Printing Really Big Monotypes by Steamroller, Skateboard and Breakdancing
By Susan Rostow
A hot dog serving robot, a concrete canoe that floats, and really big monotypes printed by steamroller, skateboard and breakdancing were just a few of 400 exhibits that were on display during the Imagine RIT Innovation and Creativity Festival held on May 3, 2008 on the campus of Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester, NY.
When Keith Howard, the Head of Printmaking and Research at the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences School of Art at RIT invited me to participate in the festival by making really big prints with a steamroller I felt that this was an opportunity I wanted to share with my family. I knew that my husband, William would jump at the opportunity to participate in this collaboration but I suspected I would need to present the idea to my 12 year old son in a more enticing manner. Now that Jarrett is a pre-teen he has less interest in making art with mom and dad but loves skateboarding. I knew that if I added skateboarding into the project I would capture his interest.
I asked, â€œJarrett, would you like to skateboard over a monotype plate to make a print?â€ His response was, â€œWould the ink ruin my skateboard wheels?â€ His comment made me think more about the process. Initially, I thought we would use the skate board wheels to apply ink to the plate, similar to the action of a brayer. Although I didnâ€™t think the ink would ruin the wheels, his question led me to another idea; Instead of inking up the wheels, we could use the pressure of the wheels to create trace monotypes.
Trace monotype, also known as transfer drawing, is an old technique used by Degas, Gauguin and Klee and many contemporary printmakers. After inking a plate, paper is placed on top of the inky surface. Using a pen, stick or any other stylus, the image is drawn on the back of the paper. The pressure of the drawing tool picks up a line of ink on the paper as the pen bears down. When the paper is peeled off the plate, the lines appear on the paper. I explained to Jarrett, that by using this trace monotype method he could skateboard on top of the paper and the pressure of the wheels would transfer the ink from the plate onto the paper. He expressed excitement and agreed to collaborate with us on this project. We packed inks, tools and a skateboard and drove to Rochester without any preconceived artistic plans. We considered our project to be a â€œhappeningâ€. After all, creating monotypes can be a spontaneous process.
It was an overcast day when we arrived at RIT. With the threat of rain on the way, we chose to work at an outdoor site on campus that had a protective overhang. Bernice Cross, a printmaker and Keithâ€™s wife, helped us set up the work area. Student volunteers, Karrie Swanson, John Ruggles, Melissa Pepin, and Danielle Johns arrived to assist for the entire day. Keith would be operating the steamroller.
Prior to our arrival, Keith conducted several test prints with the steamroller and decided that that we would achieve best results with damp paper. This was based on the fact that the steamroller could not apply as much pressure as an etching press and the paper we were using; Hahnemuhle Copperplate has a rough surface. The day before, Bernice prepared the paper by cutting 4â€™ wide by x 10â€™ long sheets from a roll. She soaked the paper and rolled it in plastic to maintain the dampness overnight. We would be using two 8 â€˜x 4â€™ plastic monotype plates, Akua Intaglio, Akua Kolor water-based inks and Akua Release Agent.
Our plan was to ink and print each plate several times, one on top of another using an industrial steamroller to apply pressure. A stream roller is a heavy construction machine used for leveling surfaces such as roads. Colors would be printed in order from light to dark. The first plate would be yellow and orange. The second would be inked with different red inks and the third plate would be blue. We would wait to introduce the trace monotype using the skate board on the final black plate.
The first step was for William, Jarrett and I to cover the first plate with yellow and orange ink. We rolled the entire surface with Akua Intaglio ink using soft rubber brayers. We then drew into the plate, removing areas of ink with pieces of matte board, plastic scrappers and rags. The first print of the day wrinkled and the paper tore under the pressure of the steamroller. The top sheet of plastic we were using as a press blanket failed in its duty to protect the paper. Removing it solved this problem.
Throughout the day, we made ghost prints after each plate was printed. (A ghost print is a second print that is made from the residue left on the plate after the first impression was made.) Akua Release Agent was used to soften the remaining ink residue from the plate. The Release Agent was rolled on top of each plate after printing and before applying more ink for the next print. The 8 â€˜x 4â€™ plastic monotype plates were never cleaned between printings. The remaining ink on the plate became an integral part of the following image. As we printed, we introduced new techniques to each impression. Along with reductive and additive monotype techniques we added cut acetate stencils and found-materials on the plates. The stencils were created by assistants John, Melissa, Kerry and Danielle. Their creative contribution added a new dimension to the collaboration.
Midway though the day it began to rain and we ran out of protected space under the overhang. An inked plate was left exposed to the elements where rain drops formed textural spots on the surface of the ink. We accepted this as part of the process.
After building up several images with multiple impressions, Jarrett had his chance to show off his skateboarding skills to the growing audience of curious onlookers. The first skateboard trace monotype was printed from a plate that was inked up with black intaglio ink with splashes of red. The plate was placed on the ground, ink side up with a new sheet of paper on top. Jarrett rolled back and forth across the paper on his board. We lifted the paper and revealed the impression the black and red ink on the white paper made from the pressure of Jarrettâ€™s wheels. Repeating this same process, another impression was printed on top of an earlier printed ghost print. A third print was made by printing the remaining ink on the plate creating a negative impression. It was necessary to use the steamroller for this print. Jarrett was thrilled to see a visual record of his skateboard tricks- if only he had a piece of paper the size of a skateboard park!
For the grand finale, we placed an earlier blue ghost-print on top of a plate that was inked with black and a touch of red. Jarrett did a breakdance routine on top of the paper creating a surprising impression made from his hands, shoes and body.
By the end of the day we produced 5 prints with a total surface area of 160 square feet. As we packed our supplies to head back to New York City, I eyed my tool box wheels, suddenly aware of their printmaking potential. I wished we had more paper and time to print with different kinds of wheels. Next time we make really big monoprints, weâ€™ll use my tool box, roller blades, bicycles, and teach Jarrett how to ride a unicycle.
To see slide show of this event click here