of the tutorial.
I used gouache paint for my coloring medium. That turned out to be problematic. I discovered that some colors worked well, and others stuck to the brayer. I didn’t mind. That just created some of the character for this print.
There wasn’t a particular reason for using gouache, though. It is what I had on hand. You could easily use acrylic or printing inks and get similar results.
Hahnemühle_USA also sent me several of their papers to use for this tutorial (and a giveaway). I used the Bristol for my monoprint, and the other paper for ghost prints and to clean off my brayer. I’ll show you a couple of those at the end of the tutorial.
The Gelli Arts printing plate is clear with a tacky surface (it’s jiggly, too). You can place a drawing underneath it as a loose guide if you have trouble getting started.
NOTE: My finished work doesn’t look like this. It was never meant to. I made masks using this drawing (more about that in the next step), and this was just to get me started. With practice, you could create an image very like the drawing, but that would be an advanced project. This is a Let It Happen project!
I drew and cut out the trees on a separate sheet of paper. This gave me three tree masks, and one mask with trees cut out.
Before starting, I move the tree masks around to decide if I wanted to keep them in the same place as the drawing. I did. The tacky surface of the plate keeps the masks in place when I use the brayer to spread and mix the paint.
I decided to do a test first to determine how much paint I should use, and how much pressure to apply during a print. This is a good idea if you are using paint and/or paper that you haven’t used to create a monoprint before.
I used the brayer to spread the paint, letting the colors blend together, just rolling right over the masks. At this point, I discovered the paint liked the brayer better than the plate.
Gouache (and acrylic) dries fairly quickly, so you don’t want to spend too much time spreading the paint before trying a pull.
I placed my Bristol paper onto the plate, and ran my hands all along the back. I applied pressure as evenly as I could.
I peeked to see how much color I was getting.
It wasn’t much, but it gave me a baseline for how much paint I would need. Since this was a test, when I pull my next print, I will use the other side of the paper.
I squeezed more paint onto the plate. Quite a bit more!
And rolled the brayer over the paint to spread it. I changed directions and moved the brayer around to get a more random blend of colors.
Once spread and before the paint dried, I removed the tree masks.
With the three mini-printing tool set, I have nine different edges to create patterns with. I decided to go with the one above.
I dragged the tool through the paint. Notice that I’m not using my guide anymore, but I did drag the tool as though I was following the road.
I placed the paper down again. This time I used the brayer to press on the back of the paper. This had two purposes. It applied more even pressure, and it also cleaned paint off the brayer. I can use this for another piece of art, later.
Note that you don’t need to clean the brayer after every pull. Leaving some paint on will create more texture and variation of color as you continue.
I peeked and decided I had enough color.
At this point, I abandoned the idea of a road, and decided this would be water instead.
I set aside the tree masks and grabbed the mask with the trees cut out. I’m using the guide again, but not worrying whether I’m matching things up precisely.
I added green paint and spread it with the brayer.
This time I used a stencil and placed it over the wet paint.
I applied pressure with my hands. As I mentioned previously, this gives less even pressure, so I wasn’t expecting all the color to be picked up. I’m making sure to press more in some areas than in others. I am just letting it happen, but at the same time the choices I make, in regards to what color, how much paint, what tools to use and how much pressure to apply, makes me the director.
I direct and the tools act to make it happen.
This is the print I got. I wanted snow, so I used less pressure, and picked up less green. I’m going to build up the areas of color, working to keep lots of the paper showing for white.
Notice that the prints are a mirror image of what is on the plate.
I replaced the treeless mask and added yellow paint. I chose the printing tool with the most even pattern, and made short strokes on the left and lower right trees. I left the upper left alone so it would have a different texture.
Note that there was still some green left from the last pull. Much of it had dried, but the yellow reactivated it somewhat.
Here’s the print. You can see the striped effect from the printing tool, and the way the yellow and green paint blended. This is one of the cool things about pulling prints. You’d work hard to do this painting directly with a brush.
I replaced the mask, but I moved it over to the right a little bit.
Now I added a darker blue to the upper right trees and dragged the printing tool through it.
This is the print I got. Now I had mountains among my trees. I love that. I directed and my tools did something awesome.
I liked what I had, but I wanted more snow. Let it snow! So, I added dabs of white. I used a very small amount for each dab and ran the brayer over enough to flatten without spreading it much. I directed the tools to create small areas of white, not blended color.
I decided I was done. I now have a monoprint.
Note the way the color is speckled throughout the patches of white. Almost like splattered paint from a brush, yet it has a different feel.
I was happy with my monoprint, but I decided to make it a little less abstract. At this point, I cease to just let it happen and apply more direct control. I added touches to create more unity and a more ordered composition.
The trade-off is that you lose some of the freshness and blending that you get with a monoprint.
I was ambivalent about the stripes that seem to flow off the bottom right side of the painting.
I liked the effect, but I knew it would draw the eye right off the page and decided to put an ice flow there. I did this before the gouache had totally dried so the white blended with the colors beneath.
After the paint dried completely, I added more blue and brilliant violet to shape the lake and give the feeling of reflection in the water. I decided there was already enough green.
For the last step, I added more white in a couple of areas to add snow to the ice.
I decided that was enough, or I’d lose the feeling of a monoprint altogether.
Creating from Brayer Cleaning Backgrounds
As I was pulling prints, I cleaned my brayer from time to time by rolling it on separate pieces of paper.
Papers you’ve used for testing, or sketches you never completed are perfect for cleaning color off your brayer, or taking second prints from color left on your printing plate. Or cleaning off your stencils, too.
This brayer clean was done on Hahnemühle’s Manga layout paper. It’s a thin, slightly translucent paper and I had used this piece to test out an orange-brown marker a while back.
Even though this paper isn’t meant for watercolor I sprayed it with water to help with cleaning the brayer.
Do you see what I see in the result?
I didn’t do much to this one. I little white and a little blue gouache to bring out the tiger and create the look of foliage behind him.
While I was creating my monoprint, interesting things happened with the masks. I really liked the color on them. I had also cleaned the brayer onto some Hahnemühle Bamboo paper that was larger than the masks.
I glued the masks to the bamboo paper, leaving a gap between the large mask and the tree masks.
Brushing on white gouache, I grabbed some of the color from the upper left and blended it across the paper to give the feeling of shadows on the snow. This also helped blend in the pen lines that were on the mask.
Backgrounds for Future Use
I still have some background made from cleanings and some ghost prints (second pulls using left-over color).
These were done on Hahnemühle Nostalgie and Bamboo paper. All of these were done after the paper was lightly sprayed with water.
The one of the left is the back of the monoprint done for the tutorial. The right is another piece of Bamboo paper. These were both done cleaning the brayer on dry paper.
I had a sketch, on Hahnemühle Nostalgie, that I never finished, and I used it to clean off my stencil. Not sure what if I’ll do more or just leave it like this.
I’m giving away two of the GelliArts sets and assorted Hahnemühle paper. The giveaway runs from Friday, November 20, 2020 to Saturday, December 5, 2020. You can enter at my Life Imitates Doodles blog or my Life Imitates Doodles Instagram account.
- 5” x 7” Gelli Arts® Printing Plate
- Mini Printing Tools
- Student Brayer
- Leaf Stencil
- Hahnemühle Bristol Pad 250gsm A4 8×11
- Holbein Artists Gouache Turquoise Blue
- Holbein Artists Gouache Katsura Blue
- Holbein Artists Gouache Primary White
- Holbein Artists Gouache Sap Green
- Holbein Artists Gouache Permanent Yellow
- Winsor & Newton Designers Gouache Brilliant Violet
Disclaimer: Hahnemühle _USA sent me three Gelli Arts® sets and pads of Hahnemühle Bristol, Nostalgie, and Manga Layout paper for the purposes of this review and two giveaways. I received no other considerations, though this post may contain affiliate links which help support Doodlewash. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.Recommended5 recommendationsPublished in