Saturday, January 12, 2013

Watercolor Monotype - Further Discussion

Small detail: And Then There Were None, watercolor monotype ©2012 Elana Goren
I had a request from a blog visitor to elaborate on my previous post, "Expressive Watercolor," where I had mentioned how we experiment with ground pigments in my watercolor monotype class. This post will address that request and hopefully give you a bit more insight into my method of working in this medium.* Jump to the paragraph with the asterisk if you want to skip the preliminary background discussion. Also, fyi, I have previously posted some preliminary discussions on watercolor monotypes here and here.

Firstly, a little background on monotypes. Impressionists from Degas to Cassatt embraced this way of creating unique prints. It traditionally involves applying oil-based colors such as printmaking inks to flat, smooth plates made of metal or plexiglass. The ink is applied or removed from the plate to create an image that is then transfered to paper using an etching press. This creates a unique print and sometimes a second (or ghost) print is made by putting the plate through the press again with a fresh sheet of paper. The first print will always differ from the second, with the former resulting in a stronger, brighter version of the latter.

Yet, there is also a more contemporary version of this versatile technique, watercolor monotypes, which require water-based or water-reactive media instead of the traditional oil-based inks or paints. I have to confess that I don't know the history of this newer approach, but I expect it was born out of the desire to create prints without the need for toxic solvents which are used for clean-up with oil-based media.

There are companies such as Akua and Createx that produce water-based inks that are designed for non-toxic monotype methods and I discuss these mediums in my class. However, I have found these colors to be more flat and much less luminous than what watercolor can yield and so I am more drawn to watercolor for that reason.

I use regular tube watercolors as well as Dr. Martin's Hydrus Watercolors (I love them for their intensity and vibrancy) but should not be confused with Dr. Martin's Dyes which are not archival. Painting on a plate with watercolor is pretty straightforward. The plate does need to be coated and buffed with gum arabic before you can get started but that prep work takes less than 5 minutes to do and the gum arabic dries almost immediately. After you've painted the plate and are finished with your image, you must let it dry completely before running the plate through the etching press with dampened paper.

*Ok, I've talked alot about monotypes and watercolor monotypes but I haven't talked about how I use these pigments yet, so here it is:

The more challenging part of my process when creating watercolor monotypes is when I introduce ground pigments into the work. And though I'm writing about my experiences with it here, I need to say that my experimentation with pigments is still ongoing. Dry pigments aren't the easiest or most predictable to work with, so if you have a precise idea in mind of what your results should be while using them, I suspect that you will be disappointed. Pigments (and printmaking in general) often require an open mind and a willingness to let things happen as they will when you work with the medium.

I use Earth Pigments and their website has alot of helpful recipes for all different applications, so I encourage you to check the recipes out (note: I am not affiliated with the company in any way, I just use their pigments). Keep in mind though, using these pigments is tricky since you need to prepare them properly in order to use them in your monotype work. Each pigment has different properties and some mix well with each other and some don't. You need to experiment with the colors and see how each pigment reacts. I mix a drop of glycerine and about a tablespoon of prepared gum arabic with anywhere from a pinch to a teaspoon of pigment (depending on how rich and opaque you want your color to be and the nature of the pigment) and mix all that with water (again amount of water determines strength or weakness of color—I suggest you add a little at a time and test it until you have what you want). I find that the glycerine helps distribute and smooth the color and the gum arabic acts as the binder. But you have to keep in mind the delicate balance you are working towards: too much glycerine makes it too "juicy" and "mushy" and too much pigment can cause dry areas that won't release to the paper when put the plate through the press. Some pigments also tend to be drier or need more binders, so you'll have to adjust accordingly. And, you cannot just mix the pigment powder with plain water and expect to create a dye/color/ink that can be used. This, my friends, will not work.

Once I have pigment prepared the way I would like, I tend to spray, drizzle, splatter or pour the pigment mixture onto my image to add energy and movement to what I've got down on the plate. This doesn't always work out as I had hoped since sometimes I miscalculate my mixture and end up with a mush if the color has pooled in one area or again if too much glycerine was used. It's usually best to use the pigment mixture sparingly at first to get a feel for it's properties and how it fits in with the way you work. You can also mix the pigments with your wet watercolor paints which is what I do all the time.

I hope this rather lengthy post has been helpful and as always please don't hesitate to leave a comment or suggestion. I always welcome your feedback.