Gelatin Prints

It has been a while, but as I work on the larger pieces of the Horizon Project, I took some time to add some colors to my portfolio.

Gelatin Monoprinting is a way I use to get a break from the intense detail and technical challenge in the drawings and Celtic Design I love. The printing process is loose, and the results are easy to manipulate, but impossible to control. And the colors are beautiful.

Monoprinting means just one version of a print. Why do it for just one print? Try it and see. Each one is amazingly unique. Monoprinting can be done on many surfaces, with glass plates a popular choice. Gelatin Monoprinting uses a soft, gelatin plate which eventually deteriorates. I haven’t tried glass yet, but I’ll note the differences when I try it.

To start with the Gelatin process, pick up the unflavored gelatin at a store. Knox brand is the most prevalent in US stores, with packets in the box measured to 1/4 ounce each. If you are using another brand or buying in bulk, it takes an ounce of gelatin in 4 US cups of water to make a decent small plate. I use a 9×9 Pyrex baking pan for small prints, and it produces a nice, thick chunk of gel which is easily removed from the smooth surface.

I have also used 4 cups of gelatin mix poured in a large cookie sheet, leaving the gel in the pan and using it right off the surface for medium sized prints. My plates are limited by the size I can fit in my refrigerator.

To start:
STEP ONE: Place four packets or 1 ounce of gelatin powder into one cup of cold water to set for a minute.
TWO: Add 3 cups of boiling water and stir gently until the gelatin melts to a liquid state.
THREE: Pour into the mold you have chosen and let set in the refrigerator for 5-6 hours.

Yes, this is the exact instruction on the Knox brand box for making gel blocks with fruit juice. Except without the juice. It produces a large, rubbery block of gelatin. Pouring gelatin quickly results in bubbles. If you end up with unwanted amounts of bubbles on the surface of the gel, take the straight edge of a paper towel and draw it over the surface from one side to the other. It should draw up most of the bubbles and leave a smooth surface.

FOUR: As suggested by Betty Crocker, set the bottom of the mold in a bath of hot water for a few seconds, then unmold your gelatin creation onto a flat surface. I cover a drawing board with freezer paper or waxed paper and anticipate getting a bit messy. When I’m done, I pull up the paper, roll up the gel and paper, and ditch the whole mess in the garbage.

Onto the messy part….

When I first read about the process, from three or four other sources, I found the suggestion of using water-based printing ink. Good enough. Give it a try. Printing inks are mostly opaque, and produce a specific result. Transparent drawing inks create another. I have found that watercolor paper works very well. I have also used Bristol and some printing papers, though thinner papers don’t work as well for me. I also have had some very nice results from using textured Aquabord panels from Ampersand. I also use acrylic gessoed canvas, though the gesso can resist some of the thinner inks. My favorite surface to date is the absorbent panel gesso created by Art Boards over a wooden panel. That gets expensive, so start out with a selection of papers. Oil from your fingers can also cause some thinner inks to be resisted, so if you are going to work on a paper or canvas surface before printing, be sure to stay aware of how you touch the surface.

You can use cut out paper or stencils to create designs, blocking the ink from the surface of the plate, or blocking the ink from reaching the paper. Leaves, string and sponges can create textures. Roll the ink with a brayer, or just smear the ink around with your fingers. Cut the plate with a knife for lines which gather up more ink. Use a dull tool to make ragged lines. Wipe off ink. Use layers of opaque and transparent. The gelatin can be marked with something as simple as a stiff bristled paintbrush, though I’ve used forks and quilting templates as well.

Cut the plate into pieces and try using them to print. Then, after all that, throw away the mess and make another plate. I like to make two to begin the day. Draw something on the finished print, using the color as a background. Use acrylic gels, crayons and drawing inks to prepare a paper or canvas before printing.

To move from one color to another, especially when moving between contrasting colors, blot the first colors with absorbent paper or paper towels. Color blends add depth, but too much orange and green can get muddy. It is hard to actually wipe the gel surface, so blot instead. Lay a piece of paper on the plate and peel it off.

As the gelatin plate is used, it will add a bit of gelatin to the ink or paint you use, creating some different looks as you go. The plate will begin to fall apart, depending on how much damage you do to it in creating texture, and bits of gel can end up on your print. My suggestion is to wait until the paint is dry to remove bits of gel. A deteriorating plate can produce great effects with lines and gouges picking up colors differently.

Scrapbooking stores sell allllll sorts of inks, powders and papers to play with. They also sell stencils and adhesives. You can create papers to cut and past with this technique, and I first learned how to do it from some scrapbooking sources. Quilters will use this technique for coloring fabrics as well, utilizing fabric paints.

This isn’t a very technical explanation, so for those of you who want more info, I’ve included some links to some great sites. I prefer a loose and haphazard approach to this technique in order to indulge in pushing the color around.

Gelatin Monoprint with Acrylic Gel

Gelatin Monoprint with Acrylic Gel

Gelatin Monoprint with grey crayon

Gelatin Monoprint with grey crayon

Gelatin monoprint on Bristol

Gelatin monoprint on Bristol

Gelatin Monoprint with India Ink

Gelatin Monoprint with India Ink


This entry was posted on Friday, June 17th, 2011 at 07:51 and is filed under Color Sabbatical. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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3 Responses to ' Gelatin Prints '

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  1. 1

    on July 28th, 2011 at 19:54

    i have made glass plate monoprints and made a few gelatin plate but I would like to know why use a gelatin plate at all????

  2. 2

    on July 28th, 2011 at 19:55

    why use gelatin instead of glass or plexi plate???

  3. 3
    admin said,

    on August 20th, 2011 at 16:53

    Hello! I have also used glass plates. There is definitely a difference with gelatin, as the surface is soft. Inks move more on the plate as you print, so lines are softer. I use watercolors on gelatin and as you use a brayer the paint mixes with some gelatin and can make a 3D effect. I found that the watercolors and inks do not work as well on glass, so I use acrylics or block printing inks on glass, which are opaque. Therefore, in general, Gelatin Monoprinting gives a softer line, and for me it means more use of transparent watercolors rather than opaque printing inks.

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