Thursday, September 16, 2010

A few words on today's piece...

For the illustration for page 377, in the post immediately below this, I tried something I had never done before. I have been interested in printmaking for a very long time, and there is something that appeals to me on a very deep level about prints. I like the democratic aspect of printmaking. For many people, price is often a real barrier when purchasing art, and since there is always only one copy of a painting or a drawing or a sculpture, the price tends to reflect this uniqueness. Prints, on the other hand, whether they are silkscreens or etchings or lithographs or woodcuts, can be mass produced in editions of 10 or 50 or even 200. The presence of so many versions of the same image makes the possibility of owning one much more realistic for everyone. Even I own many prints, even from good friends, and very few pieces of original art. I simply can't afford originals most of the time, while I can afford prints.

I have been thinking a bit lately about what I might do once this Moby-Dick illustration project is over, and I think I am going to work on making some prints based on the book. I don't have the money or the space to be able to afford a silkscreen rig or a press, so I am going to begin with woodcuts and linocuts since these can be worked on by hand, with knives and gouges, and printed by hand without a press. In the course of my recent research on printmaking, I came across the monoprint which is something I hadn't known about. In the simplest terms, making a monoprint involves creating images with paints or inks on one surface, generally metal or plexiglass, and then pressing a piece of paper against this surface to transfer the image to the paper. Each monoprint is unique and cannot be exactly reproduced, so in that sense they are more like pieces of original art rather than prints in an edition. Still, there is something about them that is very appealing to me.

The illustration for page 377 is a monoprint. First, I laid down a field of blue acrylic paints and let it dry. Then I painted over that with some watered down white acrylic paint to mask the colors a bit. Next I took a sheet of glossy paper from a catalog, painted the outline of a whale and its tail (bent to the right) in black acrylic paint, and then pressed this glossy page on to the page I had covered with paint. It didn't turn out exactly how I had imagined it would which to me is always delightful. The black paint was rather thick and had already dried in some places, leading to the strangely ghostly, indefinite image you see below. Since this was to illustrate a crazed and wounded whale that had been thrashing about madly, I was actually quite pleased with the shakiness of the lines. Next, I painted the outline of another tail in the center, printed that, and finally painted a third tail angled to the left and printed that. I let the black paint dry a bit, slightly enhanced the ropes and the cutting spades with some dry brushwork, spattered just a very few red ink blood drops on the image (I didn't want to overdo the blood this time) and the piece was finished.

This was a fascinating experience for me, and I'm looking forward to experimenting with monoprints more in future illustrations. Much about this piece surprised me. I was expecting the whale I had painted to reproduce in finer more definitive lines instead of the shaky blobby outline that resulted. But that accident was a good once since I was actually more pleased with the finished image. I imagine that thinner, more watered down paints or perhaps even inks would produce drastically different results. Plus, this monoprint was created using the additive technique, where paint or ink is laid down and printed. The subtractive techique, which involves coating the printing board with paint or ink and then wiping or scratching some of it away before printing could yield even more amazing results.

If any of you have any experience with monoprints or advice on best materials or media to use, I'd be very thankful if you could share it with me.


  1. Matt,
    There are so many possibilities! They truly are endless and I am sure you will get many responses but some immediate thoughts... I love the idea of woodcuts for this project, something about the blunt line and the harshness appeals to me. As far as Monoprints go I thought immediately of ghost prints where you pull one print and then immediately pull another - you get a ghostly image that can vary greatly from the original.
    Then there is oil paint and turps and different effects and going back into the print after you have pulled it and...
    Printmaking is wonderful and I would love to see what you would do with it.
    More as it comes to me.
    One more thing. I would like to buy one of your pieces. Could I send you a check?

  2. Sadly, I can't help Matt but I loved the insight into process.

  3. Kathryn, there are definitely even more possibilities than I have explored so far, even with the mixed media I have used for many of the illustrations. Right now, I don't think I have the time to create woodcuts for any specific illustrations simply because one of the only rules I set for this "Every Page of 'Moby-Dick'" project was one illustration per page, per day, every day. However, I will definitely be exploring woodcuts when I complete these illustrations since then I will have the time to really work on some larger and more elaborate pieces.

    I did read a bit about those ghost print images. I was hoping to capture something like that with the tail and the rope (in the illustration for page 377) but I think the acrylic paint I was using dried too quickly and was too thick. I need to look in to a thinner, wetter medium like inks or maybe oil based paints. I plan to visit the art supply store this weekend and see what i can find.

    Finally, I will have an email to you very shortly about buying art. Thanks!

  4. Thank you Titus. I'll be sharing a bit more from time to time on how these pieces come together. Sometimes I'll go into detail about the physical creation of the art, and in a few posts I'm going to start exploring the genesis of the ideas. I hope they are interesting to readers.


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