The other day I was looking for some hand painted papers for a collage project, and was dismayed that my stash was down to next to nothing. Every once in a while it’s a good idea to create a collection of decorated papers; they’re an essential part of your mixed-media art supplies. Nothing comes close to the look of hand-painted papers, and they’re incredible easy to make. In less than an hour I had replenished my stock, and it was a great creative pursuit, to boot.
I started by gathering my supplies. First, tools: an 8″ x 10″ Gelli Arts® Gel Printing Plate, brayers, and anything that I could use to make designs or marks. That included stencils, stamps, a faux wood grain roller, silicone tools, leaves, bubble wrap, and sponge daubers. I also highly recommend have an inexpensive printing baren on hand—smooth this over the back of the paper when gel plate printing and you’ll get better results. As you start printing, you’ll likely think of more mark-making tools that you can use.
Next, I gathered a variety of papers: vintage ledger papers, book text, used tea bags, vintage wallpaper scraps, magazine and catalog pages, handmade paper, deli paper—get whatever you have on hand that will stand up to being painted or printed. Crumbly vintage papers are not recommended for this, since they can tear during the printing process. While you’re at it, get some of your art journals, too—this method works really well for making backgrounds. Finally, I grabbed some acrylic paint, including heavy body, fluid, and craft, in a range of colors and values.
I decided to start with monoprints using the gel plate. For those of you who still haven’t tried this technique yet, what are you waiting for? It’s a completely foolproof method of making hand painted papers, you’ll have so much fun, and you can produce a lot of decorated sheets in a short amount of time. There are tons of gel plate techniques, and all are simple and really enjoyable. I spread a thin layer of magenta heavy-body paint over the plate with a brayer, then dragged a wood grain tool through the paint.
Working quickly, I dabbed some bubble wrap in turquoise paint and pressed it onto the plate, then printed, using vintage ledger paper. I quickly did another print, this time using a page from an encyclopedia. Holy cow, love the results. There is nothing like the thrill you get from pulling prints, and it never gets old. If you still have some paint left on the gel plate, grab another sheet of paper and make a ghost print, which is a print made from the leftover paint (below, far right).
I don’t like to clean the gel plate between prints unless I absolutely have to; often leftover bits of paint look pretty cool on subsequent prints. For my next print I placed a stencil on top of the plate, then brayered dark blue paint on top. I removed the stencil and made marks directly on the plate with a piece of corrugated cardboard and pink paint.
I wasn’t completely happy with how this turned out, but instead of scrapping it, I loaded up the plate with a layer of iridescent paint, then pressed the catalog page on top. Much better! This is what I mean about the system being foolproof. There is always a way to rescue something if you don’t like it. Layers are good!
Leaf printing was next. I started with a layer of turquoise paint, dragged a comb through it to make some wavy lines, then sponged paint on the back of a large leaf and pressed it onto the plate.
After removing the leaf I printed this art journal page. Not much of the background paint showed up—I think I waited a bit too long, and it must have dried. No matter, it’s still a great starting point.
Working with the dark blue paint again, I brayered a solid layer onto the plate, then loaded a rubber stamp with white paint. The stamp was pressed repeatedly onto the plate.
This one was printed onto yellow ledger paper:
Here are more ghost prints on book text and a tag.
Not a big fan of how these turned out, so I stenciled over the book page and stamped onto the tag, then splattered white paint:
No gel plate? No problem! From left to right: I loaded a foam brayer with fluid acrylic phthalo turquoise and brayered over a stencil onto yellow ledger paper, then splattered white and neon orange paint. No stencils? No problem! I added some white paint to the phthalo turquoise on the brayer and rolled over a map, then splattered neon orange paint. Starting with a piece of pale pink vintage wallpaper, I brayered over it with ultramarine blue and lime green, made patterns in the paint with a mark-making tool, then stamped over it with a cheetah stamp and permanent ink.
So no excuses about not having the right materials or enough time—you can create amazing hand painted papers with the simplest of tools and just a few spare minutes. Because of the can’t-go-wrong factor, replenishing your stash is also a great thing to do when you have some free time, but not a lot of inspiration. The next time you’re hopped up with creative energy, you’ll have a ton of hand-painted papers to work with. Use them in your handmade books, for collage, assemblage, tags, cards, and jewelry. Happy painting!
Dina Wakley offers more great techniques with a gel printing plate in her guest blog post!