Unlike with direct drawing and painting, there is a big element of surprise in printmaking. I think of it as being kind of like opening a gift when you know generally what the gift is, but you don’t know exactly. Sometimes it’s better than you expected or hoped, sometimes it’s not as good. The image will definitely come off the plate looking backwards – like a mirror image – from the way it looked when the plate was being prepared. The artist has to take that into consideration from the beginning if it’s important to the composition.
WHAT IS A GHOST?
A ghost is what you get when you remove the initial print from the press and make a second print with the ink that's left on the plate after that first "run". Sometimes a ghost is more satisfying than the original.
How dark the ghost is depends on how much of the ink transfers to the paper on the first printing, and what is left behind on the plate for a subsequent print. This varies based partly on the amount of press pressure used and the thickness of the ink on the plate. Sometimes you can produce more than one ghost, each subsequent one being lighter than the previous print. But it’s a good idea not to slather more than an even, thin coat on the plate, or you could lose control and get a mess, with ink spreading under pressure where you don’t want it to go.
MONOPRINT OR MONOTYPE, WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?
It may not seem like it should make any difference, but a monotype is a work that has been printed without any subsequent touchups or additions of color or drawing with another medium. A monoprint is a piece that was found unsatisfactory in its original, first-run state and has been altered, usually with pastel, watercolor, or/and any drawing medium. I like color quite a lot, so I usually turn a ghost into a monoprint with one or more color mediums.
If you don’t like the result of either your original monotype or the ghost, you can always do more work on it, either with some more printer’s ink or with another medium. Whether or not you work on it while it’s still a little damp off the press or wait until it’s dry depends largely on the type of medium you’re using. Prints are more fragile when damp, so that is not a good time to work on them with any sharp or hard tool, like graphite, pastel or colored pencils.
You might be able to make something good, you might not. It’s like playing cards: it’s fun even if you don’t win. So you just play around and see what happens. You might get a disaster, you might score a success. You might get something so-so. The surprise is part of the fun.
YOU MEAN I DON’T NEED TALENT?
I don’t believe in "talent". I believe in acquired skill. I believe that when you find something intriguing and appealing enough to not let some disappointing results of the learning process deter you along the way, your skill will increase over time. People acquire skill to various extents and over various amounts of time. Artist Paul Delaroche was said to have “no particular talent”. Yet his painting The Execution of Lady Jane Grey in the Tower of London is the most popular painting in the National Gallery in London and it has gone on loan/tour to other museums! I have an entire book about just this one painting on my shelves! So much for pronouncements about "talent"!
Stop judging your current skill level and jump right in! It’s the only way to learn. Don’t buy into the mystique some artists either just go along with, or even actively promote, to try to dazzle people and feed their own egos and desire to appear "special".
Artists, like violinists, chess masters, pastry chefs or forensic investigator are made, not born. And lots of artists who aren’t good at realistic portrayals of anything are happily creating to their heart’s content, anyway. So play!
You can go totally crazy with realistic detail (or at least give it a try), or you can go for something more spontaneous and abstract. I like both, though I am not usually a fan of most modern or abstract art. Suffice it to say that academic-level realism is a lot more work; I don’t as much as have a few sips of cider when I’m working on anything. When I have even a teeny bit of alcohol, I feel more like putting my feet up than going to any effort at all! So I don’t drink and work on anything, even if I could probably do some abstractions under the influence of just half a glass of wine. It just makes me too lazy to care about making any effort, and that isn't good.
DOES PRINTMAKING REQUIRE A BIG INVESTMENT?
Not necessarily, especially when you just want to experiment with it to see if you like it. You don’t even need a press to make a monotype. You can have a go with a heavy kitchen rolling pin, instead. But you will need some other supplies, too: some black printers’ ink, printing “blankets” made from sheets of felt, plates (usually flat sheets of hard plastic , zinc, or copper), printmaker’s paper, unprinted newsprint paper, a soaking tray (or use your bathtub or a plastic or metal tray or dishpan), a couple of terry towels and tools with which to apply or remove ink from the plate(s).
I use all types of tools: cotton swabs, a pointy kabob skewer, bits of sponge or cloth or paper/plastic/cardboard, old combs/credit cards/toothbrushes and makeup brushes, as well as artists brushes. You can try anything. Some leaves, feathers or twigs could be interesting tools. If you want to remove inks from an evenly coated plate to make the image, you’ll need a printer’s rubber brayer, too. But you can just draw or smear the ink on the plate with your tools and leave some appropriate areas clean, instead of coating the entire plate and then removing ink where you want clean paper to be on the printed piece.
IS THAT ALL THERE IS?
I’m not covering the full procedures here, just introducing you to a few concepts and a basic supply list. If you’re ready for more information, there are a lot of sources: your local library, an internet search, an artists’ communal printshop, or a class at a local club or school can help you get started. I got started at one of the “Monoprint Madness” sessions at New York’s Salmagundi Club, but a Senior Center in my neighborhood also has printmaking sessions.