R3 – loose paint and monotype

We understand and read faces from the background of our own culture and experience, and that is why it is confusing looking at the faces of people from different cultures – we see strangers, whose faces and identities we struggle to recall in any detail.  I believe this phenomena is also intimately connected with the disruption in communication which occurs between two people, one of whom understands the basics but not the subtleties of the others’ language; we lose the intimate link between face, expression, and the spoken word, that helps us define and learn individual identity.  Yuko Masu expresses this breakdown of understanding in her paintings with a sense of despair and frustration, obliterating, smearing and blurring the heads she cannot read or assimilate the details of.  It’s particularly telling that she exagerrates the differences between western and eastern features – western eyes become as big and round as saucers, the sockets exposed.  Henry Tonks’ portraits are different altogether; they were realistic detailed studies of faces actually disfigured by battle wounds.  I can see there are some superficial resemblances with the distortion of features; but Masu’s faces are disfigured by her inability to comprehend the person in front of her, Tonks’ by unflinching observation of the incomprehensible.


I was interested in Eleanor Moreton‘s watercolour ‘Sisters’ shown in FAD Magazine here  http://fadmagazine.com/2012/11/24/eleanor-moreton-i-see-the-bones-in-the-river/ (there are other similar ones in the artist’s own web site). The painting has a photographic quality, possibly due to its source, but also because of the monochrome treatment.  I love her metaphor for the process of painting as a ‘dance’ –  intuitive when it’s going well. She describes how she likes painting on a smooth surface, and how at the time she was using brown cardboard as a support for her thinly painted oils.  The series referred to in the course manual, Absent Friends, was of portraits of female writers and singers the artist admired, painted in oil and pastel on birch panels, seen here http://www.eleanormoreton.co.uk/absent-friends-1/. In all of them you can easily see the smeared brushwork in the thin oil paint, not done to obliterate as Nasu does, but simply as a way of applying the paint..

Kaye Donachie‘s atmospheric portraits of historical female figures appear as if veiled with other layers of light and shade and outline, dissolving into other forms.

I also like very much Laura Lancaster‘s messy portraits, usually whole or three quarter length groups of figures, which seem to have photographic sources as reference.

Kim Edwards‘ monotypes of the Suffolk coast ( http://www.kimedwardsartist.com/gallery_686792.html )make no concessions to the beauty of that landscape.  Without being picturesque, I would want to express a very different experience from my days of living and sailing there.  Such unrelenting deep, forbidding grey is very rare.  Technically, it’s interesting that the course book says she uses thick oil for monotypes, as I had the impression so far that the paint will need to be quite thin to get a good print.


Annie Kevans‘ series of dictators as children show their sweet faces with a few delicate transparent washes of thinned oil on paper, and a very light touch.  They appear at first glance as monochrome sepia on old, yellowed paper, but looking more closely there are thin tints of pink, green, yellow, and of course black eyes on each one.  The series is provocative in its subject matter, and Kevans admits she made up some of the faces – it doesn’t really matter!  The works are portraits only in a loose sense, really being a composite of existing images, her research and her imagination.

42 more of Kevans’ portraits shown in Artsy.net – mainly female subjects – are similarly painted in thin sepia, but with colourful touches of bright blue and red her and there (I guess added later), like coloured photos.

She has created many more series, all with thought provoking concepts.


Kim Baker makes colourfully decorative, loose swirls of bright paint which seem abstract until you spot the shape of a bird amongst the brushmarks; in her latest (2017) series, Bird in Forest, they are composed in the shape of an oval, on a black background.  We can then interpret the swirls as leaves other forest.  They look as though made in a single brushstroke with a wide brush, loaded with several colours side by side (see also Manet below).  Alli Sharma uses dark backgrounds too, particularly in a series of cartoon-like animal portraits.  These cute furry animals have been made to show a grim and threatening persona by Sharma’s treatment; there is an air of menace which comes through in the human portraits too.


Looking at David Bomberg‘s work I found Circus (Abstract Composition) appealing for its light use of paint, ‘outlines and colour…creating a simple abract composition’ – https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/circus-abstract-composition-141712/search/actor:bomberg-david-18901957/page/2

In this self portrait: http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portraitLarge/mw71457/David-Bomberg-Self-Portrait-with-Pipe oil paint is used by Bomberg’s in a very sketchy way to describe the subject.  I like the use of startling blue pigment among the gloomy tones to give the painting light, and differentiate the subject from its background.


I looked up Velazquez‘ techniques in the course-suggested book “Techniques of the Great Masters of Art”, p52.  It notes that his earlier paintings show attention to realistic detail, and talks about the care and detail with which many of his paintings were done, about his ‘smooth blended brushwork’ and how he ‘frequently made minor alterations’.  But then it notes that in the 1630s his handling of paint became somewhat freer and cites the light and sketchy gloved hand in the portrait of Phillip IV as an example.  This sort of brushwork was what impressed and influenced Manet.

In the same book, Manet‘s early work is said to have been made using slurred brushstrokes and a wet in wet technique, with colours mixed on the canvas.  In Déjeuner sur l’herbe, 1863 the figures are painted in thick oils, but the background by contrast was made sketchily, with thin, flat paint added later, around the figures (this approach does draw attention to the figures, which I will remember when I want to achieve that effect in my work).  Zooming into details, I can see the confident brushwork, which looks expressive of form in places, in others speedily executed with simple hatching.

The figures in Concert in the Tuileries, 1862 are also painted speedily, wet in wet, with rich, concise blocks of contrasting tone, and the background is done with thin greens, helping us again to separate background and foreground.

Much looser and unfocused is Manet’s handling of paint in Roadmenders in the Rue de Berne, 1878, in which you can see foreground details using distinct, vigorous brushstrokes, several colours to each stroke, and in the distance thin, opaque hazy blues and greens. According to the writer, ‘…loosely and broadly handled colour creates a sense of immediacy’ (p207).



This web page is about the history of mono printing and recounts various artists’ (Castiglione, Blake, Degas, Gaugin) practises http://www.monoprints.com/history.php

Many of Degas‘ pastels were done on top of his ghost monoprints.  Moma has some interesting insights into monotypes in general, and particularly compares those of Degas with Maurice Prendergast, Milton Avery and Elizabeth Peyton, here https://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2016/05/27/lasting-impressions-the-monotype-medium-from-edgar-degas-to-elizabeth-peyton/

https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/1613And here

According to the book ‘The Artist and the Camera’, page Degas made use of monotypes to depict dramatic tonal contrasts, often mixing his materials.  He had a passion for keepsake photographs of friends and family as well as self portraits.


Gaugin made delicately coloured watercolour monotypes; there is an example in ‘The Artist and the Camera’, page 121.  : see http://www.artnet.com/magazine/features/cassidy/cassidy10-8-03.asp  for an explanation of his process: placing damp paper over the watercolour or gouache design and pressing with the back of a spoon would loosen the water based medium, transferring the design in reverse on to the paper. See also http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2007/impressionist-modern-works-on-paper-l07009/lot.112.html

Gaugin was also a pioneer in the creation of traced monotype – see ‘The Artist and the Camera’, page 121, in which the lines are blurred and textures appear where the artist has applied pressure on the back of the paper.  I watched this video explaining trace monotype process, and demonstrating the addition of watercolour and pastel https://youtu.be/vSBkHBQt7rU


I looked at the following contemporary artists who he monoprint techniques in their practice.

Therese Oulton makes monoprints combined with oil paint on paper. thereseoulton.com/portfolio/works/prints-in-the-Tate-collection/ and http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/oulton-untitled-p11197

I like the jokey, cartoon-like work of Sam Messer. Although it looks unpolished and scrawly, there is very deep observation, as well as a lot of fun in his images.  I couldn’t find any of his work directly referred to as monotype, but many of his paintings feel as though they may have started life that way.  I added one of his works to my Pinterest board ‘Monotype’  http://pin.it/xzuGk66 – this painting was sent to me by a supplier when I was looking for Japanese paper.

Charles Amoldi makes abstract monotypes .  In the one I’ve saved on Pinterest here http://pin.it/xVEwI9c he seems to have carved out abstract shapes from a black background, then maybe added paint and texture in the spaces created.

Kathy Muehlemann makes monotypes depicting natural scenes.  some are here http://richardtullis.com/Sites/Muehlemann/index.html and another in my Monotype Pinterest board.  She achieves dark, mysterious textures, the landscape seeming to evolve out of the process.

I found this an excellent student blog for giving me insights and ideas for monoprinting techniques https://suesprintmakingblog.wordpress.com/








The Artist and The Camera, Dorothy Kosinski, pub Yale University Press 1999


Techniques of the Great Masters of Art, pub Chartwell Books Inc, 1989.


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