Part 3, exercise 3.1: Monotype portraits with paint – 20 preparatory ink studies and a few test prints

22 August 2017. Since I have never used monotype before except once for a very quick sketch, I knew that it would be essential to invest some time in preparing mind and workplace.

First of all I had some pieces of glass with smooth edges cut in sizes A5, A4 and – ambitious – A3 as well as some 40 x 50 cm mirror glass as our only mirror suitable for painting is build into our bathroom wall.
Next I had a good look at several online videos explaining monotype techniques and came away with some invaluable additional hints for working with acrylic paint instead of oils. They were:

  • cover the glass in gloss medium before starting to paint, this aids the lifting of the paper
  • try and use thin layers of paint
  • moisten the printing paper before use, wait for a few seconds before using it (have several ready in a plastic bag)
  • use roller to exert uniform pressure

A video introducing the use of four colours on acetate sheets (Blick Art Materials, 2009) was something I want to keep at the back of my mind, just in case the printing works well enough to allow me to experiment with something a little more complex.

25 August 2017. Found work by Kentridge again and discovered just now that in the 1970s he made a set of up to 30 monoprints called the “Pit” series (Kentridge, 1979).

28 August 2017. Yesterday I prepared my sketchbook for this part of the course (Fig. 1-5), then started the painting, reluctantly, because I am not keen on observing myself in mirrors and am generally less interested in my own face than the rest of the world.

The prescribed research as set out on p. 66 of the study guide did not focus on artists making monotypes, but rather on painting styles suitable for quick monoprints and the examination of tonal values.

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Figure 1. Sketchbook – introductory research: Annie Kevans and Alli Sharma
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Figure 2. Sketchbook – introductory research: Kim Baker, Geraldine Swayne and Eleanor Moreton plus own technique from POP (top right)
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Figure 3. Sketchbook – introductory research: Edgar Degas
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Figure 4. Sketchbook – introductory research, top: Paul Wright, unknown artists and Clara Lieu, bottom: techniques mind map

I decided to select those styles, which held the greatest promise for my own attempts and made a small mind map plan to structure my 20 sketches (Fig. 4, bottom). 5 each of my ink sketches would be devoted to testing the styles of Annie Kevans (dilute, fine brush), Paul Wright (dilute, coarse brush), Edgar Degas (wiping off dark background) and Clara Lieu (grey background, painting into and wiping off that background).

Sitting at my drawing table, writing into my sketchbook with my mirror in position on a table easel, I noticed that this view could be interesting for my quick sketches. I intended to place the self-portrait in the lower righthand corner and create an impression of someone sitting opposite absorbed in communication. I made a rough pencil sketch of the situation (Fig.5).

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Figure 5. Sketchbook – top: testing arrangement for ink sketches, bottom: recording exeriences with first set of 5 sketches (Kenvans style)

I soon found out that I would not be able to do my idea justice with my 1 minute sketches. 60 seconds are an awfully short time to create a meaningful portrait. My paintbrush, a very nice watercolour brush combining a large size body with an additional central pointed tip, helped me in switching from fine to wide brushstrokes without having to reload more than a few times, but these movements alone used up over half the painting time. I noticed that I would have to make the sketches larger than intended, so in the end I just settled for letting things develop (Fig. 6-8). The first two sketches were awkward, no. 1 suffered from temporary rustiness of the artist’s hand and from forgetting that we only had one minute to complete the sketch. The second was somewhat better, but I was far too slow to be able to consider the tonal values across the whole face (Fig. 6).

Figure 6. Annie Kevans style sketches no. 1 and 2

Next I had a good look at the tonal values before starting to paint but still ran out of time. The fourth attempt was then made without my glasses on so as to force myself to reduce attention to detail. I decided to do the painting including the squint (Fig. 7).

 

Figure 7. Annie Kevans style sketches no. 3 and 4

The last, and in my opinion best so far, sketch I produced after reducing the light level in my workshop by pulling the blinds down (Fig. 8).

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Figure 8. Annie Kevans style sketch no. 5

Overall I noticed that with every sketch my confidence increased in what I did. There is absolutely no likeness in any of the above (at least I hope so ;o)), but I can recognize the immense value of working quickly. The paintings are relatively lively, especially the last one. Also, I can see that I managed to transport the facial expression correctly, i.e. the intensity in straining to observe.

Thoughts and adaptations for the next round testing a Paul Wright style:

  • have the blinds down from the start
  • change from straight-on view to slightly from one side, if possible (second mirror??)
  • try and look less stern
  • prepare all the sheets of paper before starting to paint and use them all in one go without a break
  • make a preliminary pencil sketch to get acquainted with the idea of where to place light and dark areas
  • sit still for a short while to allow the information to sink in
  • use a wide, coarse paintbrush with less dilute ink

The above I tried today and got results not really worth mentioning. Despite having prepared by carefully studying tonal contrasts I was unable to achieve anything in 1 minute, the time was simply too short for my kind of experience. Using the coarse brush would be extremely interesting once I have acquired more experience in distributing a paint load from the initial dark and liquid to the final light and dry brushmarks. As things are there is simply not enough time to think at all. So, here are the results, first my sketchbook pencil sketch (Fig. 9), which I was happier with than my first one, it is less strained, then the awful series of rough ink sketches (Fig. 10). In contrast to my first series here the more I tried the worse they got …

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Figure 9. Sketchbook – examinig tonal values adead of starting the second ink sketch series

 

Figure 10. Paul Wright style ink sketches

When doing the scans for this blog I noticed that the scans revealed some quality areas, however small,  in some of the sketches, which I would have missed by looking at the originals only, for whatever reason. The same effect I had seen when scanning and printing the fields in my Assignment 2 umbrella project, where the prints allowed me to identify patterns where I saw something different and less interesting or nothing at all in the originals. Strange, but definitely worth remembering.

So, again there is no likeness, but as in the first series I noticed that I did succeed in transporting the overall facial expression and mood, more relaxed this time, but still serious-looking. If I had to make a choice, I would discard no. 1 and 5 immediately. The remaining three share a common “hurting” look. At first I wanted to throw away no. 3 (top right), but seeing it in conection with the rest, I believe that it may be the strongest of them. The person appears both mentally and physically hurt.
Regarding technique: It was next to impossible to imitate Paul Wright’s style with the available materials, tools and time. Despite not being able to reproduce them correctly with my coarse paintbrush, I became increasingly familiar with the distribution of tonal values.

29 August 2017. We have been growing alum crystals with out little son over the summer holidays. So I thought that I might start my alchemy lab again and use some of the leftovers for painting. I found out that alum is commonly used as a mordant (fixing agent) in marbling. What else can be done with it I tried find out for myself in the course of the next series of experiments with ink. The first set (Fig. 11-13) was done on gloss medium vs. alum as backgrounds, and water-soluble vs. waterproof black ink, using a coarse flat paintbrush to achieve a mark-making resembling Paul Wright’s style.

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Figure 11. Sketchbook – top: gloss medium background, bottom: alum background; left side: water-soluble ink, right side: waterproof ink

The largest differences here were the slight browning effect of both types of ink on the gloss medium, which did not occur at all on alum, and, oddly, the greater ease of wiping off the waterproof ink on both backgrounds. I suspect that the properties of the water-soluble ink allows the liquid and pigment to soak through the transparent coat into the paper, were it is then out of reach. Half-dry waterproof ink, when wiped off with care, will leave interesting ragged darker edges (Fig. 11, top right).
Next I tested both types of background again, but this time using black linoprint colour and a paper kitchen towel with (ample) spirit to spread and wipe off the paint (Fig. 12).

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Figure 12. Sketchbook – top: gloss medium background, bottom: alum background; all test fields: linoprint paint spread with kitchen towel and spirit to help wiping off the paint

As the above looked a lot more promising regarding a possible wiping off of paint within the given time-frame of 1 minute, I produced an imaginary portrait on gloss medium background covered in a more or less uniform layer of linoprint paint. On the first day I managed something looking static and sombre with a kitchen towel, cotton buds, spirit and a lot more time than one minute (Fig. 13), the day after I tried to continue experimenting, but found that the paint was much harder to remove, so achieved only slight changes before I had to give up (Fig. 14).

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Figure 13. Imaginary self-portrait using linoprint paint on gloss medium background, wiping with spirit, stage 1
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Figure 14. Sketchbook – imaginary self-portrait using linoprint paint on gloss medium background, wiping with spirit, stage 2

What I had not anticipated was the interaction between linoprint paint and spirit. When applied with a cotton bud, the spirit would travel some distance to cover a larger area than intended. If left for a while, the paint in the wider area would come off, too, and also this area would be bounded by a brilliantly white edge, presumably because the action of the spirit at the edge would affect a smaller surface area. This surprising effect can add a new quality to a painting, if in the right place. Since I do not expect the same effect to work when applying linoprint paint to a glass plate, I ignored it and proceeded to repeat the experiment, this time with gloss medium and black gouache (a background I had already tested in Assignment 1 (Lacher-Bryk, 2017a) (Fig. 15).

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Figure 15. Sketchbook – testing the wiping with spirit on a background of gloss medium and black gouache

The combination of gloss medium, gouache and spirit allowed the greatest flexibility so far.

Next I proceeded to make a few very quick test prints with my A5 glass plate on good quality A4 sketch paper, first using antique inks (Fig. 16), then my planned paint, acrylic diluted with gloss medium (Fig.17-18).

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Figure 16. Sketchbook – testing monotype with two layers of splodges of antique ink
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Figure 17. Sketchbook – testing monotype with Paynes grey acrylic diluted with gloss medium
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Figure 18. Sketchbook – testing monotype with Paynes grey acrylic diluted with gloss medium, inverting Fig. 17 by painting in the spaces not covered by the painting in Fig. 17

I noticed very quickly that I would need a lot more practice with both the above media. The inks, if used thinly, will dry so quickly that printing is hardly possible, and if in larger quantities, they will spread on the glass with enormous ease, so that the outcome of a painting would be pure coincidence. With gloss medium-diluted acrylic paint spreading was no problem, but no matter how great the care taken to lift the paper, there would remain ungainly ridges (easy to see in Fig. 17), the more so the greater the quantity of gloss medium. I decided to stop using gloss medium for this purpose.

2 September 2017. As the results of my first attempts at trying out monotype were a bit pathetic, I felt it necessary to do more research on the available techniques and their prerequisites, before preparing my third and fourth sets of ink sketches. I sat down to plan Part 3 with another mind map (Fig. 19).

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Figure 19. Sketchbook – mind map planning Part 3 of the course, first version

I also did some lengthy research on the do’s and dont’s of monotype and found that I should use thinner paper to print, on which I can paint, carefully, while it is still on the glass plate:

Or how to use soot mixed with linseed oil to make “paint”:

Or else to use linen rags or other kinds of cloth as printing surfaces. It would also be interesting to make my own gelatine printing plate, but it can only be used for a short while before it dries out:

Another link introduced the use of stencils, nets, ripped strips of paper, cut paper etc.:

7 September 2017. Assignment 2 results and feedback reflection (Lacher-Bryk, 2017b) overtook last week’s rough ideas, so that today I find myself with a detailed plan for Part 3 (Lacher-Bryk, 2017c). Also, since I sorted through my painting materials today to make room for the monotype exercises I stumbled over the oil paint I had left on the table to make myself use it again after 15 years. Spontaneously I decided to try making a few rough monoprints on normal A4 copy paper, using just one colour (Fig. 20-23). I was very happy to see that the paint is still OK and the printing was much easier than with all the paint I had tried out before. It was easy to push the paint around on the glass and create accumulations, but I will need to find a set of paintbrushes or other tools allowing me to manipulate the paint with greater detail. I also must not let too much paint accumulate in one place, because it will produce an ugly, oily splodge. The brushstrokes left by my coarse paintbrush produced lively patterns, which might be used as part of the painting, but will need practice to work well.

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Figure 20. Test print – oil on photocopy paper, coarse brush, no dilution
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Figure 21. Test print – oil on photocopy paper, soft brush, diluted
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Figure 22. Test print – oil on photocopy paper, soft brush, diluted, inverting Fig. 21

Figure 23. Test prints – left: oil on photocopy paper, using leftover oil paint to produce an imaginary 1 minute sketch with coarse brush, using roller to make the print, right: ghost print, applying pressure by hand

8 September 2017. After some time finding excuses I went back to produce the last two of my series of 1 minute ink self-portrait sketches. This time I decided to see whether I could find my own style, in the first set I using ink with little water added and a thin brush (Fig. 24), in the second a large soft brush and highly diluted ink (Fig. 25). With all of them I tried emphasizing the tonal emphasis by adding darker ink. I noticed that I became increasingly familiar with my face, so that I was able to add somewhat more detail. I also tried to look less strained. In the first set I can now see parts of myself in parts of the paintings (except in no. 3 and 5). The painting with the large brush in the second set was too difficult for my present skills, so hardly and likeness there.

Figure 24. Ink sketches, own style, little water added to ink, thin round paintbrush

Figure 25. Ink sketches, own style, high degree of dilution, large round paintbrush

Overall, looking back at this exercise, I could probably go on and on with my 1 minute sketches, without any of them looking like me :o). Every time I start again I see new aspects to pay attention to, which precludes paying attention to the other parts of the composition. For example, over the time it took me to complete the final set the sun started going down and I noticed a deepening of the shadows. Unfortunately I was not able to reproduce this effect, but I was happy to notice the slight differences in tonal values. In one or two of the sketches I was interrupted by phone calls. While speaking on the phone I continued with my sketches, which turned out looser than the rest.
I cannot say whether I will be able to use any of my sketches as templates for the following exercises, but I very much enjoyed using them for my test prints. Also I am glad to have finally brought myself to open my oil paints again and I will be using them for monoprinting in this part of the course. The print quality is so much better than anything I tried to do with acrylics, linoprint colour and gloss medium and the paint was a lot of fun to use. So oil it is going to be!

References

Blick Art Materials (2009) An Intro to Akua Kolor and Monotype Printing [online]. Blick Art Materials, Galesburg. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oIYny3uwXxM [Accessed 22 August 2017]

Kentridge, W. (1979) Pit [monoprint series] [online]. [n.k.], [n.k.]. Available from: http://doublevision-berlin.de/werke/william-kentridge-pit-1979/ [Accessed 25 August 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017a) Assignment 1: Twenty 15×15 cm Shadows [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 9 May. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/05/09/assignment-1-twenty-15×15-cm-shadows/ [Accessed 7 September 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017b) Assignment 2: Tutor Feedback Reflection [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 5 September. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/09/05/assignment-2-tutor-feedback-reflection/ [Accessed 7 September 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017c) Part 3: Preliminary planning of the practical work [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 7 September. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/09/07/part-3-preliminary-planning-of-the-practical-work/%5BAccessed 7 September 2017]