Thursday, 7 March 2013

[Creative Warriors] : Gelatin Printing!

Creative Warriors host Kira posted an art journalling video last week featuring the Gelli Arts Gelli Plate and I was instantly dying to get one. Unfortunately, being a fairly new product, there's only one company that makes it, it's only available in Australia from online specialty supply shops, and it's rather expensive. Bummer.

But what exactly is this thing? I've never seen anything like it before. Is it possible to substitute something else for it? I searched the Intertubes for "gelli plate substitute" and it turns out that the Gelli Plate is only the latest innovation in the world of gelatin monotype printing. Officially known as a Hectography, the process of producing prints on a gelatin plate has been around since the nineteenth century. It's been used for everything from high art to postage stamps to printing subversive flyers in prisoner of war camps! - see the Wikipedia article for more info. This makes me want to try it even more desperately!

Thankfully, making and using a gelatin plate seems very easy and cheap to do. One of the first articles I came across was this blog post called "Gelatin Printing with Four-Year-Olds". So I figured if they can do it, so can I! There are also plenty of YouTube videos detailing the process.

For some reason I had plenty of unflavoured gelatin in the cupboard. So all I needed was a suitable flat pan to harden it in. The gelatin is supposed to be very solid: a slab that can be picked up, certainly not your everyday jelly! The proportion of gelatin to water was a bit vague, though one video did say at least 2 heaping tablespoons per cup of water. For this plate I used 4 cups of water (2 cold and 2 hot) and 9 tablespoons of gelatin.

I mixed the gelatin with the water and, after waiting for it to cool a little, poured it into the pan. I lined the pan first with plastic wrap so I wouldn't have to cut it out, I could just lift it out. I skimmed off the bubbles with a scrap of cardboard and put it in the bottom of the fridge. Now for the sucky part - I had to wait for it to harden! That's one big plus for the Gelli Plate - it's ready-to-use straight out of the packet.

Unfortunately, due to unforeseen issues (i.e. I was too hot and grumpy to feel inspired), I didn't actually get to use it for about 4 days. It was perfectly fine in the fridge for that time though. The videos warned that getting the plate out of the pan and onto a flat surface can be a bit tricky, but I found it quite easy using the plastic wrap. I put it on an upside-down serving tray. The gelatin plate was a bit crinkled at one edge from where the plastic wrap had lain on top of it while it was hardening. I'll have to watch out for that next time. There was also a small crack in it - I'm not sure if this happened while it was in the fridge, or while I was lifting it out of the pan. Nevertheless, I was ready to begin printing!

Comparison with plastic gift card to show thickness.

Using inspiration from the YouTube videos and blogs, I had collected various materials to use as stencils and mark-makers. I had a new stencil that I'd just bought recently at Riot Art 'n' Craft, one I'd bought years ago on Etsy but never really used, plus some mod-style circles that I cut out of scrap cardboard. I'd collected a lot more items as well, but I didn't use them so I won't list them.

I chose just a few colours of paint from my stash because I didn't want to be too overwhelmed with choice. Included are a new flourescent green and a turquoise that I bought from Riot Art 'n' Craft last weekend, plus some pink, gold and Children's Easy Wash Paint in primary colours. Kira's video had demonstrated how the prints can be made directly into your art journal, not necessarily onto a loose sheet of paper. My spiral bound journal seemed like a good candidate as I can fold it right back and lay it flat. I was worried that peeling the paper off would make it rip at the holes, but that didn't turn out to be an issue. The issue turned out to be that I got paint everywhere and the other pages were sticking together! So I swapped to using loose blank pages that I ripped out of the back of my journal. They're also easier to peel off without worrying about ripping, etc.

My first attempt at paint application.

I started out using the Children's Easy Wash Paint but quickly realised it was really unsuitable. It was way too runny and just left splodgy splodges on the page with no definition of the stencils at all (shown in photo below). So I put that aside and just used the artist quality paint which is a bit thicker. Even still, unfortunately, I was pretty disappointed with the results I was getting. They just didn't look like they did in the videos! When I tried to apply paint to the plate with a scraper, I couldn't get it in an even layer and the scraper left marks in it. Then when I did a print, the stencil shapes came out very blurred and the print had that striated look of something gluggy and wet being pulled apart. Not what I was expecting and/or hoping for at all!

See the glugg? Where are my circle prints??

I persisted though, and found that if I did a couple of prints from the same application, then the second or third ones came out really well. The paint was a lot dryer and thinner, and it didn't have that gluggy look. I felt brave enough to have another go at doing a print directly into my journal. The first one came out all gloopy, so I rubbed the paint all over the page with my fingers (that's why there's pinkish-gold paint all over the background on the left-hand side!). The next ones came out really well and I'm happy with them. There was a slight 'gloop' effect, but the stencil shapes came out much more clearly. I stopped worrying too much about cleaning the plate between applications and let the colours live together in the prints. This mixed, more grungy look was more satisfying and more my style, I think. In the end I was quite excited and started grabbing magazine pages when I ran out of paper!

According to the sources, the gelatin plate can be used for about 4-5 sessions, slightly longer if stored in the fridge. After that it starts to dry out and crumble, or cracks appear. However, this can add some interesting dimensions to your work and you can squeeze a few more prints out of it before throwing it away. One source even noted that you can melt down the gelatin and re-form it into a new plate, though I'm not sure I'd go that far. It's very eco-friendly (though not very vegetarian-friendly, I have to admit!). I decided to throw my plate away and make a new one next time.

Things I'll do differently next time:
* Find a pan that's larger and rectangular so I can do prints that fill up the whole page.
* Add more gelatin and make the plate more dense. It may have been too springy. Even though I could pick it up, it still seemed 'flobbier' than the ones in the videos. It was possibly too thick as well.
* Use thicker paint. Kira said she gets the best results with "Craft Paint" rather than acrylics - I'll try to find out what this is and try to get some.
* Apply the paint with my brayer. I don't like to use it with wet paints as it was quite expensive and I don't want to ruin it. But in the videos it really seemed to give much better, even coverage and a thinner layer of paint than using the scraper. The thin layer seemed to be important for the desired effect.
* Have all of my journals at hand and plenty of loose, blank paper. That way I can continue making prints while I wait for the earlier ones to dry.

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