PART ONE: HOW TO MAKE AND BUY THE STUFF YOU NEED
The first thing to do if you want to explore a new medium, is go to a big box craft store and spend a hundred bucks on supplies. Then sign up for a class at the store, in which they will sell you more supplies. You may want to join an on line group where everyone has top of the line equipment, or watch an on line tutorial sponsored by a company that sells supplies.
You can make yourself a gelatin plate, which is just a rubbery jello-jiggler type pad that you coat with layers of paint, and then rub a piece of paper on top and peel it up — making a print. It’s called a monoprint because you only get one print (unlike a linoleum block or wood block, which prints an image over and over.) So this is called “gelatin printing” or “Gelatin monoprinting.”
“Gelli” is a brand name and has the little copyright symbol attached. But when people talk about Gelli printing, it’s this.)
To make the gel plate, you need store brand powdered unflavored gelatin (pretty cheap) and glycerine. The glycerine is probably the most expensive part of this project, especially if you buy it at the pharmacy in a little bottle. I get mine on line, in quart sized containers. It lasts forever and goes a long way.
The recipe is here, in text form, about halfway down the page. Credit where credit is due: this is the best recipe I have found. Glycerine, gelatin and water. I do mine in the microwave. Tools cleanup easily with soap and warm water.
(Some recipes add tea tree oil, alcohol, or other weird ingredients to keep plates from spoiling(?) or something? but mine sit stacked in a cupboard for months and years and never go bad. I don’t put it in the fridge with food and stuff, and I have never had problems.)
Store bought gel plates are a little different. They are expensive, stiffer and more permanent, and paint dries more quickly on their surface. I have one, but prefer the homemade ones, because I can make them all different shapes and sizes. When they get raggedy, I can melt them down and repour in a new shape and size.
OK: printing supplies, on the cheap. When I need to make enough plates to teach a class, I go to the dollar store and get flat metal 8X8 pans for a buck each. Then I go to the aisle with cheap picture frames and ugly art, and spend another dollar (throw away the art, keep the pane of glass. Tape the edges with duct tape.) I pour the gel plate in the pan, put the glass on top, and everybody has a plate, a glass to put it on when printing, and a way to store it. (Students in my class take their plates home to keep.)
(Better yet: you can sometimes find a little square glass cutting board at a dollar store, just the size of the brownie pan. I use these to stack and store my plate because they are sturdy and don’t crack. They have a slight texture which ends up on the gel plate but it doesn’t seem to change the printing. Either way, you’ve now spent two bucks per student.)
Brayers (the little paint rollers) can be expensive, but there’s a work around here, too. I’ve taught classes using the small foam rollers that come in the super cheesy dollar store paint kits. (Cut off the long end so they are just the length of the stick inside.) They soak up a lot of paint but actually distribute it quite well, avoiding the too much/not enough paint problems common with first timers. If you prefer a more traditional brayer surface, I have discovered that black electrical tape (another buck) wrapped around the foam brayer makes a workable substitute. (Do try the foam ones, though – I have become fond of them, and even buy the pink foam curlers (another buck) to slide onto the paint roller handle as a replacement roller.)
Stencils and textures: There are a lot of affordable, thin plastic stencils that can be purchased for printing, and I use them for teaching because they are fun and rewarding and quick and easy. For myself, I prefer less commercial patterns in found objects. You can gather up bubble wrap, the corrugated edges of a cardboard box or coffee cup sleeve, bumpy textured drawer liners or textured craft foam, leaves, feathers, roughly woven fabrics, bits of yarn. You can cut your own shapes out of paper or foam, using both the shapes and the piece you cut it from.
Paper: I print on everything. Copy paper, cheap manila from kids scribble pads, the backs of printed material I don’t need anymore, parchment paper, muslin fabric scraps, anything. Is it archival quality? Nope, but who needs that kind of pressure? If somehow one of my prints is auctioned at Sotheby’s one day, I guess that would matter, but my goal is to make a million prints and learn something from the process and maybe one in 20 will be nice to look at later. Make, fail, make, fail, make. Different papers pick up paint in different ways. Try not to get too precious about the end results.
Wipes: Dollar store diaper wipe refill packs work great for gently wiping plates (I don’t clean in between prints, as I like the layers) and wiping fingers. (You can also get rubber gloves, if you’re that sort). If I use stencils, I layer them between wet wipes before the paint hardens completely.
PART TWO: GETTING STARTED!
We are snowed and and I can’t make it to my studio, so I pulled out the (dollar store) shower curtain liner I keep wadded in my printing supply box and draped it over the kitchen island. I have some glass shelves from a dead refrigerator that I use for a paint surface. Trash bags, opened cardboard boxes, pizza box, whatever you have will work just fine.
Paints: Serious artists use Golden Open and other high quality, strong pigment acrylics. But if you’re here reading this, you are probably not an serious gelatin printing artist yet : )
Considering the tens of dollars I have made selling my gelatin printed work, I also do not consider myself a serious artist. More importantly, I am really open to the unpredictability of this process. When I spend too much time thinking, planning and trying to predict results, it goes badly. I discovered my favorite prints are sometimes the edges of things, the accidents and over-prints, even the page I use to clean my rollers, lol.
So I go for quantity over quality: make prints, make more prints, print over the boring ones. And I use every kind of acrylic paint I can get my hands on, because they all do something different. In the pic above, you see cheap bottles of acrylics from walmart, stuff on sale at craft stores, a light blue that froze in my car, a yellow that was mixed with an almost-empty different yellow, and a little row of dollar tree acrylic pots (more goo than color). Too thick, too thin, mixed together, lumpy. All good with me.
Painting the plate
The hard thing to figure out at first is that your print will not reflect what you see from your side, but rather what is directly touching the gel plate. In other words: I could take a brush and paint blue stripes on this red plate, but when I took a print, the blue would not show up, as only the red paint is touching the plate. When it doubt, lift the plate and look through the glass and see what shows up from the back.
Make some plain, boring prints at first just to get the hang of how the layers work. Some people learn best by doing. Paint some one color coats on your plate and try removing paint with bubble wrap, strips of torn paper, or stencils used as a mask.
EXPERIMENT! It’s all a learning process. In my studio I string a cord from one end of the room to the other, and hang print after print on clotheslines to dry. The boring or fuzzy ones, I may go get later and print on top of them.
Repeat after me: it’s only a piece of paper. I am not being graded on this. You can always print on the back, or over the top. If one in ten is interesting, then make 100. It’s only a piece of paper.
Here are some things I tried this morning: using the leftover paper from the heart stencil, using bubble wrap, torn strips laid on top of the paint, using a commercial stencil as a “mask” to print on a boring thing.
Don’t overthink it. Make prints and prints and prints. Sometimes you won’t appreciate them until you come back a day later and see what you made, unfettered by your expectation of how it was going to look.
Sometimes your print will look like the dog’s breakfast, all but a really interesting corner. Sometimes you’ll keep ho-hum prints and later, when you are making a paper collage, it will be just the right color/texture. Sometimes you have a great result, and have to recreate a process to try to capture it again. It’s al good healthy exercise for your brain, your eyes, your curiosity and imagination.
CLEAN UP is easy if you don’t wait too long. I don’t do much cleaning up, actually. My tools and glass and stencils and printing materials are caked with layers of paint, as are the outside edges of my plates. It’s my “aesthetic”, lol. When my printing glass layers get too thick, I scrape with a razor blade like when painting windows. I wipe down my brayer and plates with a diaper wipe or wet paper towel before I put them away, and dry the plates thoroughly before stacking to store (wet spots make little divots.)
WHAT DO YOU DO WITH ALL THESE PRINTS?
This is such an adult and logical question, especially prevalent in my midwest culture where our work ethic and roots in agriculture and industry mean things have to have a PURPOSE. Add to that the goal-focus we get from years of formal education, and this question is somehow inevitable. The answer is: it really doesn’t matter. You can make a greeting card, wrap gifts in it, linocut print on top of it, make bookmarks out of the pretty bits, frame your favorites, burn them in a bonfire and dance around the flames. You can cut them into tags, save them for collages, tuck them in a folder for someday.
I have used my gelli prints for:
Making this chess set for no reason
Making collage pieces for these giant sardines
Making houses and parts for jewelry at my Etsy Store
Covering my bullet journals and art journals
Fitting in a clear dollar store phone case to decorate my cell phone
Using as a matt or frame for my linocuts
And teaching (before pandemic, and after!) at Hands On Studio at Toledo Botanical Garden.
That’s it, for now! Ask me questions if you like! I hope to have a youtube demo up soon, working with the guys from Bucketnaut. In the meantime, if you get hella rich making prints and teaching printmaking and want to poke a dollar in my tip jar, there’s a link below. Have fun! Make stuff! TTYL.
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I make these for my Ceramics 1 class and might as well share them! Click the button at the top that says “present”.
Some time in September, (because who needs a calendar anymore?) Jeff lost his job and we fled to the family cottage in Michigan, bringing the cats and some boxes of art supplies.
My gelatin printing stuff didn’t make the “essential” list, so when I started making more of my little wooden houses for my jewelry and wanted to gelli print them to get the cool weathered layered surfaces I love, I had to improvise.
I bought a bottle of glycerine in a drug store, and boxes of knox unflavored gelatin at the grocery store, and reduced the batch size of the homemade gelli print recipe here.
I make my own gelatin plates because a) I teach, and want to keep classes affordable and b) I can abuse them and then microwave and repour them in any shape I want and 3) I hate projects that start with “drop 60 bucks at a big chain craft store”.
So I melted the stuff in a pyrex measuring cup and poured it into a plastic magic wok carry out container (don’t judge me, fast food is fast.)
So I have some odds and ends of acrylics up here, but they are the tube kind real painters (like Jeff) use. I prefer the cheap bottle ones but these are fine if you give them time to dry before messing with them.
Gelli printing involves rolling paint onto this rubbery surface that feels very much like a sturdier jello jiggler, making patterns and layers in it, and then pressing paper (or whatever) onto it to pull a monoprint. I roll square wooden dowels across the surface and then turn those into little houses like this:
But while I was at it, I decided I should gelli print some paper to cut into strips for rolled paper beads that would match my houses (that’s maybe my next blog post) and also gelli print the backs of the playing cards I use to ship earrings because OMG some of those are super ugly.
So the backs of these cards went from Eeeeww to Oooooooo.
Also the beads, which I will go into later, look like this:
Of course, I didn’t have my brayers, and those are not cheap, but I had the little plastic fuzzy roller that comes in a paint roller kit for a buck from dollar tree. I wrapped it in some black electrical tape looking stuff I found in a junk drawer, like the stuff they wrap around hockey sticks, and it worked fine.
Also: if you can get your hands on thin styro, like meat or produce trays from the supermarket or the top of a styro egg carton, you can draw a design in it by pressing hard with a pen or pencil, and experiment with that while making prints. The little faces on the photo below were from a sheet of thin styro. I ordered some a long time ago and keep a few in my journal to doodle on when I am bored, ie: board meetings of any sort.
I have to throw one more thing in here, because I stayed up late last night listening to my audiobook and making gelli strip rolled paper beads. This morning I was painting them with clear nail polish one by one by one and suddenly had an idea. Check me out, lol:
So there’s my project for today. More later on rolled paper beads and anything else you ask for, just shoot me a note.
Here’s a link to my Etsy store, if you want to see the end results: https://www.etsy.com/shop/Primalpotter
Hope any of this is useful for teachers. I usually teach adults, but cub scouts and girl scouts get a kick out of this class as well. All the supplies stack neatly into a storage tub with the brownie pans and glycerine/gelatin bottles for later batches. Remind everybody to dress for mess, or provide aprons – acrylic will ruin clothes.
I have been scribbling my thoughts, notes, lists and poems, appointments and sketches since grade school. Somewhere in an attic is a box of spiral notebooks containing every stupid thing I did in my youth, stories of boys I shouldn’t have dated, experiments in excess, self important embarrassments. My brother and I once had an agreement: if I was hit by a bus, my parents (and now, children) must never see the contents of those journals.
As I am not a linear thinker, (coughADDcough) I also have several bales of paper bits around my house with urgent things scribbled on them. I will find next to my toothbrush a sticky note that says IMPORTANT THURSDAY 2PM with no clue as to what was important, where I am supposed to be or which year this was written. My approach seems to be to scribble messages, contacts, ideas and urgencies on the back of a receipt or envelope, then fling them to the wind, where they will enter the tornado of paperwork, tax receipts and unpaid bills that is my life. Sometimes they turn up a sodden wad in the pocket of my laundered jeans. Sometimes I take it to the next level, and use a spiral notebook to organize my budget, home life, studio work flow, and then lose THE ENTIRE NOTEBOOK which is more efficient, really, than losing things one at a time.
Somewhere along the way, the concept of bullet journalling entered my world. It’s a method of consolidating all those paper bits into a single book that can actually be located on a regular basis. Maybe I saw it on facebook, pinterest, or somewhere out in the sea of social media that has replaced my journalling habit. Because I’ll confess: after all those years of having a favorite pen and an appreciation for good writing pages, I had chucked it all for a keyboard. My years of dear-diary journals had given way to wordy, self important announcements on facebook about plans for my tomato garden, the quality of my dinner, and other mundane accomplishments and fails. (With the miracle of modern technology, I had also mastered the art of asking Siri to remind me about appointments and things to do, and then failing to check my reminder list until items were long past irrelevant).
I looked up bullet journal lists, facebook groups, blogs and pins. Like any new phenomenon, it seemed to have a consumerist frenzy attached. Many of the participants seemed to start with a BUY ALL THE THINGS! approach, and discussions were awash in photos of the piles of washi tape purchased at a bargain price, the expensive journals apparently bound in Lithuanian Iguana Leather by monks who stitch in handmade pages one at a time. And of course, the pens. So that’s a little intimidating. I went directly to Dollar Tree and bought a stack of journals, took them to the studio and heartily applied mod podge and colorful paper detritus to the covers.
Then there were the photos of journallers’ sample pages. Apparently the method is attractive to scrapbookers, stampers and other paper craft fans who approached this with their practiced graphic-layout eye, shelves full of art supplies and maybe a little OCD. Looking at their pages, with seven fonts, three colors and a professional graph of symbols (water consumed, barometric pressure, menstrual cycle, items marked by level of urgency, all color coded with a box legend) gave me a familiar feeling: both awe and a little shame. It was like looking at those home decor magazines of glorious living spaces while sitting on my battered couch in a pile of laundry, among garage sale decor, with a “pop” of dirty dishes and an overflowing cat litter box providing the “focal point” of the environment.
But I began anyway. As a 50+ woman I have practice in letting go of unrealistic expectation. Healthy as I may strive to be, my bikini days are over (and good riddance.) So I adjusted my well calibrated giveashit meter, and set about bullet journalling.
Something about the fact that I had spent one entire dollar on my journal freed me from the fear of marking on that first white page. In fact, it quickly became clear that this entire book was going to be a rough draft. I tried some of the more interesting ideas I saw on line: a simple layout of this week on the left page, with an associated things-to-do list on the right. A gratitude page, a bucket list, an ideas-for-the-studio list, books to read, a schedule of upcoming classes. I grabbed the book when we planned a grocery store trip, when I met someone I was supposed to email, and the pages between the “titled” pages quickly filled with daily detritus. I tried putting sticky tabs on the pages I needed to find again, and made a table of contents with ONLY the things I wanted to find again. I made my own lists: “Things I didn’t fail at today”. “Healthy snacks the kids swear they will eat if I buy them”. I began to enjoy coloring in little boxes at the end of the day, reminding myself that my fitbit approved of my walking, I kept on my weight watchers path, I got the daily hug I determined I needed. Other things I decided were too fussy, not relevant, not the way my brain worked of needed major tweaking. I X’ed out those pages and moved on.
By the time I got to my second journal, I loved that I could start fresh, move only the lists and pages I liked into the new journal, stick the battered and scribbled rough draft on a shelf. I had a bunch of women over to the studio to decorate journal covers and compare notes. A few were so lovely I wondered how there could be time to DO the things on those beautiful, calligraphic lists, but others admitted to being a little overwhelmed. “I bought a gorgeous journal but I don’t want to ruin it.” Or “My handwriting is awful.” Or “I can’t make them as pretty as the ones on line.” So we had kind of a dare-to-be-mediocre encounter group session. Washi tape? Well, you can use it to cover up a false start, a horrible misspelling, or that week where you wrote WEDNESDAY twice. We became braver as we showed each other our scribbles and fails. I began to OWN my lack of giveashit as a valid option.
I am not completely immune to the call of the wallet on this. I have developed a fondness for a dot-grid page that feels nice under the fingertips and doesn’t bleed ink through to the other side. I have found a set of sharpie pens that say NO BLEED and they don’t create blobs and shadows on the back of the page. I found thin chapter paper-cover Moleskine journals on clearance that fit into my dayrunner, and I like the collaged up covers. But I felt the urge do “come out” in public as a bullet journaller who makes crooked lines, scribbles awkwardly, doodles when bored, and draws sketches of things that look like a grade schooler drew them (just because it helps me see and remember the thing, when my hand gets involved instead of my cell phone camera.)
If I had a legend of symbols to help others interpret my journal, it would look like this:
Blue ink : I found a blue pen.
[X] : finished this task
Crossed out: Screw this task.
Brown spot : Spilled my coffee
X-ed out page : Aint nobody got time for that.
Fancy, wiggly font : wrote this on a train, bumpy track.
In short, my bullet journal has made me more productive, less worried, less likely to go to bed at night feeling like I GOT NOTHING DONE, as my usual internal inventory only tracks my failed intentions and doesn’t give me credit for accomplishments. Like my life, it’s frugal and no frills, a little creative and messy, prettier on the outside, hard to figure out and crusted with clay at the edges. Like my house, if I think you are judgy, you’ll never get to see the inside.
If you want to begin bullet journalling, the one item I suggest you use for the process is an adjustable,self-calibrating giveashit meter.