• James Stewart

Phil Tyler: Talking Monotypes

James Stewart talks to Phil Tyler about his monotypes and why he likes to produce these one-off images, which are more like paintings than editioned prints.


Phil Tyler says:

I encountered my first monotype when I went up to see the Fine Art degree show in May at LCAD in 1983, before I started there in the October.

When I did my degree, we spent two months in each of the three fine art areas:printmaking, painting and sculpture, before we eventually specialised. Whilst my main area of study was painting, I continued to make prints, but never made any monotype until my MA in Printmaking in 1988.

That was when I also started teaching Printmaking, firstly at Richmond upon Thames College (1988-1995), Brighton Met (1996-2019) and now at the University of Brighton, where I am Course Leader of BA Printmaking.

Castiglione was the first person to invent monotype in the1630s, where instead of etching or engraving a metal plate to produce an intaglio print, he painted oil based ink directly onto the plate and then passed the plate through the etching press with damped paper on top of the ink.


See Castiglione’s ‘Creation of Adam’ monotype c 1642.


The incredible pressure, the absorbance and flexibility of the paper results in the great majority of the painted image to be transferred to the print (albeit reversed). Of course it was Degas who more fully explored the medium at the end of the 19th C.


What struck me when I first saw those monotypes was their incredible luminosity. The whites really shone out of the dark. Of course it took me some time to realise that the whites were the paper itself, as the ink was wiped off the plate completely before it was printed. Monotype can yield the subtlest of tones and marks, can be printed as a single or multiple layers but at every point one is producing a one off original.


Monotype is a process that allows me to play with an idea, I can paint directly on the plate, or roll ink over it and wipe ink off with a rag or cotton wool buds. After each print one is left with a residue on the plate allowing me to develop new ideas off the ghost image. This residue can also be transferred to the next print so there can be a ‘to-ing and fro-ing’ of ideas as one bounces between one image and the next, sometimes overprinting and layering up.


One of the downsides can be too much ink applied to the plate which then squish through the press and worst still onto the blankets. Last year I made a series of monotypes using the litho press. As there are no blankets it was very liberating to make a whole series of heads, sometimes the squish mark was retained and incorporated into the work. I also realised that there was a point where the paper could no longer absorb the ink which then slid off and produced even more squidge marks!


Until recently I always assumed that monotypes could only me made using a press. Because of lockdown and researching alternative print processes which can be made at home without a press, I have started to use Gelli plates. Easy to make yourself with gelatin and glycerin, these clear spongy plates can be inked up and painted into in the same way. The plate seems to suck onto the paper which then transfers the ink to the print. I have been playing around with the process at present, mostly creating new teaching materials for the students, but I will go back to this soon.


Zimmer Stewart Gallery has a large selection of Phil Tyler monotypes, which represent different themes and motifs. The Still Life's of reflective and transparent objects were made after my brother died. There is a quiet stillness to these contemplative objects. I was psychologically reflecting on. My own mortality as well as considering our relationship with each other. They are also partly a homage to William Nicholson.

The landscapes feature the Sussex Downs. I live 3 miles away from Cissbury ring and regularly took my dog for walks up there. One can see for miles and the transformation of the same view in different weather conditions is utterly compelling.

Monotypes can also be made in different ways using some other aspect of the print process. My Edward st series ( see image) was made by painting water soluble oil paints onto a silkscreen.


Printing with a clear medium, the paint is transferred to the paper leaving a blurry version of the painting still on the screen.


This image can also be printed and the screen can be repainted and all the monotypes reworked and layered. These Edward St studies continued with the self portrait images I have made over the last 5 years and they were some of the last prints I made at the Met before starting my new Printmaking role at the University in Sept 2019.


What a year this this has turned out to be with many students finding themselves trapped inside their halls of residence, struggling with mental health, illness, loneliness and online learning. The Edward St series therefore seems quite prophetic at the moment.

Whilst we have been able to open up the workshops and studios again, then need for social distancing means limiting the number of students in the building at any one time. All of my teaching since lockdown has been via a computer screen, so the problem of how to continue one's practice away from the workshops and studios has been at the forefront of my thinking. So thankfully Gelli plate monotype, hand burnished relief and intaglio prints as well as kitchen litho and screen printing can all be done at home.

Our Editions Shop contains a full selection of available monotypes as well as editioned prints (screen prints & etchings) by Phil Tyler.


We have set out below a few examples:

Depending on their size, these unique, one off monotypes are priced from £250 to £280.


They can be purchased directly from our Editions Shop or by calling the gallery (See our Contact details).


As always, please let us know if you have any questions, or would like to arrange to view these or any works.