Monthly Archives: June 2014

Gelatin Printing: in practice & play.

In Vanessa Mooncie’s The Print Making Book, she fashioned a set of placemats from gelatin-printed cork floor tiles.  Since this was my first time gelatin printing, I had no expectations for a finished project; I just wanted to try it.  I adore the unexpected discoveries that happen when I try a new-to-me technique.  I made a cookie sheet full of gelatin (according to Vanessa’s recipe), skimmed a slice of paper across the surface to remove bubbles, and let it congeal on the countertop.  I covered it with plastic wrap and placed it in the refrigerator overnight.  Before printing, I allowed the gelatin to come up to room temperature.  I don’t know if it would affect the viscosity of the paint, but it seemed easier than chancing it.  The plastic wrap left the surface with scattered rippling which may irritate some people, but I didn’t mind, and I found that once the paint was layered on, the ripples weren’t noticeable.  At first, I tried to use the screen printing ink from my Gocco printer, since I have a lot of it.  I tried to work it over a paper palette, but found that the ink didn’t move well enough to cover the 12X17 cookie sheet, and that mixing the paints on the paper palette resulted in a very homogenous color instead of the splotchy, mottled mess for which I was aiming.  So I shifted to acrylics.  I applied them directly to the surface of the gelatin, and used the brayer to both flatten and gently bleed edges. For this initial foray into gelatin printing, I used paint leftover from school and craft projects, even some mysterious paint from Daiso.  I added in some better quality once I got a handle on the actual process.

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I had a stack of papers at the ready: plain white drawing paper, ledger paper, nautical charts, and a hodge podge of envelopes, tags, and book pages.  My tool kit for mark-making includes a scrap of bubble wrap, empty tape cardboards, old tatting, and vinyl placemats with lacey edging. I have two hand-heId tools: one for making the divots in cracker dough, and one for shredding pasta dough into fettuccine.  I also had the negative from a set of magnets, and I think this piece yielded the best geometric results.

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I found that the first print off the freshly inked surface made for a very opaque print, obscuring whatever the paper or ledger had on it.  The second, or ghost print, was a better use of the printed papers.  And some paints picked up more thoroughly than others.  When there was residue on the gelatin, I sometimes used an envelope or tags to pick up the ink/paint.  Or I used a sheet of plain white paper, and repeatedly lifted all excess paint from the tray.

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Once dry, the variety of paints allowed for a range in sheens—from flat craft paint to smooth, glossy acrylic.  In all, I have forty sheets of gelatin-printed paper, and a handful of interesting tags and envelopes.  Next time—which is soon since the tray is occupying a shelf in our refrigerator—I want to experiment with either tube watercolors or gouache, or watering down the acrylics to allow for more transparency.  I also want to try using different shapes and silhouettes in the mark-making.  I plan to work these into a variety of projects: map-making, mail art, art journaling, gift wrapping, and collage.

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Printing: Potatoes, Rubber, Gelatin.

One Christmas, I came home from college, and showed my grandmother how to make potato prints. She had never seen such a thing before, and we made sheets and sheets of snowflake-patterned kraft paper to wrap gifts. Grandma would cut up the previous season’s Christmas cards with pinking shears, and use the snippets as gift tags. But that year, she used every scrap of snowflake paper. She said, with a wink, that it was the first trick I’d ever taught her. It had always been the other way around.

I loved the simplicity and the thrift of potato printing, but I also love to carve very detailed imagery. Potatoes hold up somewhat to detail, but lose their edges after much stamping. Further, you can pop them into the refrigerator to keep from spoiling, but only for a week or so. I eventually graduated to rubber stamp and lino carving, and have a growing collection. But no matter how impermanent, I will always remember those lopsided potato prints in my grandmother’s breakfast nook.

Mooncie, Vanessa.Mooncie cover
The Print Making Book:
Projects and Techniques in the Art of Hand-Printing.
Illustrated. 175pp.  Guild of Master Craftsman Publications, 2013. $19.95
ISBN-10: 186108921X
ISBN-13: 978-1861089212
760—M7789p

Vanessa Mooncie is known for her crochet and textile work, and has an established career as a silk-screen artist and illustrator.  It is clear, when I thumbed through The Print Making Book, that Vanessa took a great deal of time and care illustrating this book.  It is wholly appealing.  The cover has a watercolor paper texture.  The images range from foxes and feathers, lipstick prints and oxford lace-ups, to the line art of a washing machine.  And a plumed zebra!  Vanessa covers relief and screen printing, mono and sun printing, plus a section on images transfers and stencils.  Each type of printing requires a slightly different toolbox, but once you’re set up for silk-screening, for example, the options unfold.

Several of the 23 projects caught my eye.  One example is the Eraser Stamp alphabet.  I love Vanessa’s block font; it is endlessly useful.  The uniformity of the eraser’s size allows for a tidy A-Z set.  A few years ago, I carved an alphabet set based on my handwriting, upper and lower case with variations, numbers, and punctuation.  I use this alphabet often, and have contemplated carving a smaller alphabet.

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There is a useful and fun set of tote bags featuring the plumed zebra and a leaping fox.  I’m always reaching for reusable totes.  I even plan to use Vanessa’s fox image—a two color template that is crisp and fun.  I do not have a traditional silk screen set up, but Vanessa’s how-to is clear. I am eager to learn a home silk-screening method even though I have a small Gocco printer.  As many of you may know, Gocco stopped making the supplies for this small-but-perfect set up.  It requires screens, and bulbs to burn the image into the screen.  And those two things are proving difficult to come by.  And expensive.  Therefore, I try to make screens that will be reusable in the future.  I’m buoyed by Vanessa’s tutorial because then I wouldn’t be limited by any one screen size—I could craft my own!  The hunt for frames and screen printing mesh is on.  I have a couple squeegees, and I hope to use the inks from my Gocco printer.  Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I’m completely at home with rubber stamp carving.  I have carving tools in spades—I use Speedball lino cutters and pink rubber sheets.  And it’s something that my kids enjoy as well.  In the past, I’ve had them draw directly onto the carving rubber, and remove the negative space.  It’s a fine way to get started, but note that your art will be a mirror image, which presents a problem if you have any text.  This time, I asked my boys to draw on paper, and they filled up pages of medieval bows, arrows, and shields.  And a yo-yo.  Then we transferred their imagery by burnishing the pencil onto the rubber.  My kids have had many opportunities to carve stamps.  (I have formed a habit of writing their names and dates on the flip side for posterity).  I set them up on a cutting board, and always give them a safety refresher: keep your fingers out of the path of the blade.

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I joined the boys, and made a small label stamp—which is vintage in flare.  I hand-drew the label, transferred it into the rubber in reverse, carved the negative space, then stamped my first try.  From there it took five more passes to clean up my image.  I use two main carving blades: a U-shaped channel for swaths of open carving, and a medium V for detailed lines and edges.

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It feels useful to me in many ways: for the spine of a collection of art journals, for a “Nº 1 Dad” card, for Project Life journaling, for a summer jam-jar canning label.

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A giant California return address stamp has been on my to-do list for some time.  I found an outline of California, and sized it to the rubber sheet.  Then I printed out several copies of it, and played around with lettering in our address.  Once I arrived at a well-spaced version, I traced with pencil onto tracing paper, and burnished the reverse image on the surface of the rubber sheet.  I carved away the pencil markings, taking time around our address, the zip code, and the Bay Area delta.  I fine-tuned the southern California islands as a last pass.  And while the islands probably aren’t critical to the overall stamp, I really wanted to include the Farallones, and felt it democratic to include the Channel Islands.  It’s a sizeable stamp, so I use an acrylic block to make the impression.  If the envelope has an overlap or a seam, then I carefully press down on the rubber alone just in that area.  It isn’t perfect, but it is handmade.  If it bothers you to not get a full impression, you could touch up any bald spots with a matching marker.

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Gelatin prints are another method of print-making that intrigue me.  Like potato prints, gelatin printing has a short lifespan, yet yields interesting and varied results.  I have a Silhouette Cameo paper cutter, and while reading Vanessa’s process for making Gelatin-printed placemats, I had visions of all the possibilities: organic shapes like tree rings, bird feathers, and lake outlines.  A menagerie of animals.  My own line art.  The hardest part is deciding what shapes to use.  I have a 12X17-inch cookie sheet filled with solid gelatin in my refrigerator—a note on the door reads: Please do not eat or move or place things on top of gelatin!!

You can view Vanessa’s artwork at: www.vanessamooncie.com or kissysuzuki.com.  There you can learn more about her crochet and knit work, and connect with her on Ravelry.

Thanks, Vanessa Mooncie, for writing and illustrating a diverse print-making book that compels me to get my hands dirty, try a new-to-me technique, purchase an enormous box of gelatin, and add to my hoard collection of hand-carved stamps.

 

PS: I’ve got a collection of inspiration for hand-carved stamps, and rubber stamps in general: http://www.pinterest.com/cortneysf/hand-carved/  And if hand-carving isn’t your thing, there are thousands of artisan stamp-makers on Etsy who will make you nearly any kind of stamp you can dream up.

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Summer: June Edition.

My boys are out of school for the summer.  So, it’s been a week+ of Lego-building, escaping the fog for some pool time, and ransacking SFPL to stock up on summer reading.  We’ve also cheered the SF Giants at a chilly night game, visited the dentist (no cavities!!), weeded part of the yard, participated in a potential World Record-breaking chain letter operation, and made Smitten Kitchen’s Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats.  And today, we’re carving our own rubber stamps.

M carving

carving a yo-yo.

N drawing

drawing an assortment of arrows.

Next week, the boys are off to camp, and I’ll share some words about rubber stamp carving books.

 

 

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Books for Your Back Pocket.

jotters cls

jotters suitable for gifting. (featuring Poppy’s paintbrushes).

I have a fondness for books. I love the structure, and the variety.  I like that they can hold secrets or daily-ness.  They can contain personal wishes or public proclamations.  They can house technique-testing or sketches or big ideas.  I make books for all seasons, and just as a creative exercise.  I also make small, pocket-sized jotters for lists.  Lists of art supplies and groceries and to do’s.  It began as a way to use up small scraps of ledger and patterned paper.  I bind these jotters with waxed linen in a pamphlet stitch.  Simple, and purposeful.  I have, on occasion, gifted these jotters as opposed to a card, and I affix a greeting with washi tape.  And I often collage or otherwise embellish the front—you know, for fun.

McCafferty, Kathleen.making mini books
Making Mini Books:
Big Ideas for 30+ Little Projects.
Illustrated. 144pp.  Lark Crafts, 2011. $19.95
ISBN-10:1454702001
ISBN-13:978-1454702009
686.3—M1235m

Making Mini Books, edited by Kathleen McCafferty, is arranged from the simplest matchbook projects to the more elaborately sewn accordion books, and includes an appendix to help guide you through an assortment of sewn bindings.  It features the work of 22 book designers, and 30+ projects in total.  Any level of book-maker can leap into this volume and find a do-able project without needing any elaborate supplies.

My journey through Making Mini Books made my art room look like a recycling tornado swept through.  Vintage papers, maps, patterned scraps—everywhere.  The tail ends of waxed linen thread, scattered buttons, and leather snippets.  The books may be tiny, but I made a huge mess.  I wish I took before and after pictures.

First, I made the simple matchbooks, designed by Leslie Werner. I had some 3X3 inch scraps. Leslie’s matchbooks are smaller, so I adjusted accordingly.  I used double-sided scrapbook patterned paper, so when opened, the matchbook would reveal a wholly different color.  I stapled with the tiny attacher; I like the smaller staples.  I also tamped down on the back side of the staple with a flat tool so the sharp legs were embedded and would not snag.  These portable little books would be fine for lists and favors.  But I made one exclusively for dinner-time hang man.  My husband and I recently discovered that our boys (almost 10 & almost 8) love this game, and it is great entertainment while waiting at restaurants or while traveling.

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matchbooks for grocery lists, and hang man games.

I also made the equally simple, sewing machine-bound beveled books, designed by Stephanie Morison. Again, I worked with scrap papers.  (I was given a ream of old company letterhead.  The paper is a crisp, heavy white stock, and once I trim the left margin with out-dated company information, I’m left with a 5½X8½ inch block).  The instructions recommend testing out 14 sheets to see if your machine can handle the bulk; mine needed some manual assistance, so next time, I’ll reduce sheets.  These petite books will make useful jotters for all notes: garden seed varieties, sticker collections and wedding shower gift-listing (who gave what for the Thank You notes).

small jotters

palm-sized jotters for keep-able list-making. (I love hyphens).

Since I had a scrap of leather, I made the petite fold journal, designed by Marie “Wee” Calogerro.  More scrap paper, waxed linen thread, and two old buttons.  I had attempted the French stitch binding, and I had success with the instructions, but I feared that if I pulled too hard to keep the binding tight, I might ruin the holes I punched into the leather.  So I went with a straight stitch.  If you’ve never sewn together multiple signatures before, you may want to find a video tutorial to see the process in action.  I found that the tutorials took a broader approach, and I can see how a beginner might be flummoxed.  I’m happy with how this book turned out.  It’s a good size at ­­­­5½X4 inches (which is larger than the book sample), and it lies relatively flat when opened. Only one of my buttons is functional, the distressed brass one is sewn on, but solely decorative.

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old books, book binding, & a new-to-me matryoshka.

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leather-bound journal, with accompanying minis

My favorite project from Making Mini Books was the book On the Go, designed by Heather Carden.  I had an immediate need for exactly this type of book.  Many years ago, I learned how to cross-stitch and embroider, and worked my way through monogrammed bookmarks and a Holly Hobbie wall hanging.  Lately, I’m seeing great embroidery everywhere (Etsy, Pinterest, Creative Bug), and, if you’ll recall from a few posts back, I have many empty hoops.  So I’m taking it up again (and reviewing a few embroidery books in the process).  I had started with some simple linen and a line drawing. I wanted to take the project on a long flight.  But, how to remember the stitches?  Yes, simple ones are easy; it’s those fancy ones that I always jumble.  I thought I could either print and cut a stitch guide and bind it into a little book, OR make a mirror image photocopy and image transfer the stitches into a book of interesting vintage papers.

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on the go stitch guide! and starting a new hoop.

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it unclips! and fastens up!

The cover for my book On the Go features an embossed bee from an old book, and a mash-up of old pages inside.  I used a lobster claw swivel clasp to allow me to remove the book, and thumb through the pages.  The necklace portion is a length of paracord, enhanced with a portion of rhinestone chain that I simply wrapped and knotted with waxed linen thread.  The book also has a band of elastic bound with a metal eyelet on the back cover.

Aside from my initial stitch guide idea for this book, I plan to make a couple more for our big family trip later this summer.  With this little book, I can—on the fly—record things that we don’t want to forget: observations and priceless words from our kids while exploring completely foreign turf.  Further, this On the Go Book could house pictures of your beloved ones, SAT vocabulary words, knitting stitches, or twenty of your favorite quotations.  The sky’s the limit.

Thanks, Kathleen McCafferty, for rallying 22 crafty book-makers, and organizing a syllabus of simple to complex book projects that are diminutive and practical, and allowed me to up-cycle a stack of old letterhead, and carry on with my embroidery like an old pro.

 

If you enjoy making books by hand, there are many great books available.  Some of my favorites:

Making Handmade Books, by Alysa Golden.

Rebound, by Jeannine Stein.

How to Make Books, by Ester K. Smith.

And a suite of non-adhesive book-binding books by Keith Smith.

PS:  A couple weeks ago, I wrote about miniature faux taxidermy animals.  Lest you think I’m morbid, or that taxidermy isn’t cool, I spied an article in last week’s United Airlines Hemispheres Magazine featuring a UK shop that teaches taxidermy classes!  You can create your own mouse wearing a chef hat or knitting an afghan.  The accessories may be faux, but the mouse is for real.

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