Degas was introduced to monoprinting by a friend who was and amateur printmaker using etching. His earliest prints used black ink rolled out on to a plate and then worked into negatively. He said he could work more spontaneously in monoprint than drawing. Presumably he used etching ink initially and the ink retains every mark he made by brushing, wiping, drawing into the ink and manipulating it with his fingers.Working into a dark field gives these prints terrific drama.Most of these dark field prints were intimate interiors where he has been able to draw the lamplight by removing the ink. You can see where he has used different implements for different effects, a pen perhaps for the hard lines of the hand and sponge, maybe a brush for the folds of the curtains, and something softer for the ewer. He has been able to produce an amazing range of tones and textures. Clearly many areas are implied rather than stated in detail but this just adds to the atmosphere of dim lamplight. Here you can see where he has wiped or brushed the folds of the bed canopy and then drawn back into it for further highlights and detail. He has completely wiped the lampshade, removing all tone, to suggest the light source. He has made her legs and arm smooth and pale by removing all texture and given her head importance by adding the hard, lace detail. These prints look so simple but they are really subtle.
He often printed the ghost of his monoprint and the worked back into it with pastels. In this later work, he has used blue/gray ink with pastel over, and the total effect is less dramatic, softer and more painterly.He also made monoprints of landscapes, though here he seems to have used multiple colours and worked both additively and subtractively. He did these from memory. Here he seems to have applied stripes of colour and then worked back into them, wiping, mixing, re-adding. This next print is even simpler,. The ink seems to have bee applied either with a textured surface at the bottom left, or maybe the paper was pressed into the ink with a textures implement. I am really looking forward to trying these methods myself. Having recently done a summer school looking at ballet, I feel a real Degas influence coming over me…..
NB The book I have drawn upon here describes these as monotypes. I thought that the distinction between monoprints and monotypes was that monotypes have some sort of reprintable element to them, and monoprints were absolutely and completely one off. I can’t, however, find any definitive authority for this.