I had been planning on trying gelatin printmaking with my Saturday morning kid’s art class for two years, but I was intimidated by how complex the process sounded after it was explained to me by a colleague…Let me clarify, this is SOOO EASY! I am kicking myself for not trying this sooner. It is also incredibly exciting and rewarding, so do yourself a favor and go buy a couple of boxes of gelatin at the grocery store and try this method of monotype printmaking ASAP! Guaranteed fun for everyone :D.
Essentially, what you will be doing is making a firm gelatin plate that will be rolled with ink and a print will be pulled from. Since every print requires a new layer of ink and a new compositional arrangement, no two prints are the same. This is the basic definition of monotype printmaking. It is a fun, expressive, organic, quick style of making prints, and it is versatile for all ages.
Last week I posted a creative process for experimenting with a variety of media, including salt, to make textured watercolor paintings. For my Saturday morning class, we used our watercolors as a ground for our gelatin prints to be printed on. By creating layers, our artwork took on space and dimension; there are a lot of beautiful nuances and details in the final product, and this was a great lesson in positive and negative space for the students.
Students will explore a creative method of monotype printmaking using gelatin as a printing plate. Students will learn the basics of printmaking–using a brayer, inking a plate, and pulling a print. Students will learn the difference between a negative and a positive. Students will work with a partner and will make collaborative prints. Students will also create a layered artwork which will lead to a discussion about depth as well as positive and negative space. Students will be encouraged to experiment and combine processes to create a unique artwork, fostering 21st century skills such as creative problem solving/ creative play.
- 7 Packets of Gelatin (not Jello)
- 1 1/2 Cups Cold Water
- 1 1/2 Cups Boiling Water
- Mixing Bowl
- 9×13 Baking Sheet
- Water Soluble Printing Ink (acrylic paint works too)
- Platen (I used a plastic placemat from the dollar store)
- Assorted leaves
- Textured Watercolor Paintings (or paper of choice)
- Paper Towels
Step One: How to Make a Gelatin Plate
To make the printing plate, you will need to use plain gelatin, not Jello, there is a difference. Knox brand is a very popular brand at most grocery stores. To make a batch for a 9×13 baking pan, I used 7 packets (approximately 6 tablespoons). Here’s how:
Step Two: Prepping to Print
Spread some water soluble printing ink out on a platen (a piece of plexiglass, or in my case I used a plastic placemat from the dollar store).
Use a brayer to roll out the ink. The proper technique is to pull the ink towards yourself, lift up the brayer and place back at the top, pull towards self again, and repeat until the brayer is evenly coated (verse rolling back and forth). Keep rolling ink until you see tiny even peaks and it makes the sound “shh-shh-shh” not “slurp-slurp-slurp.”
Roll the ink over the surface of the gelatin. The gelatin is a little slippery, so it may seem like it isn’t going on at first, but keep at it, it will coat the surface :).
Step Three: Making Negative Prints
Once you have the gelatin covered with ink, carefully arrange an assortment of leaves in different sizes and shapes, vein-side-down, on the surface of the gelatin.
Next, lay one of your paintings or papers face down onto the plate. Gently rub or “massage” the back of the paper ensuring that every inch of the paper comes in contact with the inked surface beneath it.
Carefully pull the print off of the plate. At this point, take the opportunity to discuss what the students see. The leaves acted as a mask, protecting the paper from receiving the ink where they were positioned. Explain that this is a “negative” and what negative space is. Next, we will make a “positive” and compare the two.
Step Four: Making Positive Prints
Next, carefully remove each of the leaves. You will notice that the leaves left their prints in the ink.
*tip! to ensure a clean positive print, take some recycling paper and press onto surface of gelatin BEFORE you remove the leaves. This will pick up any residual ink in the negative space. This doesn’t always have to be done, because some papers will pick up more ink than others. It is worth noting and experimenting with though.
Once the leaves are removed, take another painting or paper, lay it on the surface, and rub the back so that the entire paper comes in contact with the gelatin surface. Pull the print and now discuss the difference between this print and the first one. Explain that in this print we captured the positive shapes or space, therefore this is an example of a positive print.
Step Five: Experiment with Layering
Okay, so for logistical purposes, I had my students work with a partner. Together the students approached the plate (I inked it) and took turns deciding and arranging the leaves on the gelatin to make their composition. Once the leaves were arranged, one partner placed their painting down and made the first negative print. Then, we removed the leaves and the second partner took the positive print on their paper. When they were done, they switched and did it again so that each one of them had a positive and a negative print.
Since the kids made 3-4 textured watercolor paintings each, once they had the process down, I let them experiment (although I kept rolling the ink). Water soluble ink dries relatively quickly, so I encouraged them to take their prints and layer a positive print onto a previously printed negative, and vice versa. I also had two different ink colors, so we experimented with layering with two different colors. Also, I had some left over shaving cream marbled papers from my previous lesson, so I used those as well. Really, any paper surface works, and you can even get white or silver inks and print on black or dark jewel tone papers too!
As another variation, you could use fabric paint and make prints on fabric. I plan on trying this soon and will share my results with you all when I do! Also, don’t feel limited to using leaves. Cutting shapes out of card stock using paper punches, or cutting radial symmetry designs (“snowflakes” or “kirigami”) out of freezer paper, or find some texture stencils at a local craft store to use in order to create “masking” which provides you positive and negative shapes.
Have fun with this process and email me pictures of your final artworks! I can’t wait to see what creative prints you all make! 😀