A quick word about names: monotype and monoprint used to be considered more or less synonymous, but recently people have begun to reserve monotype for the image printed from a smooth plate, and monoprint for varying images printed from a plate that may have some etching or carving on it. I confess that I’ve been using them interchangeably, so I guess I’d better get more accurate in future!
Anyway, a trace monotype is done by inking a plate, laying paper down on the ink, and then drawing a design on the back of the paper. Wherever you draw, the paper is pressed more firmly and sharply against the ink, making a dark inked line on the front of the paper. There’s often a shadowy look around the line as the pressure, and therefore the amount of ink, fades away from the line. You can also see on this piece by Hedda Sterne (USA, 1910-2011) the smudgy appearance caused by random ink transfer, especially wherever the artist’s fingers happened to brush or press.
paintbrush for a brushy-textured area (as the skunk’s stripe), or my fingertips for a wider line with smudgier edges. Then I lay the paper onto the plate and work from the back, again tracing with the paintbrush handle tip (or just a pencil) for a sharp black line (as the tenrec’s lines), or pressing with my fingers with various amounts of pressure for various amounts of ink transfer (as the doodle below). One other method I’ve used is to cut a stencil, lay it over the ink, and then press the paper over it. The stencil blocks the ink from the paper (as the snowflake).
Unlike an ordinary block print, monotyping gives not only black and white but potentially a whole range of greys. However, it’s quite hard to control. If the ink is too thick and wet on the plate, the whole monotype turns out a black blob. If the ink’s too thin and dry, you get barely any image at all. Still, I’ve had fun fooling around with it on occasion.
Also, the kids in my classes love this. At the end of each class, just before it’s time to clean up, one child takes each plate and tries a monotype. I help by holding the clear acrylic plate up while they work so that it’s backlit and they can see a little bit more what effect they’re having. All the other kids watch and cheer the artist on and applaud the results - or groan sympathetically if it doesn’t turn out. There aren’t as many plates as students, but over the course of a couple of days everyone gets a chance.
[Pictures: Untitled (Radar), trace monotype by Hedda Sterne, c 1949;
Untitled chair, monotype by AEGN;
Tenrec, monotype by AEGN;
Monoprint Skunk II, monotype by AEGN;
Untitled snowflake, monotype by AEGN;
Untitled doodle, monotype by AEGN.]