If you enjoy sketches, accidental marks on paper and quick, slightly unpredictable results, this might be a good technique for you. I like it for its immediacy and unexpectedness. I will introduce some variations depending on how messy or organized you want to be and what materials you have available. Feel free to deviate. For some toned-down artistic inspiration, check out Tracey Emin’s early mono prints.
Tools and materials
- a tile I found
- a hand roller
- water-based, non-toxic block printing ink
- water and kitchen paper to clean
No tile? Use a piece of perspex, acrylic or glass (but no shards, please…).
No roller? Use a rectangular piece of thick cardboard to scrape ink across the tile, just like you would use a squeegee.
No block printing ink? Use oil based ink. What is important is that it does not dry too quickly. You can use vegetable oil and kitchen paper to clean it up instead of water.
Cover your work station in old newspaper or other waste paper (see Ling’s Top Tips for Saving Paper). Now ink up your entire tile. You want a thin, even layer coating the entire surface.
Lay a thin sheet of paper on top of the tile. Ink will transfer onto your paper through pressure: this can be pressure from your hand and fingers, pencils, toothpicks, bone folders, or any mark making tool you want to try. Experiment with pressure, try drawing with different pencils and mark-making tools. Even a screw will do (but mind the sharp)!
When you are finished, peel the paper off the tile. You will notice that marks appear wherever you touched the paper during drawing, and that the result is mirrored.
Are you worried about the pencil marks on the back of your paper? Understandable. You can use a thin sheet of paper on top of your final sheet, and use this as your drawing surface. This sheet could already have a sketch or a mirrored printout on it that you can now trace. Use some masking tape to create a hinge that allows you to flip your drawing paper over. That way, you can easily recreate the same drawing a few times.
Depending on the type of ink you have been using, the cleaning will differ. Always check the packaging for cleaning instructions. For my block printing ink, water is enough to clean my equipment. Loosen the ink by pouring a little bit of water onto the tile and distributing it with the roller. Get rid of the majority of ink and water on your roller by running it across a piece of waste paper.
Don’t forget to let your prints dry. Depending on the ink you were using, this will take different amounts of time.
You can touch a print carefully with your little finger to check if ink is still coming off.
To level up this technique, you could ink up a large sheet of perspex rather than a tile. Try inking up with several colours at once. Especially if you are working on a larger piece of paper, fix it to your work surface with some tape that won’t damage the paper to keep it in place. The more hands-free you can work, the better you can control your outcome.
For some inspiration on how this technique can be applied in a much neater and beautiful way, have a look at Tanaka Mazivanhanga’s mono prints on her website.