Please Print

I got a new art toy recently.

Round Gelli brand printing plate in package.
My new toy—a Gelli printing plate. I thought I was buying a square one, but it’s round!

It’s called a Gelli plate, and it makes gelatin monoprints sooooo much easier than in the past.

Instead of explaining how to make a gelatin plate for printing, I’m going to point you to a great tutorial on The Sketchbook Challenge site, because there’s also a ton of other great ideas and inspiration on that site. If you’ve never visited, you should! (Maybe you’ll even be inspired to participate in the Sketchbook Challenge!)

If you don’t want to make your own gelatin plates, the new Gelli plates are a fun and easy alternative.

And, as you’ll see in this post, plain ol’ freezer paper can give you similar effects, although it’s not reusable over and over the way gelatin plates are.

Basically, it works like this: you put some paint on the plate, manipulate it until you like the way it looks, and then press paper down on the plate to transfer the paint to your paper, lifting a single print (hence, “monoprint”).

Gelli plate with blue, turquoise and silver acrylic paint, ready for printing.
Gelli plate with blue, turquoise and silver acrylic paint, ready for printing. There’s way too much paint on here, because the silver squirted out unexpectedly, so I’ll get two prints out of this.
Gelli print in journal—blue, turquoise and silver spiral.
First print. You can see how the excess paint squooshed around. Not as planned, but that’s what I love! It makes me think of a breaking wave.

As you’ll discover, if you put a LOT of paint on the plate, you’ll be able to lift a second print, but the two will often look quite different.  Which do you like best?

Second blue, turquoise and silver gelli print in another journal.
Second print from the same plate. Much softer. Makes me think of a marble in the sunlight.

Here’s another example, with the two prints on facing pages.  I like the repetition with variation. What do you think? I’m looking forward to developing this one further!

Facing pages with successive monoprints from round gelli plate.
Two prints from the same plate on facing journal pages. You can’t tell that the subtle spiral lines in the first print (right side) were thinner paint, but in the second print, they’re completely white. I like this a lot. Looking forward to developing this further!

Acrylic paint is the recommend paint for printing with a gelatin plate. Thinner inks (like technical pen ink and alcohol inks) and watercolor tends to bead up. Also, they may stain a Gelli plate, which doesn’t affect its ability to print, but does make it harder to see what you’re doing as you manipulate the paint for later prints.

I actually like the “pebbly” pattern that the beading creates, so I did try watercolor as well. It did stain the Gelli plate, so I think I’ll probably go back to freezer paper when I want to use watercolor.

Gold and magenta round textural print, with dragonfly printed over it on the facing page.
The left side is a print from the Gelli plate using watercolor and letting it bead up. Then on the right, I printed again with the leftover paint, and then printed a dragonfly on top using freezer paper.

The other thing that you can do more easily with freezer paper is cut out a shape to transfer.  This is a great way to add the silhouette of something you might find challenging to draw, like a favorite animal or a meaningful symbol. That’s how I got the dragonfly above.

You can draw easily on the back side of freezer paper, so you can trace a shape or silhouette from a photo and cut it out for printing.

Freezer paper is also easier for printing in a larger sketchbook, because you can pick up the freezer paper and place it onto the sketchbook page, instead of having to put the sketchbook upside down on the plate.

If you want the watercolor to stick better and not bead up as much, you can scrub a brush on a bar of Ivory soap and mix the a little of the soapy water into your watercolor paint.  The more soap you add, the better the paint sticks (but you’re also diluting the color, so you probably don’t want to add too much).

Silhouette of a crow drawn on the back of a piece of freezer paper.
First, using a lightbox (or you can use a sunny window) I traced the silhouette of a crow on the back side of the freezer paper (from a drawing in another sketchbook). You could also use a photo.
Crow silhouette with soapy paint applied.
Here I’ve flipped the cut-out silhouette over and applied soapy paint to the shiny side of the freezer paper.
Crow print in journal page.
And here’s the crow print. See how the soap helped the paint adhere, so I got a more complete print. There are still some spots where the paint didn’t transfer, but to me, that just makes it look better! I’ve waited a long time for the right thing to add to this creative seed! I suspect I’ll develop it further, but I’m not sure yet. I like it a lot the way it is!

In my experience, the soap doesn’t cause any problems down the road with the watercolor after it dries, but if you’re going to continue painting over it, you want to be sure not to use a soap with added lotions or oils (that’s why I stick to Ivory for this).

As you’ll find in the gelatin print tutorial mentioned earlier, you can stamp, paint, and use texture materials like lace or other fabrics on a gelatin plate (or Gelli) to add patterns to your gelatin or freezer paper prints. If you love collage, this is a great way to make fascinating custom papers.

Gelatin plates (real gelatin or Gelli) are soft and yielding, so they tend to transfer finer details than you can achieve with freezer paper. The moisture in real gelatin plates seems to slow the drying of the paint a little, which gives you a bit more working time.

So, there are advantages and disadvantages to each, but they all give you beautiful textural effects that are difficult to achieve any other way, and they help you loosen up!  Even though you have a general idea what the print will look like, there are always lovely surprises.

Monoprinting is an easy way to add texture, shapes and a “patina” to your journal pages.

So if you need a little journal inspiration . . . please print!