Solvents can make you lose control… in a good way. I learned about using them with monoprints during my time at Penland School of Crafts.
One of my biggest complaints about relief printmaking is that it is hard to have an image look painterly. You either have flat ink, some kind of blend roll, or layers of texture made by a rotary tool. Flow is something you rarely get with a relief print.
Solvents are the Wild West
This iceberg image was one of the first ones where I used solvent freely. I liberally dropped mineral spirits on a transparent layer of phthalo blue lithography ink. Using a Q-tip and a paint brush, I drew around the areas with the solvent, and then let the pigment disperse. If you have ever sprinkled salt crystals on wet watercolor, the effect is similar, but much more pronounced.
Solvents are the Wild West on the monoprinting plate. Your inks can bleed into areas you didn’t intend, such as where the iceberg is now peaking out above the surface of the water. While oil-based ink can stay “open” — meaning you can work with it or wait to print for some time, when you put down the solvent, you are on the clock. I found that within 10-15 minutes, areas of my block had little pigment, and the surface appeared dry. When printed, you will see the white of the printing paper. Whether this is what you intended, or not. Delays also mean you lose some of the sharp details that solvents and brushes can create.
Bringing solvent back to the home studio
Despite the challenges of solvents, I was determined to figure out a way to use them in my home studio. I don’t have adequate ventilation to use solvents in my basement, so I purchased a small metal office table at the IU Surplus Store and placed it outside, close to a door that leads to the basement. I can bring the inked plate outside, use Q-tips, brushes and toothbrush bristles to apply the solvent to the plate, and then rush the plate back inside to the press.
Be careful to keep the plate perfectly level on the way to the press. Juicy solvent areas will run. I learned that the hard way.
The battle between solvents, inks and papers
Even outside, odorless mineral spirits are toxic, so I was hopeful that I could use Gamblin’s Gamsol as a solvent and use my Gamblin relief inks for monotypes. I discovered two things: 1) the Gamsol moved the relief ink quickly on the plate, but 2) the Gamblin relief ink transferred poorly from the polycarbonate plate to dry paper. Gamblin’s website does recommend monoprinting on damp paper, but my studio doesn’t have the capability to soak paper. It would have to be done in our only bathtub up an entire flight of stairs. Plus once you get paper wet, it is difficult to register subsequent layers. So no relief ink…
Luckily I had some Hanco lithography inks, like those I used at Penland. Unfortunately, the Gamsol didn’t move this ink well at all. So I will need to continue using odorless mineral spirits on my monoprint plates, and reacquaint myself with litho inks.
One of the challenges I made for myself is to use new techniques intentionally. I want to ask myself — is there a reason why I am using solvent in this piece — other than the fact that it creates cool organic oozings of color…
Here is a sneak peek at a multi-layered monoprint that I created using solvent and tape. Parts were successful, and parts went, well, squish.
More about the squish and the tape to come…