When it comes to art-making, I go through different phases. I love mixed media most of all, of course. That’s why I’m such an art skill and creative tools hoarder. They all tend to be very useful for bringing depth in to my mixed media work.
But yes, I go through different favourites at any given time. Right now, I am very much in love with gelatin printmaking.
It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that I fell in love with gel monotype printmaking, as I’ve got a bit of a thing for all things printmaking. Even though my last printmaking experiments were done around 6 years ago, when I got hooked with the Gocco.
I’m actually not sure how I first came across gelatin printmaking now. It must have been through an art blog that I was reading.
In any case, I decided to do a bit of research on it a couple of months ago. Then, I finally tried it by creating my own gelatin plate about a month ago. There are several instructions out there, including those that come with videos. I think my first attempt was just a hybrid of different tutorials that I’ve read and watched. I believe I used a ratio of 4 tablespoons of powdered gelatin (not the Jell-o ones, just plain) per 1 cup of hot water.
The process of making your own gelatin plate is easy enough (mine’s the golden square you can see at the bottom left). It just takes some time and planning, as you need to let the gelatin mixture solidify first. Then, you have to put it in the fridge overnight (or for a few hours at least), to make sure it’s properly set. And, if it doesn’t set right, it can get pretty messy (mine was originally around 10x10 inches, and it became 6x6 inches due to things falling apart).
I loved the look and feel of the prints, though. So I knew gel monotype printing was something I would like to explore more of. But, I wanted to work a little bigger and quicker. Not to worry too much about mixing gelatin powders and setting them (not to mention, making sure there’s space in the fridge to store them!).
So, I ended up buying a faux gelatin plate, produced by Gelli Arts. The plate is like gelatin, but it is made of synthetic material. It is not as sticky and reactive, and may be stored at room temperature.
Being Australia-based, buying this plate wasn’t easy. Shipping directly from the Gelli Arts website was ridiculously expensive (over US$40 for one plate). I couldn’t find a local distributor anywhere. And, the handful of local suppliers I found sold them a lot more expensively than you would find from the US. And, most of them didn’t have the 8x10 inches (the plate I wanted) in stock.
Thankfully, I found a supplier interstate that sold it from their website. The only 8x10 they had had a slight damage, so they sold it to me with a discount (AU $30, instead of the usual AU $42 price tag). They’re a good supplier, with very fast delivery service. I received my new gel printing plate within a matter of days, I believe.
And, I’ve been playing with it ever since!
I’ve tried several of the tips and techniques shared on the Gelli Arts blog, as well as the dozens of tutorials that several artists have been sharing all over the web.
Anyone who has ever tried gelatin monotype printmaking will tell you that this thing is HIGHLY ADDICTIVE. Seriously.
Each time I try it, I learn something new. And, I thought I’ll take note of some of my favourite takeaways so far.
1. The beauty of gel monotype printmaking is that there is no one way to do it. You can squirt the paints directly on the paint… Or, you can mix first on a palette before putting on the plate. You can cover the whole plate, or just part of it. You can use colourful paints, or some muted ones (there is a technique to making this work, on layers, though). Though I personally prefer the more fluid acrylics, out of the other types of acrylics that I’ve tried so far.
2. Stencils, masks, and other mark-making tools are key to great monoprints with gel plates. That’s why I ended up with two new addictions as well: Designing and making my own hand-cut stencils and hand-carved stamps. Not something I ever thought I’d ever be in to! I mean, I love some of those store-bought/pre-made stencils (I use some still). But, I discovered that I really love making my own marks, so I’m determined to use more of my original stencils, stamps, etc as much as possible.
3. The surface used for printmaking can make a difference too! I’ve been printmaking on different surfaces that can be used with acrylics – white cardstock, plain paper, textured paper, rice paper, greaseproof paper, baking paper, graphing paper, old book pages, cardboard, coloured paper, kraft paper, etc. And, prints vary depending on the surface too. That’s why no matter how many times you use the same colours, stencils, etc, the results will always be different. That makes it cool!
4. Accidental magic is great, but great magic needs a bit of planning. I love the randomness of printmaking with the gelli plate. If you don’t clean the plate in-between prints (and no, you don’t need to if you don’t want to), you can get some really interesting “ghost prints” and paint/design remnants from previous prints. But, you have to be careful of the colours you use on top of each other. Lighter colours will disappear easily, if you use a dark colour immediately on top. Metallic paints are grea
t, but often as an upper layer, rather than the bottom layer. Random designs are better as lower layers, while bigger, more focal designs are better on the upper layers.
5. And yes, there s no such thing as a “mistake” with gelli printmaking. The unexpected prints and such just add layers to the final work. Or, if it’s really something you don’t like, you can always layer the paper with another print. And another. And, if it gets too much, you can always cut up the paper to use for something else. That’s why the “scraps” or the “paper wipe-offs” (where you clean your stencils, stamps and brayer off) are also worth keeping. Most of them turn out really well! There is no such thing as a throwaway print.
To me, the biggest challenge was never going to be producing the gelli prints. It’s VERY easy to create a print. Anyone can do it. Really. Of course, to make "great” prints would be more of a challenge, but still.
The biggest challenge for me was: “What do you do with all the gelli prints?” Now, I’ve only been playing with gelli monotype printmaking for about a month or so. And so far, here’s what I’ve done:
1. Have a fabulous collection of custom painted papers. Being into mixed media, I love having a growing collection of papers that I’ve printed myself. I’ve used them in collages and as background for art journals, among other things. I’m sure I’ll think of other things as I keep on printing.
2. Turn said custom papers into artist journals. Well, I haven’t completed the journals yet, but I’ve got some in the making.
3. Create fabric paper and make them in to fun, useful things. My first attempt with this are these fabric paper mini papers/clutches. I love them. But, I admit, I’ve never really used them yet. So, I don’t know how durable they are. But, they’re so pretty to look at!
4. Use them to make artsy cards and stationery. I’d like to improve my take on this, but my first attempt looks like this:
5. Create mixed media art with gelli prints. It took me a little while to get to this, and I still need to learn a few more things. But, I’m actually quite happy with my first batch of mixed media gelli monotype prints. Unfortunately, the scans don't seem to capture the true colours of the pieces. Anyway, these ones are just 2 out of 5 works-in-progress (called “Believe” and “Magic” respectively) in this series:
Knowing how much I’m loving gel monotype printmaking, you’ll probably read more blog posts on this again some time. Maybe a lot. 🙂
Shai has been managing and blogging here at ShaiCoggins.com for 17 years. Here, she writes about creativity, productivity, and how to recharge for a better, happier lifestyle. She is the author of Today: Life Journal, Colour Bliss: Kaleidoscopes, and a little known children's book. A serial entrepreneur, Shai also currently runs Vervely.com, a boutique digital media agency offering online content, community, and conversion marketing services. Her blogging experience and digital work have been featured in various media, including being listed in Fast Company's "Most Influential Women in Technology" list. Originally from Manila, Shai lived in Singapore and the USA before moving to Australia with her British husband. They have two children, a pet bunny, and a rambunctious rescue Labrador.