One of a Kind

Recently I’ve been taken by the idea of printing, and most specifically ‘Monotype’ printing, where every print made is unique.

It’s a very spontaneous technique, and the method imparts a deliciously unpredictable but fascinating quality to the prints. As with most of these methods, sometimes it works better than others, and the trick is to get to know what will push the hand of fate in your favour. That’s the journey I’m embarking on.

Androgynous Monotype

There are two ways of monotype printing: one where you paint your image directly on  glass and print from it; and the one I used here, where the method is to ink up a glass plate (the smooth reverse of a glass chopping board) with printing ink and a roller. Water-based ink  is very convenient as it takes hardly any cleaning up afterwards. However, in the longer term I expect I’ll need to explore other options, especially if I want to add other media onto the base prints. But I digress.

Once the plate has been inked, carefully lay a sheet of plain paper (copier paper seems to work pretty well) over the inked area. Don’t press down anywhere! Next, draw an image on that paper with a pencil or ballpoint pen, making sure that your hand doesn’t ever touch the paper. Unless you’ve a super-steady hand, this will almost certainly give you some unusual lines, and maybe a bit of wonkiness, but that’s all part of the fun and the uniqueness of this method. You can’t rub out once you’ve made a mark, so either take it very carefully, or throw caution to the winds – your choice! If you want to shade areas, your finger will do a great job, just press on the paper in the darker areas, or shade with the pencil – both will give a different effect. A rather simple drawing with a minimum of shading tends to work very well, I’ve found.

When you think you’ve finished your image, it’s time for the big reveal. Peel off the paper, and TA-DA! Your monotype print in all its gritty, grainy glory.

Girl 1 Monotype

You can see that in the second image, I had too much ink on the glass, but I think I got it just about right with the first girl. Also, my roller is a bit eccentric, so the ink wasn’t as evenly rolled as I’d hoped, but I honestly think it all adds to the charm.

I finished off the session with a snoozing cat, because I like cats.

Cat cushion Monotype

I’m addicted now.

Birthday Inklings

Two of our friends (married to each other) have birthdays on consecutive days. The perfect excuse to make a pair of cards which might look nice together on the mantelpiece.

It’s been quite a while since I used ink and a brush, and I fancied having a little play. I sketched the outlines, each image no larger than about 6cms. Next I added water inside the lines with a clean brush, and using a different small round brush stroked in blue/black Calligrapher’s Ink (W&N) and watched the magic happen. Because the images were small, it took very little ink to get the right kinds of bleeds and spreads. This technique is so  satisfying when it works.

Swan ink

Black cat ink

Fingers crossed they like them!

Two black cats

Stuck for something to draw quickly today, I ended up looking at our cat, Peat, curled up peacefully. Why not? He was in that deep afternoon slumber which usually means very little movement for quite some time. I decided to mix it up a bit by getting out my brown paper sketchbook, and working in ink.

For a while I’ve been thinking about putting some Indian ink into a waterbrush to see how I get on, and I finally acted on that. Getting the ink in was a bit of a trial (tips and tricks gratefully received – I don’t have a tiny funnel). I’d previously had water in the brush, and although I’d emptied and shaken it, it wasn’t really dry as I added the ink. This meant that for the first few minutes of sketching with the brush the ink came out rather dilute. Doh! But even that’s got it’s own character.

Peat’s a totally black cat, which gave me some challenges when trying to show the play of light on his fur, and his shape. The brown paper doesn’t take a lot of liquid before bleeding through, so in the end I didn’t get the blacks as dark as I’d have liked.

Peat ink 1

I tried a quick second sketch, intending just to do a line drawing, but made some poor decisions about how to show the rear haunch. This spurred creativity as I tried to fix it,  and settled on going for an approach where anything less than 50% shaded I left uncoloured, and any area over 50% shaded became black. It’s produced quite a graphic feel, which I rather like.

Peat ink 2

Silly Cat

Sitting on the sofa, doodling, this came to me. It reminds me of some of the visual jokes and word games they used to put in Mad magazine when I was a small child in the ’70s.

There’s not much else to say, except I had fun!

Cat ink words

Glowing Erik

Erik purple watercolourBack to cats today: the mood was right. I chose Erik the Red. I did consider whether she (yes, Erik’s a girl) should be just done in Indian ink, but then I remembered I’d been inspired by a picture of an orange and purple cat in an art textbook. Erik was absolutely fiery in the afternoon sunshine, so in the end it was an easy decision.

I masked out her whiskers first, then put the background in using ink. Once this was convincingly dry I added the watercolours. Putting in the purple was very satisfying – it feels rather anarchic to use something so bold and patently not orange when painting a ginger cat!

Another Day, Another Cat

Early evening, and Peat the cat is perched, dozing, on the back of the sofa in a slightly precarious position. I thought I’d squeeze in a quick drawing – it soon turned into an ink sketch. It took under 10 minutes. I found it very refreshing to work so fast, without analysing every step.

Peat ink sketchI used Indian ink, this time in my medium-weight cartridge sketchbook. I knew the paper wouldn’t take much water, so I didn’t work wet-in-wet at all. The lighter areas were done with a fairly dry brush, and then added to for grey tones using a little diluted ink on the brush. Initially the large dark areas were rather streaky, as the brush I used was too small for the matte effect I wanted, so once it had dried I went back over these areas with a larger brush – that did the trick. The page is slightly bowed as a result, but I can live with that.

It’s delightful to be able to make really black blacks so fast with the ink, such satisfying depth after many years of being addicted to graphite. Even 6B can’t compete.

Knowing When to Stop

ipad Cat photoSometimes, you want to keep it simple. But knowing when to stop can be so hard. I’m definitely guilty of often carrying on when I should have stepped away from a picture to catch it at its best. However, occasionally a picture you thought was going to be one way turns out as something rather different.

I’m really fond of this iPad sketch done in quickly in the Brushes app. It’s my cat Peat, curled up like Smaug on the sofa. He’s black, so very black that it can be difficult to see his features in low light.

I sketched out his main curves, and suddenly didn’t want to take it any further – one of those happy cases where less is probably more.

Just Footlin’

I decideCat mandalad to let myself off the hook today and just do something quick and fun, without worrying too much about how it turned out. I have a black sketchbook which hasn’t been doing much recently, and so I thought it might be different to do a monochrome picture. Mandalas were in my mind, and I’ve never experimented with one before – seemed like a good opportunity to have a play.

So, here’s a little mandala/silhouette combo which reminds me of our sly black cat, Peat. I used a chinagraph pencil and, in retrospect, I think I might have been better off with a standard coloured pencil, as the chinagraph was quite sticky in the way it went onto the paper (reminded me of school crayons!) and the point wore down very quickly so details were hard to achieve. But I enjoyed myself anyway, and for me that’s the whole point.

Erik the Red

With time to spaErik 1 outlinere, and courage in my heart, today I decided to have a go at a watercolour painting. Normally I’d be more comfortable doing ‘watercolour sketches’, working quite small, as I’m usually outside and can’t carry larger paper sizes.

So, today I broke free of my norms, and attempted a picture of our cat, Erik the Red. She (yes, she was named before other necessary observations had been made) was  watching her brother in the garden. Her pose was silhouetted against a bright sunny background. I took a photo, as I knew she wouldn’t be still for long.

Working big, for me, means 16 x 12 ins paper (the biggest I have). I actually would have liked to have gone bigger if that had been an option. Anyway, the idea was to try to free myself from the pernicious detail which often invades my pictures. I am captivated by watercolourists who can express a wonderful scene or image with just a few beautifully-placed and well-timed wet brushstrokes…

I made a sketch, editing out a few details as I went along. I took a photo at this stage to remind myself that, if it all went pear shaped, I could have had a nice enough drawing instead! (It’s a terrible photo though).

As usual with wateErik 1 watercolourrcolour, the moment I put some paint on, starting with a pale yellow for the outside light, I realised that I was going to end up painting things in the wrong order. I’d intended to do all the background business first, then paint Erik. Fate decreed otherwise, as the yellow I was using was a good base for starting Erik, so I laid some down…and then panicked as the thought hit me that if I wanted to get some wet-in-wet effects going, I’d have to do it now, or it wouldn’t work properly. Eeek! From then on, it was a bit of a mad dash to get Erik’s fur sorted. The edges didn’t bleed the way I’d hoped to make them, but there are some parts which did unexpectedly interesting effects. That’s one of the bonuses of watercolour.

Cat done, I started work on her shadow and the floor tiles – this was fun. I love the way the water has crept into the shadow. However, I’m not very happy with the window frame, or the yellow background. I always find backgrounds difficult, both in terms of composition and colour. There’s such a lot to learn… Onwards and upwards!