Sunday, June 8, 2008

Gelatin Printmaking 101

A few months ago, a friend came over and helped me experiment with gelatin printmaking. Although I'd read about it some years ago, seeing the results in "Mixed-Media Nature Journals" by L.K. Ludwig (which I LOVE) propelled me into trying it now. It's a very simple process but takes some thought and prep work. The night before, I made 2 pans of unflavored gelatin using shallow cake tins and assembled a variety of papers to try, including hot and cold-press watercolor paper (artist’s and student-grade, ranging from 80 lb. to 300 lb.), acid-free brown craft paper, vellum, handmade Asian papers with pressed leaves and fibers, and white recycled computer paper. I used Liquitex heavy body artist’s acrylic tube paints and Golden fluid acrylics instead of printmaking ink while Grace tried out her bottles of craft paint. We each had a rubber brayer and some natural items to use.

Our first few attempts were not stellar. But I made a breakthrough when I realized more acrylic paint made a better print. Soon we were into the flow of it, impressed with the performance of simple computer paper and vellum. Instead of buckling, those thinner papers clung to the gelatin and really soaked up the paint. Grace and I pulled at least 20 prints apiece from our separate trays and the results were much better than either of us expected or hoped. Even after my friend left, I found it hard to stop making prints. I felt such an infusion of enthusiasm and happiness and creativity.

Comfortable with color theory and having layered paints before, I didn't find any need to clean off the plate with a wet sponge each time I changed colors, as the book suggested. I started with light colors, moved to dark, and reverted back to light again.

We made some fun discoveries. If we left a leaf on the gelatin and spread paint, it acted as a resist created a white leaf-shaped space in the print. If we removed the leaf and pulled another print, now it showed detailed veins in the leaf. Grace discovered positioning thick 3-D items broke the gelatin more easily than flat impressions such as leaves, but we agreed the cuts themselves created a great design feature.
The watercolor papers, especially the hot press ones, made the best impressions. The Asian paper with fibers made a sturdy, bendable print that I wrapped around my current Journal. The computer and velum paper tended to curl up at the edges once they dried. And the fabric printing was promising—I’d like more swatches to try.

Leaves and coins on vellum

Leaves and bark on lightweight watercolor paper

Leaves and bark on woven cotton fabric

Leaves and grass on 140 lb. hot press watercolor paper

Leaf, grass, and plastic Celtic mold on 140 lb. hot press watercolor paper

Leaves and grass on brown craft paper

Asian fiber paper with leaf prints wrapped around a Journal


  1. Hi Gina
    Those look like fun! I've been meaning to try that... so I am glad you let us know it works well with acrylic as I don't have inks... so I may be able to try it sooner vs. later! namaste Elis.

  2. I love the effects of these prints. Would love to try it.

  3. Hi Elis! Yes, good quality acrylics can go anywhere and do anything--welcome guests every where. Thanks for visiting. I love your blog!

    You might really like playing with prints, Andrea. Be warned that once you start it's hard to stop!

  4. soooooooo awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I DID THIS ONCE AND IT WAS FUN AND IM TRYING TO FIND OUT HOW TO MAKE THE GELITEN!

  5. Hi Mcley,
    Thanks for stopping by! You can find the instructions for making gelatin on the gelatin package. Good luck and keep up your reading!