Friday, May 27, 2011

Gelatine Printmaking

rolling out the printing ink - gelatine slab on the right, being used as a  matrix while still in the tray
positive and negative prints taken directly  from weeds
sample prints on different substrates made using stencils
 I will be arranging more workshops in the future - but here are some notes if you want to try the process out for yourself. Check back next week for photos of the Napier class!
Gelatine printing is a form of monoprinting in which a gelatine slab is used as a printing `plate' in conjunction with standard water soluble printing inks/paints to create images. Very little pressure is required to make monoprints using this technique - no press is required. The gelatine monotype process is best approached with a spirit of experimentation: challenge yourself to be as flexible as the material and enjoy!

Basic materials:
  • unflavored gelatine
  • hot water
  • mould to form the gelatine slab (plastic container, etc.)
  • brayer/paintbrushes
  • slab of glass for ink rolling
  • paper/ aluminum foil /plastic - for covering the work space
  • removable tape (masking, cellophane, etc. not essential but can be handy)
  • water-soluble printing ink , acrylic paint, (Oil-based inks are not advised.)
  • paper
  • something to print e.g. stencils or flat textured objects: plants, feathers, found objects, etc.
To create the gelatine plate: I use 2  tablespoons of unflavored gelatine for each cup of water – food grade Gelatine – Davis brand from the supermarket.  (It can be helpful to dissolve the gelatine with some cold water first then add hot to make up the amount.)  Mix up a higher concentration of gelatine than the package instructions to make the plate firm and resilient. The finished slab should have a yellow tinge. If the gelatine is too thick I have noticed that it is harder to release the paint/ink - weather conditions also effect this.) The plate can remain in the container (if your paper size is smaller than the container) but if you want to use the edges you need to turn it out and make a plate that is about 1.5 cm thick. Determine how many cups of water are necessary to fill your mould and then how much powdered gelatine you'll need.  
For a more permanent gelatine plate substitute 1/2 the water for glycerine. (eg. 6 TBS gelatine, 1 1/2 c glycerine and 1 1/2 c water)

 Smooth is good as any marks will leave indentations. Try shallow baking tins, Tupperware style containers, trays from op shops etc.  You can make your own shape by building up the edges with non-drying modelling clay/plasticine around the interior edge of a tray or on a plexiglass sheet. The plexiglass will yield gelatine with two flat, workable sides, but the plate must be level and check very carefully for leaks in your clay dams before pouring the hot gelatine. Larger plates may be made using larger containers, in which case lining the bottom with plastic wrap will make the plate easier to remove.
Pour dissolved gelatine into the mould. Sweep out any air bubbles with paper scraps. Do not move the mould for many hours - until the gelatine is firm.   Allow the liquid gelatine to solidify by leaving it undisturbed in a cool place (refrigerator, if possible) for at least 12 hours, until it is quite firm to the touch.
If you used a container as a mould, you generally remove it from the mould before printing. When the gelatine is quite firm, dip a knife in warm water and run it carefully along the inside of the mould, then gently get hands underneath hands underneath lift up, keeping hands wide walk your fingers along length to avoid cracking and ease the gelatine out of the pan, or invert and shake or flex the mould lightly onto glass surface ready for printing. If you fabricated a mould, remove the modelling clay.

 Smooth is good, thin is good. Use a dry paper. Watercolor papers, especially the hot press ones (Arches is good). Rives BFK, some pastel drawing paper, lightweight printmaking paper, Asian papers, brown paper, and tissue paper. Paj and organza silk pick up with delicacy. Computer and velum paper tend to curl up at the edges once they dry.

 Standard water-based printing inks generally dry very fast, typically less than 5 minutes. This is good because your prints dry quickly however the ink/paint may dry too quickly on the gelatine block. It can be useful to add mediums: gel medium to acrylic paint, textile medium to textile inks, transparent base and extender to printing inks.

Many techniques used in traditional monotypes are possible using gelatine as the printing surface. Ink can be applied to the gelatine in a positive manner, using brushes and brayers to develop the image. One great advantage of using a gelatine plate is that ink can be transferred fairly evenly with very little pressure and gelatine is an excellent material for transferring details from found materials.
  • Squeeze some printing ink onto your palate and brayer it evenly until you have a nice thin coating on the brayer. Brayer the ink onto the gelatine plate gently and evenly. (Or paint on with a brush and even out with a brayer directly on the plate) The ink colour should both suit your subject matter and contrast with your paper in order to bring out the most detail.
  • Place flat textured object/s on top of the inked plate. Gently press down to be sure there is good contact with the gelatine, but try not to tear, gouge, or damage the plate.
  • Leave the object/s in place on the plate and lay a piece of paper down on top of it. Rub your palm lightly over the back of the paper to transfer the ink. You don't need much pressure; gently ensure that the paper makes good contact with the exposed gelatine plate. Peel the paper off. The resulting print is called a negative image. Newsprint can be used like a blotter if you are not so keen on the silhouette image results from this step, or have a spare piece of paper where everything excess gets loaded onto – could be useful for wrapping paper.
  • Continue by gently lifting the textured object/s off the gelatine. You will see some texture imprints which will appear in your monotype.  Lay a fresh dry piece of paper/fabric down on the gelatine plate and run your hand over gently, again to ensure a good contact between the paper and the gelatine. Slowly peel the paper off. This print is called a positive image.
  • Gelatine has a natural suction to it and ink transfers quickly and easily.  As you continue to work with the gelatine, it starts to give off moisture, which mixes in with the inks, adding fluidity and translucency, resulting in painterly, fluid-looking prints. While the plate can be cleaned and used several times, it will eventually start to break down. After much use, it can crack, crumble, and develop texture, all of which give interesting effects in your prints. These irregularities and surprises can give you the opportunity to think of some of the printmaking session as drawing.

Stencil printing: start with a flat application of color, making layering a part of the image from the beginning. (Use a bit of masking tape to fix your paper down on one end to help with registration) As the image develops and some areas become complete, they can be blocked out with a homemade stencil of cardstock or mylar, and you can continue developing your image on the uncovered areas of the plate. You can cut your own stencil shapes, or even incorporate store-bought stencils into your prints. I like using the boldness of stencils with something more detailed, like fabric mesh.
Printing Tips:
The gelatine plate is quite cold when it comes out of the refrigerator and moisture will condense on it for the first 20 or so minutes of use. You may find that your first prints are a little bit runnier than your later prints or you may need to wait until the plate dries up slightly. As the plate warms up, it will become more and more `mushy' and may start to fall apart. Chilling the plate after 2 or 3 hours of use helps to restore its firmness. (This is not an issue in Dunedin!)
The plate may be stored in the refrigerator and reused for up to 2 weeks (or until it falls apart, smells bad or grows mould!)
If you tear the edges, just cut away with a knife till you have the shape you want. If your plate breaks, you can still use the left-overs to print so be creative.
I cut stencils out like this – photocopy (or draw) a simple silhouette onto the middle of a sheet of mylar and then cut around the image with a soldering iron. Do on a glass surface. My soldering iron is a textile one from Spotlight – it has a fixed temperature and a fine point.
Clean the plate: you can use a piece of newspaper to pick up extra ink left behind, or use a slightly damp sponge. I clean mine with baby wipes! The plate may look coloured but you can print other colours on it after cleaning.
Storage: Cover with plastic-wrap and store in fridge. Plates can last a few days but if you leave too long you will end up with a dried old carcass. It smells after a while, too, so plan on printing no more than a few days after making the plate.
Look on YouTube for some inspiration and to see how other people do it.  Linda Germain is particularly good. Check out her blog:

Experimental Techniques:
  • Negative-on-positive, positive-on-negative
    Printing negative images on top of positive images and vice-versa.
  • Apply ink to printing object
    Apply small amounts of ink, either with the brayer or your fingertips, to an object before pressing it onto the gelatine plate.
  • Different papers - different types of paper will absorb the ink differently and reflect the technique differently. I like using white paint on black paper for strong imagery.
  • Experiment with different brands and types of printing ink, paints, dyes, etc. Tempera paint is particularly well suited for young children. Be sure that all colorants are water soluble! Many recommend Akua Kolor
  • Use the plate like a rubber stamp - cut the plate into pieces, ink them, then pick them up and print on surfaces as if you were using a rubber stamp.(It's easy to see where you are stamoing as you can see through the gelatine!)
  • Do a woodblock/screenprint print over the top.
  • Alternative media- try fabric, painted surfaces, wood, egg shells, etc.
  • Layered printing – if the print is not working keep layering on and over working – however I must admit some prints just have to find their way to the rubbish bin!
  • Gelatine can even be used as a material for relief printing, cutting, gouging the plate. It must be handled carefully, and it won't stand up to editioning. 
  • Pour gelatine onto one of your etching plates to create a flexible stamp.
  • Create a collage either by making multiple prints on a single piece of paper, or by arranging many different individual prints into a single composition. Many artists create gelatine prints and then use them as an abstract base for collage work – adding in more graphic imagery. Some examples can be seen in Mixed Media Collage by Holly Harrison or check out applications for any monotypes.
    Disposal: Never put it down the sink unless you want clogged drains!!! Put in the freezer until garbage day or reconstitute gelatine that is getting old to print with.  Linda Germain gives us this great recycling tip: Cut up and blend in the blender, or just cut up the gelatine into 2 cm pieces and then microwave. It may help to add a couple tablespoons of dissolved new gelatine to the gelatine liquid. Dissolve the new gelatine in a small amount of water before adding it to the old stuff to avoid lumps. If you do get lumps just heat and stir until they are gone.


  1. Yes! it is fun - mixed results guaranteed, just keep playing until you get the paint consistency right. I did some good ones with feathers yesterday.

  2. Lynn you generous Gem you..ooohhh aaahhh

  3. Looking forward to this Sunday - a group of ladies coming from Wanaka to learn gelatine printing and then make books with Jane Armour.

  4. Useful link to a more permanent plate - making one of these is on my to do list

  5. revisiting this ...more impressed than last time :-)