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At one art club, printmaking brings veterans and beginners together for a lively evening of art making.
Printmaking often serves to bring artists together. Because most artists don’t have a printing press in their home or studio, they likely produce their work using a shared press at a printmaking studio, art school or other organization. In such settings, artists can trade techniques, offer inspiration and critique work. At the Salmagundi Club, in New York City, the printmaking technique of monotype brings artists together. Gatherings are equal parts party and serious workshop.
Printmaking has a long history at the Salmagundi Club. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the club would host dinners for artists, and after the food was cleared away, copper plates were handed out and the artists would create monotypes—so called because each plate produces a single, unique finished print, rather than a series of several impressions.
At the end of each of these events, a couple of the best prints would be selected to become part of the club’s collection. At some point the club’s printing press was sold off, perhaps in the wake of the 1929 stock market crash.
But several years ago, club president Robert Pillsbury raised funds to purchase a new press in hopes of reviving the tradition, and the club began to host monotype parties once every few months. Quickly, these became so popular that they were made a monthly event, open to the public.
A PAPER FIT FOR PRINTMAKING
At a recent monotype party, artists printed their works on Stonehenge—a paper that was created specifically for printmakers but is used by artists across a broad spectrum of media. This makes it a good fit for monotype, given that the process can incorporate almost any medium, wet or dry. Artists at the Salmagundi’s event created prints using ink, oil pastel, oil stick and watercolor, among other materials.
“It’s not a heavily instructed evening,” says Pillsbury. “I’m a printmaker myself, and often I’ll just do a quick demonstration of the process, showing subtractive and additive techniques. Then people ink up a plate and get to it. The more experienced printmakers all tend to help new people along. Monotype is such a simple process to learn, you can get up to speed very quickly. It’s not like etching or lithography, which take time to develop specific techniques.”
This makes monotype a great medium to try if you’re new to printmaking. Asked what advice he would share with someone using the technique for the first time, Pillsbury says, “We always tell the newbies not to do something too complicated for an image. People will be thinking of an image that would be terrific as an oil painting, but that will likely be too complicated for monotype. My advice is to do a simple design or drawing that is relatively easy to render, with one dark value, middle value and light value. There’s always time to get more complicated later as you gain experience with the process.”
Pillsbury also recommends artists make several attempts at the same image. “That way, you really get a feel for the relationship between what you do on the plate and the finished product,” he says. “The best way to understand that relationship is to repeat the process.”
With experience comes even more freedom in constructing an image. “I think the most significant thing about monotype is there are no rules,” Pillsbury says. “Basically, anything you can put on or do to a plate can be translated to a piece of paper through this process. It’s just amazing—the sky’s the limit.”
MAKING A MONOTYPE
At the Salmagundi Club’s monotype parties, beginners are taught the following subtractive monotype process:
1. Using a roller, spread etching ink over a blank plate, which can be zinc, copper or Plexiglas, among other materials.
2. Use Q-tips, toothpicks, rags, paper towels or other tools to remove ink from the plate and create your image. By removing ink more thoroughly in some areas than others, you can build several layers of value in your “drawing” on the plate.
3. When you’ve finished your drawing, lay the plate on the press, cover it with a damp piece of printmaking paper, and use the press to apply pressure, creating your finished print.
4. Sometimes there will be enough ink left on a plate that you can run it through the press a second time, creating a second, fainter impression, called a ghost print. (You can later use pastel, watercolor, colored pencil or another medium to enhance the ghost print.)