4.1.1; Mono-Printing on Fabric

Aims: To explore a variety of fabrics as a ground for printing onto with acrylic paint. To experiment with Acrylic Mediums.

Why did I select this material/process/approach? I really enjoyed my previous paper investigation. Even though I found little difference in the performance of the Gelli Plate from one paper surface to another, I still felt compelled to repeat this activity with fabric.

Sample properties. Degree of success: What worked/What didn’t? Why?

Muslin: The print, below left, was made onto muslin, which gives it a really light airy feel. I noticed that many of the subtleties of my mark making were lost on the open weave, it is quite grey. The Ghost Print (detail, right) was pulled on copy paper, it shows much more tonal variation and the structure of the muslin adds texture.

Tulle: I began to see that fabric could become part of the printing process, rather than just the substrate itself. I laid tulle onto the plate to create a textural surface before removing it and completing my drawing. The print was again pulled on copy paper. I like the marks made by the tulle, they create interest, mimicking the centre of the flower while at the same time contrasting with the smoother petal shapes. I wonder if the pattern is a bit too ‘perfect’ though? The tulle could have been scrunched up a bit.


Organza: I do love a sheer fabric! The organza works because even though it is very thin, it does have a texture of its own. The densely packed threads create a soft linear pattern beneath the print. The print is best viewed when layered (left: over white paper, right: over silky lining fabric with a complimentary sheen) but held to a window the image is soft and delicate.

Sheer fabrics like muslin and organza were challenging to work with. When laid over the plate, areas of thicker paint immediately soaked in and through the fabric. In order to prevent this spreading I placed another layer over the plate before rolling. This produced unexpected additional prints. On the left copy paper has accepted a bold abstraction of the original print. On the right calico has been used multiple times capturing random marks that could be developed into something new.

Organza, Calico and Tulle: I began to combine the properties each fabric had to offer. Initially I exploited the scratchy texture of the tulle by using it as a mark making tool. I then lifted some paint with organza, leaving behind yet another texture. The first Ghost Print (left) was pulled on calico using Textile Medium to lift the acrylic. This is quite different from the second Ghost Print (right) lifted with Gloss Gel Medium onto copy paper. Both have their merits, I like the level of detail in the paper print but the variation of tone in the fabric version is greater. There is still so much to learn!

Muslin and Brushed Cotton: Using tulle like a rag to remove paint from the plate helped loosen my mark-making with the palette knife even further. The ‘drawing’ isn’t perfect but the energy of the marks sort of describes how much I was enjoying myself, this was ‘perfect’ because sunflowers do give me a real sense of joy too.

I chose to print the image onto Muslin to create texture for the Ghost Print which was to be pulled on Brushed Cotton. I chose this fabric because its underlying structure is disguised by the brushed fibres giving it a smooth quality, a bit like paper only softer and warmer. I am in two minds about the result, I’m not sure I like the feel of the plasticity of the paint that sits on top of the fibres but visually I am happy with the level of detail.

Polyester Lining Fabric: I was quite surprised at the performance of this cheap, synthetic fabric but it suits the acrylic paint (perhaps more so than the Brushed Cotton, which was too different?). Following the success of the print on the left, I had high hopes for the Ghost Print, right, I learned a valuable lesson here about expecting the unexpected- it is very dark and contains little contrast, especially when compared to the original.


How could I use this sample/technique/material/research in the future?

I learned how to use the materials I have to make effective prints which will help as I move on to the next exercise. Strangely though it is not the more successful prints that I am now considering. I feel that some of the prints that didn’t quite work out as expected could now be used as the basis for further development. I think I could, like Degas, work on top of these. It would be interesting to draw, paint or even add stitching to these. I wonder if I picked these particular prints because they are less precious since they have already ‘failed’ in some respects.

Did I discover anything new or unexpected? Something that didn’t come as a surprise was this ‘print’. It is fairly typical of the sort of ‘clean-up’ piece I usually produce at the end of any making session. I am always really attracted to these, for their aggressive painterly style, which I actually believe is more ‘me’ that the refined pieces I tend to present as ‘my own’. It is frustrating that in my minds eye, I can sort of see what this could become but as always it is still just out of my reach!


What do I want/need to do next?

I intend to move onto the next exercise. I could happily continue exploring the many other possibilities that this reductive method has to offer, however, I have been caught out too many times, being too thorough at the beginning of a unit and not leaving myself enough time for the later exercises.



4.1.1; Mono-Printing on Paper

Aims: To explore a variety of papers as a ground for printing onto with acrylic paint.

Why did I select this material/process/approach? For this set of prints I elected to use some of the mark-making tools and techniques I had tried previously, to create the image of a sunflower. The purpose of the exercise was not to focus on the drawing aspect but the materials, (although I discovered as I experimented I became more economical with the marks I made and the image improved anyway). I sketched onto the plate from direct observation of sunflowers as I found in my last set of prints I was copying my drawings not using them as inspiration. This was creating a tight, stilted effect that was spoiling the spontaneity of the technique.


Sample properties: Look/Feel. Structure/texture/colour.

Cartridge papers: I was concerned that the three different types of sketchbook papers I had would produce different results. In fact I needn’t have worried, they performed equally well. Since I am using the Gelli Plate which is designed to be used with dry paper the weight and finish of the papers seems less important than it would be using a more traditional plate and damp paper.

Cardstock: I found this a good alternative to copy paper, it has a similar smoothness but because it is heavier and slightly stiffer it does not curl or wrinkle. The print on the right was white paint pulled onto black card. This is an alternative that might be worth exploring later, as it is a reversal of what is normally expected from a black and white print.

Abaca Tissue and Brown Wrapping Paper: These were both good alternatives. Abaca provides a translucency that would lend itself to layering; the Brown Paper has an interesting linear texture that would compliment any image or pattern. Both provided a suitable strength, weight and absorbency suitable for printing.

Deli Paper and Paper Napkin: I wasn’t so keen on these thinner substrates. The paint seemed to be a bit squidgy when picked up by Deli Paper and the Napkin had the opposite problem of becoming stuck, tearing as I pulled. Both surfaces can be used if these effects are desired but I found them less enjoyable to work with.

Newspaper and Magazine Pages: I had intended to use these as backgrounds for my printed image but on reading the instructions for the Gelli Plate, discovered they are probably not suitable as they can transfer ink or become stuck to the plate. I wonder if anyone has been brave enough to trial these?

Degree of success: What worked/What didn’t? Why?  Was I experimental/logical/controlled/expressive enough? The versatility of the Gelli Plate and of acrylic paint meant that most of the prints were successful. I wonder then if my choice of materials was a little too safe? MMT has led me to think there should have been some failures along the way if I was being expressive enough!

Although the image was a supplementary concern, it is worth noting that whilst I was engaged with controlling other aspects of the process the drawing remained fairly free and unselfconscious. There are some prints were I can notice that I have been a bit too hesitant but on the whole I am happy that I was able to accept the imperfections.


In fact the one of the prints that could be described as less successful (notice the great black hand print above?) actually taught me the most: I realised I could be applying much more pressure to the back of the paper. Once I applied this knowledge the grainy effect that was spoiling the blocks of solid was much less apparent

How does this relate to my contextual research? My mark-making was particularly influenced by the monotypes of Degas and Pissarro. I like the overall darkness of their images and the variety of wiped marks’ from very fine and scratchy to quite broad and fluffy. The technique allowed both artists to create texture, for example: Degas ballerina’s tutus or Pissarro’s cabbages. This was what I aimed to do particularly at the centre of the flower.

On reflection, since this set of prints were designed to explore the potential of the paper to used as the ground, perhaps I should have focussed my research on this, instead of the marks that artists have used. I need to remember to keep my research relevant

How could I have approached this differently/What could I do differently next time? Could I repeat this using a different material/techniques?

The next step is to investigate fabrics as a ground for printing. I tried this briefly with Calico. The print, left, was made with just acrylic paint, for the print on the right I added Textile Medium which I have never used before.

The Textile Medium created a more flexible surface and is definitely worth using. I think it also made the paint looser which created a more solid background. It would be interesting to now wash these two samples to see the difference.

I did not immediately see the benefit of printing onto fabric as opposed to paper. It is much harder to align the fabric and the block to centralise the image (I am having enough trouble doing this with paper!) Once the fabric is down and the paint soaks into the surface making it easier to see when the whole image has been picked up, but this can be rather messy. It was only when I pulled the Ghost Print below (on copy paper) that I noticed that some for the fabric weave has also been transferred. This added texture adds to the diversity of the mark-making, creating interesting prints.


 What do I want/need to do next? 

  • Repeat this investigation, using fabric instead of paper. Be prepared to take Ghost Prints onto paper to capture texture.
  • Try a more solid printing plate (glass, plastic, metal) to allow firmer scratching.
  • My ink has arrived! How will this change the quality of the prints?

4.1.1; Mark-Making (2)

My experimentation led me to conclude that this reductive method of producing monotypes has two distinct possibilities:

  1. hard edged, sharp lines that contrast strongly with the background.
  2. subtle, smudgy marks that produce more tonal variation.

This assessment was corroborated by my research. I found Matisse’s monotypes fitted the first category, (See here). These contain very energetic, sharp edged, bold marks that stand out against their grounds. Matisse’s drawing expertise appears, as it would on paper, only the colour is reversed- white line on black ground.

Experimenting with Hard line

I used images from my sketchbook to inspire the prints above. When you emulate a master of bold line, like Matisse, you instantly appreciate that no matter how simple an image might appear it takes a lot of skill and confidence to produce. Instead of long elegant lines, I produced scratchy wobbly ones- it was really difficult to be as decisive on the plate as I was on paper. This is probably psychological, the people watching sketches were part of a series, literally scribbled onto copy paper in 30 second bursts. As soon as I tried to reproduce them, I already felt I had more invested in the image because of the process. From this I learned that you can’t fake spontaneity, you can’t copy it you really have to commit to it.

I decide to work from the sketches below, being looser and more abstract to begin with, I thought they would be an ‘easier’ source inspiration.


I produced a stack of similar prints to those below, as I explored different tools for mark making. This also provided the opportunity to learn about the thickness of the paint, how long I could work it for and how the ghost prints differed from the first pull. Since I was no longer as concerned about the image itself but in discovering the process the marks became freer. Finding that I could lift a dry image by applying another layer on top resulted in the print far right. The inclusion of colour has had a huge impact, lessening the contrast but introducing a greater variety of marks.


It was much easier to find examples of my second categorisation: subtle smudgy marks. Degas prints in particular have a dark, atmospheric quality that suits the intimacy of his images. The looseness of tone helps suggest movement and fluidity. I had no idea that he used monotypes to provide a framework on top of which to work with pastels or gouache. Learning this gave me a much better appreciation both of his works and this process.

Experimenting with Rubbing

I liked the softer marks that I was able to achieve using sponges, felt and rags but felt I didn’t really understand them until I actually used them to produce an image. The sphere (that I have highlighted in the photograph below) opened my eyes to the possibilities of this type of mark making.

I set up a ‘still-life’: a dramatically lit glass, because my experience trying to copy my own drawings in the previous samples taught me this made me too precious. My observations of Degas prints informed my choice of cocktail glass above others because it suggested a smoky glamour that fitted the atmospheric style of the process.

It is necessary, to an extent, to ignore the poor quality of the actual ‘drawing’ and focus on the effects achieved. It is good to find a method that allows the drawing of the highlights, utilising the colour of the paper beneath. I recently used correction fluid for the same purpose. I was impressed by the amount of tonal variation that I was able to achieve just by disturbing the surface of the paint.

The second print had dried on the plate and was picked up using white acrylic. The consistency of the white paint is very different to the other colours, it seems somewhat slippery. This has created a distortion in the image that is actually quite appealing (Illustrating the importance of imperfection again!)

Far from perfect, the third print has energetic and bold marks that are supported by the inclusion of cheery yellow. I reworked the image, adding white highlights to the ghost image on the plate. This was done loosely, with a brush to begin with and then my fingers. This is more like the additive process to be addressed in 4.1.2. it gave me a glimpse of the possibilities of this more painterly approach.


I had expected to prefer the hard edged marks, attracted by their elegant simplicity. I actually enjoyed the tactility of manipulating paint with soft tools and my fingers. This created a broader variation of tone. I can only imagine (at present) how wonderful it must be to wipe, pull and drag an ink across a plate. A solid plate, oil-based ink and solvent must be a very exciting combination.

Focussing on the resources I have at hand, I am going to

  • explore different surfaces for the prints: papers and fabric.
  • improve the quality of the solid grounds to provide more definition
  • try combining the marks I discovered in this post
  • work on top of reductive monotypes to exploit the looseness and fluidity this inspires

4.1.1; Monoprinting: Mark-Making (1)

I have learned so much already, but the one thing that didn’t surprise me was the difference between the course notes and reality. For this exercise they say “Make between five and seven prints..” after three sessions I have 80!

This discrepancy stems from my decision to use water-based acrylic paint on a Gelli Plate. As anyone who has ever used one of these, one print leads to another and the next thing you know two hours have past and you have a stack of prints. Spending such long periods deeply immersed in my ‘creative place’, where logic, reason and reality are suspended has been hugely beneficial and freeing.

The practical considerations of my decision to use the Gelli Plate were that it was what I already had, it is easy to clean and that the paint dries quickly. The thought of oil based inks with their retarded drying time really put me off because I have enough problems with stray hairs from my Labrador attaching themselves to everything in sight, without inviting them in with an exposed, tacky surface.

If I had the opportunity to work with a more traditional press in a different setting, I would have jumped at the chance. The increased amount of work involved in the production of each print would probably have made me more careful about the number I took… And there it is… the word ‘careful’… this is exactly the quality I am experimenting doing without. Can I still be me, only faster?

The Gelli Plate seems to be perfectly designed for today’s ‘throwaway’ society and for instant gratification. It performs well with cheap acrylic paints and dry copy paper: it positively invites prolific use. This is exactly what I needed to encourage the development of my drawing skills, it gives me the freedom to be bold and spontaneous in my mark making because the losses are not too great.

Each of us gains something different from every task, even though we are all responding to the same set of exercises. For me printmaking provides an opportunity to explore drawing, rather than focussing on achieving the perfect print. Of course I am doing my best to explore the variables and to produce ‘quality’ but in this case I think ‘quantity’ might teach me more… (We will see!)

The dangers of using a Gelli Plate are that the prints might look amateurish. I need to be aware that the most common use of a Gelli Plate seems to be (from internet research) to be the production of backgrounds for a Journal Pages, this is not what I want my monotypes to be. I have totally brought into the versatility of the plate and am hopeful I can achieve the results I require. I am prepared to change the plate if necessary.

Printmaking begins:

I gathered a range of mark-making tools and set about manipulating smooth layers of black acrylic paint. The image on the right is fairly typical of the stack of prints I generated at first. Since this this not the first time we have been required to ‘make marks’ I was totally prepared for this to be an exploration of line, rather than a representational exercise.

I enjoyed the freedom of this, learning a lot not only about the marks each tool could achieve but about how thick to roll the paint, how long I could work for before it dried and the importance of lining up the paper (which I am rubbish at!). These early experiments have provided me with a reference as I have progressed.

I was really rather taken with the ghost print above right, in the photograph it looks quite dark but the brush marks actually have a really soft tactile quality that contrasts well with the darkened spaces between them where excess paint has collected.

I spent a while trying to recreate this effect, which in itself was a useful lesson about printmaking: spontaneity creates marks that are difficult to achieve when you try too hard.



Part 4; Reflection: Printing Begins

The luxury of having six weeks holiday provided me with the opportunity to begin Part 4 without delay. In fact it happened so quickly that I didn’t even have a new sketchbook ready to catch all my ideas. I have ended up with a pile of notes on copy paper which is driving me crazy. I don’t want to repeat the mistake of an A4 file like I submitted for Part 1, nor do I want to waste precious printing time transferring these into a ‘neat format’ for the sake of it.

To date, presentation has been one of my strengths. Just lately I have felt a real change in my… work? approach? attitude? thoughts? Not sure exactly what it is or how to describe it! Inger identified ‘a sense of new beginnings’ which is definitely true, it feels like a building momentum. This means I am working prolifically and my thoughts are coming really quickly. My experimentation has been extensive, I did not expect to encounter so many variables in the printing process, I am really unsure how to communicate this learning. It seems more honest to preserve my ideas in the format that they arrive. It also feels quite scary to reveal this more scruffy approach and the observations that are closer to my core than anything I have presented so far.

I feel like I have connected with the process in a very different way to knitting or stitching, which feels comforting and protective by comparison. This not to say it is a negative feeling, simply a more powerful one.

My initial research into monotypes didn’t fill me with the sense of dread and paralysis that other units have. Sometimes I prefer not to research beyond the technical requirements of a new process because seeing other people’s work is really scary and leaves me feeling flat for days. This time I felt buoyed up and enthusiastic.

I have absolutely no idea where printmaking is going to lead me or what the prints are going to look like. Early tests have already shown me that I am going to have to be brave and decisive in my mark making. I need to explore the spontaneous and accidental. I can’t afford to be too controlling and careful with this technique. The removal of this filter between me and the paper feels terrifying and exciting at the same time.