The process of creating monoprints is generally associated with the art of printmaking. The artist first applies pigments to an impervious surface such as glass, plastic or firm clay. The pigments stay moist as the artist adds layer upon layer to the print block until the composition is complete. Then a piece of paper is carefully placed on top of the pigment-covered block and the whole thing is run between the rollers of a press. If all goes well, a single image is transferred to the paper and the resulting print is hung to dry. Only one print can be pulled from a given composition, hence the name monoprint. This technique results in prints that are at once carefully planned and joyfully spontaneous. Little surprises often accompany the finished work as the layering of colors produces interesting and unanticipated results during the final pressing.
I first began playing with the form of monoprints while teaching introductory ceramics classes at nearby Bloomfield College. Drawing inspiration from the fall foliage, I instructed my students to use layers of underglazes and leaves to create small plates. Over the following semesters, the projects grew ever more complex and interesting. I used the teaching opportunity and associated demonstrations to develop my own new and exacting variations to this time honored practice.
It wasn’t long until I was creating sets of monoprint plates and platters in my studio. The tradition of making them in the fall and relying on a harvest of fallen leaves in and around my yard continues to this day. Although I have added new techniques such as paper cutout relief and found object masking to the process, there is nothing like looking out the studio doors at the autumn colors to get the creative juices flowing.
My monoprint process involves one key twist. While traditional monoprinting layers pigment on a sheet of firm clay and results in the production of a paper print, my process seeks to develop the clay block and not the paper sheets. In fact, I generate and discard up to 7 prints for every plate or plaque I produce. After each layer of pigment is applied, I use a sheet of paper and a hand-held roller to blot up excess material, prepare the slab for addition pigment layers or to flatten any bits of dry pigment. As the composition nears completion, the complexity and interesting nature of the discarded sheets heightens. There have been rare times when I have used a sheet of rice paper to clean the final layer and kept the resulting print in my collection. Although the pigments I use for clay projects are poorly suited for paper printing, they are still cool to hang onto.
Once an image, is composed, I press the moist clay into a plate former and pull off all of the layers of resist material, which generally includes leaves and paper cutouts. If I miss any, they will catch fire in the kiln and ruin the piece by causing the underglazes to blister. I have been forced to destroy more than one nice plate because of an abandoned tip of a fern leaf or unidentified bit of paper. So it pays to put on my glasses, be careful and not celebrate too early.
After the initial bisque firing, the pieces undergo a series of finishing processes. I like to paint the backs and edges of each plate with a couple of coats of a complimentary colored underglaze. I then cover the entire plate with clear glaze. This brightens the colors and makes the plates a bit stronger. Then I load everything back into the kiln, close the lid and cross my fingers.
It isn’t until the pieces are removed from the glaze kiln the following day that I see the results of my labors. The underglazes and other pigment compounds interact with the clear glaze creating new translucent layers. Experience has enabled me to anticipate most these results but I continue to be amazed by unexpected acts of randomness. Such is the joy of working in a ceramics studio.
You can view the full collection of my monoprint pieces in the shop section of this site as well as some items in my personal collect in the gallery. I also offer small group workshops in my carriage house studio every fall so keep an eye out for schedules and cost later this summer. I hope you enjoy my monoprints. From the traditional leaf motifs to abstract compositions and intricate urban landscapes, they are a joy to behold and a blast to create.