What Are Monotypes?

By Sara Burd, gallery associate 

If you’ve been in the gallery lately, you’ve probably spotted the color-rich and water-inspired works by local artist Susan Colwell. Her work depicts dreamy horizons and waterscapes pressed upon raw edged paper. Colwell’s creations are monotypes — one-of-a-kind prints.

Blue Mystic by Susan Colwell
13 x 11 monotype with oil 

To create monotypes, artist draw or paint on a smooth plate such as glass, copper, zinc, or acrylic glass. The plate is then pressed against paper to transfer the ink or paint so that the final product is a mirrored image of the original drawing/painting. This artistic process allows for variation and experimentation. Artists can change up their monotypes by applying varying pressures to different spots on the plate or printing in layers. It’s important to note that monotypes are different from printing in that they do not use an etched surface to replicate the same exact image as one would do with a printing press.

It’s hard to pinpoint who created the first monotype, but Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione was known to use this method in his artwork in the 1640s. Other notable artists that used monotyping include Chagall, Degas, and Gauguin.


One major characteristic of monotypes is that it gives the final work an element of chance because ink placed during the transfer process can change. That’s what gives Colwell’s art energy and unique personality. Next time you’re in the gallery, take a closer look.

Blush by Susan Colwell
13 x 11 monotype with oil