Gelatin Monoprinting the Easy Way

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gelatin monoprints
Gelatin monoprints on tags.

The first time I learned about printmaking with gelatin monoprinting, I said, "That's for me!"

It's such a low-tech, easy process: just whip up some plain gelatin, grab some paints, a brayer, and paper or fabric, and the fun begins. But, somehow, I never got around to doing it.

Then one night after work we even had a monoprinting party at the office. Cloth Paper Scissors editor and gel-print expert Jenn Mason set us all up with gelatin printing plates, and the staff cranked out one wonderful monoprint after another.

"I'm definitely going to do this at home!" I said.

But. . . it never happened. Why? The main stumbling block was that as simple as the technique is, you have to think far enough ahead to make the gelatin. That kind of forethought rarely happens to me.

gelatin monoprint
The monoprint on the left would look great with white writing on it. The right one has a house-shaped mask and the positive print from a stencil.

Then, about a month ago, a little slab of wonder fell onto my desk: a Gelli ArtsTM Gel Printing Plate. These pre-made plates can be used at a moment's notice to make prints again and again and again, with minimal care.

Within a month, I've used it for three printing sessions.                                       

If you've never made a gelatin monoprint before, Jenn Mason gives a detailed tutorial on her Cloth Paper Scissors WorkshopTM video "Mixed-Media Collage: Working in Layers." But here are the basics:

Materials

  • Gelatin plate
  • Paints or inks
  • Brayer and palette
  • Paper or fabric
  • Found objects and tools for making designs in the paint
  • Paper cutouts to act as masks

Process

1. Squirt  2-3 colors of paint or ink onto your palette and blend them slightly with your brayer. Analogous colors work well, to start with, but you can also go with complementary colors or add a color that has some metallic in it. Experiment!

2. Roll the paint or ink onto the plate.

3. Using your found objects or tools, lightly press into the paint. In my samples I used half a nutshell and the end of a wooden spool to make impressions and the tines of a plastic fork to make lines. You want to move the object slightly on the surface to displace the paint, but don't cut into the plate.

4. If you want to use a paper shape as a mask, now's the time to place it. If not, go ahead and lay your paper or fabric down on top of the plate and lightly rub over the back with your hands. Lift up the paper or fabric and see what you've got.

5. Before the paint dries, take another piece of paper or fabric and make a ghost print. I find sometimes I like the ghost print better than the original.

6. Repeat the process as often as you like, trying different combinations of found objects, masks, and paint colors.

monprinting on fabric
Monoprints on fabric using a
nutshell and a spool.

Some tips:

  • Choose quality. Regular craft paints can be used, but they dry out fairly quickly and can flake off onto the gelatin plate. It's better to use fluid acrylics, printing inks, Lumiere® paints, and similar.
  • Print onto tissue paper (be sure to use a fairly light amount of ink). Later, you can use the papers for collage with gel medium which makes the paper translucent.
  • Double your pleasure. Keep dry prints and other papers or fabrics nearby while you work. After you use a found object to make an impression on the gelatin plate, stamp the excess paint or ink onto the paper or fabric.
  • Waste nothing! Even if you don't like the results of a monoprint or the colors, you can always collage or write over it, cut it up for artist trading card backgrounds, stamp onto it, or use it as journal backgrounds.

Gelatin monoprinting is one of the fastest, economical, and fun ways I know to make backgrounds; decorate tags and papers; or add an artistic, handmade touch to ribbons and trims. And now, with printmaking supplies like a Gelli Arts plate in the studio, we can make gelatin prints at the drop of a hat.

P.S. Have you ever made gelatin monprints? If you have tips to share, don't be shy! Leave them in the comments section below.

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