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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