MONOTYPES AND HANDMADE PAPER : A NEW EXPRESSION OF DRAWING
Since 1983 I have been exploring the making of monotypes with newly formed, wet sheets of paper and water-based elements. The work is created in the medium for itself alone, not as a traditional print transfer. This monotype or one-of-a-kind approach has allowed me to forgo the concern of what is going to make the print (stone, plate, wood) for the concern of drawing itself. Since each activity in the making of art effects an artist's development, I was seeking a new pace and enrichment in the drawing experience to enforce my imagery. The direct procedure of a single impression was appropriate to both my skills as a papermaker and my training and experience in traditional printmaking.
Several events led me to investigate the handmade paper monotype. In 1982, Yukio Fukunaga, a Japanese artist-papermaker, gave a presentation at Pyramid (1) and explained that ancient Chinese calligraphy papers were often dried on limestone to produce an exquisite surface to receive the brush. With this information in mind while teaching at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts (2), I explored transferring liquid tusche drawings from porcelain slabs to wet [i]gampi[r], with exciting observations. In particular the tusche transfers retained clearly articulated lines and tones such as are seen in a lithograph, with the additional impact of spontaneity and richness of mark as found in oriental calligraphy. Black ink drawings were subsequently made on wood. These drawings were covered with strong [i]kozo[r] paper in wet formation, which was dried naturally, in place and unrestrained, producing elegant transferred marks as the paper was released from the board.
The next year at Pyramid, Joe Zirker, California print and paper artist, demonstrated his approach to monotype, including the use of Stabilitones -- water-based markers -- to produce exciting transferred images through the etching press. The marker's appearance on the traditional white Arches 80 printing paper stirred the thought of frescoes in my mind. (3) I imagined that water-based markings could be "shrunk" into the paper pulp as it was drying.
In 1986 a series of pieces, entitled [i] Frescoes [r], were made – one as large as 1.3 meters x 2 meters (see illustration of "Fresco F.S."). Cotton and [i]kozo[r] fibers were formed on moulds 55 cm x 75 cm, pressed in a hydraulic paper press, and laid on top of a water-based drawing made on a grainy formica table top. The edges of four sheets were overlapped on top of the drawing to laminate and create one large sheet which was then dried in place. By laminating neutral colored Japanese [i]kozo[r] fibers onto dyed and pigmented cotton as a pulp painting and then applying this to the drawing, I achieved the depth of imagery I was seeking. Further depth was achieved in "Riding the Waves" (4), a piece produced by layers of watermarking over a drawing made with Caran D'Ache crayons.
The drawing was made by pressing the crayons hard to make heavy, smooth lines. Several vats of dyed abaca were prepared ahead of time. Cut shapes made from duct tape were pressed onto the mould's surface. These produced floating linear pulp shapes after vat dipping, which were transferred to the formica to give an initial layer to the image. This layering continued in several colors and then a final backing sheet was used to cover the entire monoprint.
Formica was used both as a drying and a drawing surface. The mildly textured, hard, smooth "tooth" of that everyday material proved to be the ideal attraction for the water-based drawing and the drying and hardening of the paper. In the monotype process, in order for the pigment to transfer from one surface to another, one surface must have a certain amount of give. In the case of the formica transfer, the selection of fibers for the handmade sheet of paper is vital to the success of the drawing. The weight of the paper, the type and amount of sizing used, and the amount of water remaining in the sheet of paper -- all create the tension whereby the wet fibers can absorb the image into the paper as it dries, without unexpected change or distortion. The drawn configurations are not so much pressed as received into the pulp as the shrinkage occurs. The wet compressed fibers constitute the flexible surface and the formica provides the release of the drawn mark as the paper is peeled away.
Most recently trials have been made on silk with the application of Japanese fibers for the transfer. In addition, dimensional pieces have been accomplished by combining several materials (wood and formica, for example) at different heights and drying the wet sheets of pulp over drawings made on these dimensional materials. The sheets are restrained evenly with weights around the edge. Because the sheets dry from the edges toward the center, the drawing needs direct contact until the center is completely dry or part of the image may be lost.
Since discoveries of working in a new medium can often be expanded in collaboration with another artist, I visited Bilge Friedlaender in Philadelphia last Spring to view her drawings. (5) It came as no surprise that we discussed the handmade paper monotype process I had been exploring. We found that we shared much common interest in direct drawing procedures in monotype whereby the energy of the physical gesture and the image's speed and strength could be translated in a rich transfer statement. Both of our recent probings as artists suggested that we should work together. (6)
The handmade paper monotype technique appeals directly to the nature of Bilge's drawings due to the fact that she will often place boldly felt marks next to just a kiss of a mark. Ample open paper is integral to her subject matter, which is drawn with soft crayon markings, subtly modulated washes, and built up tones on a strongly defined ground. (7)
The nature of our collaboration allowed both the idea and the project to develop simultaneously. As we explored the materials of fibers and drawing materials in the first few days, we defined the project. Transfers of wet sheets over four to six drawings were made daily and the papers dried overnight so that we could view them the next day and go on with further investigation, adjusting techniques and fiber preparation to suit the needs of the collaboration.
Bilge worked with such drawing materials as graphite and alcohol, watercolor, both aqueous-dispersed and dry pigments, [i]sumi[r] ink, dense pigmented inks, Caran d'Ache water-based crayons, metallic powders, and colored pencils. Her rightness of touch in producing subtle modulations, density of tones, weight with shapes, and vigor with lines prepared a richly defined surface expressly suitable for the paper's receptivity.
She realized immediately that she was working against two different media (formica and wet pulp) and engaged herself in color changes created by dots and washes to create varying consistencies of penetration into the fiber. By layering translucent applications of the drawing materials in alternate order, her imagery took on a weightless and kinetic characteristic in the open surface of the handmade paper. (8) The power of blankness enhanced the impressions so that the paper ground took on elemental importance. Both the strength and process of the monotype drawing was coming from the potential of the ground.
While the initial drawings were being made, I was observing their nature and preparing fibers for them, realizing that the pulls would be somewhat unpredictable - the early drying of the paper can alter the image in not always anticipated but usually exciting ways. Previous experience with a constant fiber length of abaca beaten hard for four hours (creating a pulp of low freeness and a practically non-shrinkage character) had proven successful in providing even shrinkage over the formica, producing a well-defined drawing.
After the initial trials with hundred percent abaca, we chose, due to the nature of Bilge's markings, to work with a brilliant white ground that would visually pull back from the drawings, and I concentrated on a cotton rag/linter mixture beaten in a 3/4 pound Valley Hollander Beater for four hours with the roll lowered down for brushing. A minimal addition of internal sizing was used. The addition of dyes and pigments in the paper was excluded.
The sheets were pressed in a twenty ton hydraulic press and gently laid over the drawings. Hand felting was followed by rolling with a marble rolling pin until the sheets (70 cm x 55 cm) were firm to the formica. (9) The felt was then removed.
The sheets had to be placed carefully, with two people accomplishing the transfer to the table, dropping them from edge to edge slowly, in order to avoid smudging the drawing underneath. (see photo) Air pockets or bubbles also had to be avoided. Pressing slowly and evenly, both when felting and when using the rolling pin, was crucial so that the drawing was not disturbed. The sheets were air dried without the application of fan or heat.
With the image directly absorbed into newly formed, wet paper pulp over the drawing, the required soaking of paper to reopen the fibers, as usually demanded by traditional printmaking, is eliminated. In the latter, handmade papers already dried and cured will not give the same results if resoaked and placed over a water-base drawing. The wet sheets used directly after formation are the key to success in the process.
Other crucial factors in making the handmade paper monotype are the selection of fibers and the control of the beating process to create a low shrinkage pulp of consistent length; the amount of sizing used; the amount of water removed in hydraulic and hand pressing so that the drawing will not be lost; the weight of the paper in accordance with the material, weight, and density of the markings; the forceful, slow transfer of the sheet to the image from one direction without disturbing the drawing (especially subtle lines); the application of the right amount of pressure after the sheet is in place, so that the lines do not bleed; and the proper restraint of the print during shrinkage and complete drying so that it remains flat and receives the entire drawing.
The final contact, using a heavy rolling pin over felt over the paper, consummates the surface by forcing out as much water as possible and compressing the sheet firmly to the drawing. The sheet may lift prematurely with too little compression. With sheets larger than 25 cm x 35 cm and with heavier weight sheets, the dimensional stability is less certain, particularly if multi-laminations are used. Restraint around the edges of the paper is essential in these sizes, and is usually called for in smaller sizes, while the paper is drying. With this approach, paper becomes a new source of process and information for the artist. The size of the image can be expanded to any limit. Drawing, painting, printmaking, and papermaking are combined with a new control from the artist's hands. The drawing can be left on the formica, reworked, and used again in a subsequent transfer, making possible second prints and ghost prints.
Whereas in drawing on handmade paper there are limits to how an artist can manipulate the surface, in this case the artist can manipulate the drawing in endless ways on the formica, and the paper acts as a willing carrier of information. Particularly when using Japanese fibers against wood and silk there is an absorption of the drawing and sheen of surface that is extremely rewarding to the image. The drawing interacts in a new way with its light source because the image is so much a part of the paper's structure. The effects achieved are directly related to the physical qualities of the density of the paper fiber. The life of the paper's structure is always visible as a vital part of the image.
Artists who have experimented with the handmade paper monotype are amazed and thrilled with the clarity, resonance, and control this new language of water-based elements into paper pulp allows beyond the experience of the customary monotype. As a result of our collaboration at Pyramid, Bilge Friedlaender wrote: "The artist is able to control the work completely. Drawing in the paper weds the technology of paper to art. Enhancement was found with accessible direct materials (formica and water-based elements). A new dimension for my imagery was opened with the handmade paper monotype."
The process crosses over techniques and styles common to the singular processes of papermaking and printmaking and frees the artist to make stronger changes, not only physically but psychologically as well. Embodied by the selective role of the paper, this process honors the rich interprtative possibilities of drawing.