When trying to look at examples of prints combining monoprinting with other techniques, Barbara Rae instantly came to mind. I saw two of her works in the ‘flesh’ at this years RA Summer Exhibition, and they stood out for the strength of the image. This impact comes partly from her use of rich, strong, layered colour, but also from the blocks of contrasting tonal value across the prints. At first glance, her prints seem deceptively simple; overlapping blocks of colour which have been drawn into to just suggest her subject.
The simplicity is of course a deception. The idea or design may be uncluttered and direct, but the final print is the result of subtle, considered technical processes. She talks about the need to place colours sparingly and in consideration of the previous colour layers (Lambirth and Wardell (2010)). Relative transparency and opacity, positive and negative shapes, line and texture are all carefully judged. The prints have a spontaneous feel because she develops them responding to the effect of each layer. She describes the process as ‘planned discovery'(Lambirth and Wardell (2010, Preface).
Although the fundamental design is no doubt clear in her head at the outset, she revels in experimentation and responds to the print as it develops through its many layers. It would be so interesting to see her sketchbooks in relation to her finished work and understand how this process of conception, developed through the physical process, is realised in the final print.
Rae works with monoprints, collagraphs, etchings and screenprints, often combining several or these, but in each she is working towards a painterly interpretation. Collagraphs and etchings are often used as a final tonal layer to “hold it together”(Lambirth and Wardell (2010, p11) . This ‘key plate’ would traditionally be black, but often Rae uses a vibrant blue, or even an opaque white or pale blue.
It is clear that she revels in colour. Many of the vibrant colours in her prints are created by the overlaying of transparent layers. She says of her early experiments “it would have been so much better if someone had told me not to put the same colours everywhere” (Lambirth and Wardell (2010, p11) and, indeed, the lightest tones are often where no ink as been allowed, giving strong tonal range, for instance in the two prints above.
Excited by these ideas, I attempted a monoprint in this style. I inked up a perspex plate in successive layers, considering and developing my print as I went. I used damped paper and a registration sheet, leaving these pinched in the press between layers. This dictated working briskly before the paper dried out and shrank.
I really enjoyed the developmental process and the experimentation. There are four layers and colours; any more would have been chaotic, I think. I tried to combine positive and negative shapes, and I think that this has worked. The design has been over constrained by the limited number and size of rollers I have. I think this would have been enhanced by the final blue layer being created as a carborundum plate. I can see that it would take me years of experimentation, building up experience, to finely judge the layering of colours, transparency, opacity and tone.
Lambirth, A and Wardell, G. (2010) Barbara Rae Prints. London: Royal Academy of Arts