Assignment 3 – Monotype portraits


Now that you have more of a grasp of the monotype process, create three monotypes that encompass the techniques you feel work the best to create the kind of self-portrait or portrait images you want. Think about what you want to communicate with these images and how your use of paint will enable this.

 Arrange the finished prints in different ways and photograph them. Before you do this, have a look at the work of Annie Kevans, Yuko Nasu, Luc Tuymans, Eleanor Moreton and Chantal Joffe to see how their series of portraits work as a whole as well as individually.

Send to your tutor by whatever means you’ve agreed: • your final three prints • photographs of your various arrangements • a selection of work from the exercises in Part Three • the relevant pages of your learning log or your blog url. In your learning log, reflect on your three monotypes. Which is the most successful and why? How did you manipulate the monotype technique to achieve the effect you were after? If you were to develop this work, how would you do it? Which artists have influenced you and how? Reflect on the ways you’d like to develop your work and the essence of what you hope to communicate.

For these three monotypes I wanted to use as many techniques as I could that I have been practising – on and off this course.  I have become quite enthused with the whole process of making a monotype print and this has sort of run away with me!   I initially decided to use two different models.

Monotype – Tahir

I decided to choose as my subject a friend who spends a lot of his time out in the forest in a wilderness area of Turkey where he lives.   I did not want to do a full facial portrait, as I wanted to show him in the environment he’s passionate about and also create an air of mystery around him.  For the source image, I took a screen shot from one of his videos and used this as the starting point.    

Screen shot, slightly cropped.

Photo-transfer process

In order to render this portrait, I first manipulated the colour photo using software, to make it black and white.  I put the photo through various filters to create a starkly contrasting image, as that is the best type of image to use for photo-transfer. 

The image is printed in black and white using a laser printer (which I purchased specially for this technique).  I used a gel press plate, acrylic paints (various brands for this project.  The gel plate is coated thinly with black heavy body acrylic paint and the photocopy is laid face down on top of it.  Then I lightly press down on the image and quickly pull it from the plate – this leaves the transferred image on the plate.    Another sheet of paper, which has been previously coloured, is then applied to the plate and burnished by hand or with a baren.  I do not have a commercial baren, so used my own hands and a baren I made out of a cosmetic jar covered in fabric.  After a few seconds, the print is pulled from the plate and voila a transfer of the photo has been applied to the paper.  

I made many tests in this fashion, using different papers, from standard A4 photo copier paper to 400gsm Atlantis watercolour paper. I made in the region of a 150 tests, so I cannot detail them all here. Suffice to say that it is impossible (at least in my experience) to replicate a monotype, which is why it has this name! It doesn’t matter how much you plan or try to use the same colours, techniques and paper – each result will be different. I think this is why I love making monotypes so much.

I wanted – through the tests – to produce a sharp transfer of the source image, especially around Tahir’s face.  This was the difficult part, as if you use too much ink on the plate, you get a black blob in places you don’t want it.  Too little paint on the plate, and the image is too faint.  It’s not an exact science and requires a lot of practise (hence the large volume of test pieces).    Using a spritz of isopropyl alcohol tends to stop the paint from blooming and making splodges but this is also very much trial and error.

After doing the tests, including using essential oils for one transfer technique I saw on YouTube, I found a few prints that I liked as far as sharpness of image, tone and background colours were concerned.   I then chose one and worked into it with soft pastel pencils and charcoal pencils to enhance the contrast and colour.  This is the result:

Tahir – monotype with soft pastels

In this final piece, it’s not readily obvious who the subject is, so it has a certain mystery, which is what I was going for.   I know who he is and Tahir was thrilled with the finished portrait – that’s all I could ask for!

I realised once I’d started doing all the tests for Faye’s portrait that the monotype portrait of Tahir would be out of sync with the collection.  I’ve decided to use his portrait for some other work I’m developing, hopefully on a large scale.  However, I am still leaving this portrait of Tahir in with this assignment work, as it relates to my learning processes.

Monotypes – Faye

I have done endless versions of this subject and ended up with 9 prints that I really like.  They are all on A2 paper.

I had already decided before I started this assignment that I wanted to work on a bit larger format than I’d done for Tahir’s portrait.    I want to get familiar with making minimum A2 sized monotypes for landscapes and this coursework was a good place to start.   I put the gel press plate away and purchased an A2 piece of bevelled plexiglass.    For the source image, I chose one of my own photographs and used an online resource ( to cut the photo up into four equal parts – as I don’t have access to an A2 photocopier.   Each quarter was printed out and then I stuck all the pieces together to form one large A2 photocopy – this was placed underneath the plexiglass. 

I looked at the monotypes I’d done in previous exercises – I wanted to try and create a minimalist portrait, similar to the ones made by Annie Kevans.  Initially, I decided to use Golden Open acrylics, as these seemed to work better than the oils I had in my stock:

  • For the first large print, I used pre-soaked Daler-Rowney Heavyweight Finegrain watercolour paper, blotted.  Golden Open acrylic paint – pyrrole red, phthalo green (blue shade).

Faye – Monotype 1
  • For the second print, I used the ghost from print 1 and added more paint to eyes, mouth and spritzed with water.   Paper – Daler-Rowney Heavyweight Finegrain dry.   Interesting watery effect – closed to how the subject looks in person.  Mottling caused by the water spray – also interesting.

Faye – Monotype 2
  • For this third print, I used Pre-wetted Daler-Rowney Heavyweight Finegrain paper and pulled a ghost from a previous print, that I’d done in pyrrole red. I was quite pleased with this one.   

Faye – Monotype 3

At this point, I decided to stop experimentation with the Daler-Rowney paper. 

Problem solving.

I was having a lot of issues trying to roll out paint medium onto the plexiglass surface and on the advice of a fellow student, I splurged out and ordered some Caligo Safewash relief inks.  I also ordered a Japanese soft roller, as I was led to understand this would work very well with plexiglass for rolling out inks/paint.   Once the Caligo inks arrived, I did some more experiments.   Well,  I have to say that these inks work really well on the plexiglass (they also work well on a gel plate).  The inks roll out a dream with the Japanese roller.   I have various papers – from Fabriano Unica to Winsor & Newton sketching paper.   I have tried all these papers out in experiments over the past couple of weeks and the paper that created the best monotype image – at least for a double layer print – was the drawing paper.    I have used the Atlantis and Fabriano papers in experiments for landscape work, outside of this course. 

These are the results of the tests I did with the Caligo inks and also Cobra water-mixable oils (with Cobra medium):

  • Red /burnt ochre) First I rolled an area of ink out onto the plate (a mix of red and yellow) and then wiped sections off, just where my subject’s hair was, then pulled the print.   Then I mixed Cobra water-mixable oils with Cobra medium (pyrrole red and yellow ochre) and painted the details of my subjects, highlighting hair.  I pulled the second print – I like how this one has come out – even though the registration was not correct, as the plate moved (I had not taped it down).  I like how the paint has created a toned image and how it’s created the freckle texture on the side of my model’s nose.  Her lips are also very believable and so are her eyes – although I may define her left eye (right for the viewer) as it is a little faded.
Faye – Monotype 4

  • I pulled a ghost print onto paper that I’d printed with a blue mixture (also Caligo inks). I drew into the plate before pulling the background colour.   This looks mysterious and almost like it’s been painted onto stone, I quite like it – the registration was also not 100% correct but it’s not overly noticeable as there is a lot of texture marks on her face.
Faye – Monotype 5
  • I again rolled out a mixture of red and yellow onto the plate but only in certain areas (where her hair would be and the side of her face.  I then wiped off sections of the paint, so that her face is very pale.   I pulled the first print.  Then I painted the facial features and hair using Cobra Payne’s grey and Cobra medium.  I really like how this one has come out. 
Faye – Monotype 6
  • Again, I made a base colour of red and yellow, however I didn’t wiped any of the paint off.  I again used Cobra Payne’s Grey and medium to paint her features.   She looks older in this print but I also like it.  
Faye – Monotype 7
  • For this print I again rolled out a mixture of Caligo red and yellow to create a soft orange and rolled this over most of the plate surface.  I wiped off some sections (face mainly) and also applied some butterfly stencils.  I pulled a print of this, as the background.   Then I worked on the surface with a deeper red to make the butterfly images and other hand-cut stencils stand out.   I then mixed up Cobra burnt sienna with Cobra medium and painted the model’s face, hair etc, before pulling the final print – so this was three pulls in total.  I am most pleased with this one. 

Faye – Monotype 8
  • This was done on Fabriano (originally A1 but I cut it down to A2).  I did a lot of background layers as I found that the inks did not soak into this paper very well, even though I pre-dampened it.  I think this paper is more suited to an actual printing press.   However, I persevered and for the final pull, I first painted my models features onto the plate using Cobra Burnt Sienna and Cobra Medium.  The image was not very sharp and I chose to use soft pastels and work into the portrait, I think I’ve captured her essence. 
Faye – Monotype 9

Faye – chosen monotypes for this assignment.

We are asked to arrange the group of prints and photograph them in different arrays.  As these prints are all A2, this was rather difficult as I don’t have any walls that are well lit in our house where I could accommodate all of the portraits, I laid them on the floor and took a couple of collections.

Faye – collection of 3 monotypes 1
Faye – collection of 3 monotypes 2


I am really pleased with the way these monotypes have progressed.   As an aside, I was reminded of the very first trace-off monotypes I did for POP1 (images), I think I’ve improved a bit since then. 

I first drew Faye round January 2009, when she was just over 3 and we were living in South Africa. .  She has her birthday on the same day as Madeleine McCann and we are always aware of the fact that Maddy went missing only a few years before I drew my first portrait of Faye.  

The making of a monotype is addictive, it’s very hard to stop!   I could continue making these prints forever because each one is different.  And even when a print looks like an obvious failure, it leads me to think of other ways to approach the process.     I am very limited for space, so A2 is about as big as I can work at the moment on my art table. 

What worked

I felt that all the attempts I made, from the earliest attempts at photo-transfer on the gel plate in A4 through to working with Caligo inks on the Plexiglass plate all had merit.  I don’t think there’s any such thing as a bad monotype because by its very nature, it is a one off and spontaneous.  It can be manipulated to a certain extent after the printing process has been completed.  I was pleased with the effect I obtained using soft pastels on print 9, which was quite indistinct before any other work was done on it.

What didn’t work / solutions

I found it really difficult to spread paint of any type (open acrylic, oils) across the plexiglass plate and was very despondent.  I didn’t think I’d be able to make any prints in A2 at all and would have to revert to the A4  gel press plate to finish this assignment.  Thanks to input from a fellow student, I was able to sort this out.   Using the Japanese roller (I cannot praise these enough), makes the entire process so much easier and fluid.   I have a lot of experimentation still to do with the Caligo inks that I purchased, I only used process red and process yellow.  I purchased four colours and am itching to use them for further monotype work in my own practise.    They wash up with cold soapy water, are odourless and have the consistency of thick honey, I love using them.   A small pea-shaped amount is adequate to print onto an A2 sheet, so they are also very economical.  


In the beginning, I was quite disappointed with the results of the photo-transfer technique.  I used Daler Rowney acrylic paints, as well as Galeria acrylics  and I could not get a strong dark transfer of the photo onto the plate, in order to pull a crisp image onto the paper.   The images were all very faint and I tried many different colour combinations /paint pigments.    Eventually, I spoke to a friend who has a YouTube channel and she suggested that I use Amsterdam heavy body acrylic black paint, as this achieves the best results.  I ordered this paint and it definitely makes a huge difference in the quality of transferred image.   It is also necessary to use a laser printer for this technique – although I have seen other people use inkjet printed images (also on YouTube) but I have not had any success with that at all.  I think it’s trial and error, the more a person practises, the more you get a feel for just how much ink or paint you need on the plate.    I tried transferring images from glossy magazines as well as laser printed images – strangely enough I got the best transfers from Vogue magazine images, other images from glossy magazines like Cosmopolitan for example didn’t transfer at all.  

I think I have met the criteria for the assignment and am looking forward very much to tutor feedback on this particular section of the course. 

Materials / processes used for this assignment

Paper:    Fabriano Unica art paper (A1 – trimmed down to A2), Daler-Rowney Heavyweight Finegrain Watercolour paper, Winsor & Newton A2 sketching (110gsm)  cartridge paper, Atlantis watercolour & drawing paper – 400gsm, Copier paper – A4

Paint/Ink:            Golden Open acrylics, Amsterdam acrylics, Cobra water-mixable oils / Cobra water-mixable medium, Caligo safewash relief printing ink

Equipment: Pantum laser printer, Gel Press plate / Brayers and stencils (store-bought and home-made), Plexiglass plate – A2, Japanese soft roller, Speedball brayer, Hand-made baren, Cotton buds, kitchen towel, baby wipes, brushes, palette knives. Spray bottles of water and isopropyl alcohol.

Processes explored:

Gel press plate techniques – image transfer technique, layering of colours, use of stencils (store-bought and home-made)

Essential oils – photo transfer technique

Plexiglass plate – A2  (painting onto a larger printing surface)

Reductive technique – wiping ink/paint from the plate surface

Using relief inks with roller on plexiglass, including use of stencils

Working into a print with soft pastels.

Bibliography (source of images done in POP1 – first monoprints)

Nitsa Malik (YouTube channel)   (colour image transfer using essential oils)

Brinton Museum – Printmaking techniques 2020

Rebecca Vincent – one of her videos showing her process – Cyanotype demonstration

Lucy Brydon – using Caligo inks on a gel plate

Joe Higgins – hand-rolled monotype using hand-cut masks, using akua inks

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