A monotype is a one-of-a-kind work of art on paper. It is created by painting or drawing an image on a flat surface or plate, placing a piece of paper on the plate, and applying pressure in order to transfer the image from the plate to the paper. Pressure most often is applied with a printing press. Some artists will “pull” a second impression from the ink remaining on the plate after the first impression has been printed; this second impression is called a ghost.
The artist may consider a particular ghost a finished work of art in its own right or may use the ghost as an underpainting of sorts and continue to draw, apply additional ink, or add layers of collage to the ghost until the artist’s desired image becomes visible. Once the monotype and ghost have been printed, there is virtually no ink or image remaining on the plate. A monotype image actually is the ink. Monotype is perhaps the simplest, least time consuming and most spontaneous printmaking process, producing one (mono-) print (type).
Sometimes artists, art sellers, and art buyers use the terms monotype and monoprint interchangeably. These are two different art forms. A monoprint is one in a limited series wherein each print shares some sort of common matrix applied in a uniform manner. Printing processes such as etching, lithography, mezzotint and woodblock also produce a series of prints of a single image. A monotype is a one-of-a-kind print, a unique picture in the same sense as is an oil painting, watercolor painting, and pastel.
The first exhibition devoted to surveying the history of monotypes occurred just 43 years ago. The Painterly Print: Monotypes from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century premiered at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, October 16-December 17, 1980, then traveled to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where it was on display January 24-March 21, 1981.
In 2016, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City mounted an exhibit, Degas: A Strange New Beauty, which included more than 100 monotypes as well as charcoal sketches, oils, pastels, etchings, lithographs, and a couple of Degas’s sketchbooks.
Click the PLAY button below to view a little demonstration of how a monotype is made. It is hard to believe 12 years have passed since Rolling R Productions filmed this video in my Harwood Art Center studio in Albuquerque, New Mexico.