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Monoprinting: Printing plates (Part I)

August 28, 2017 , In: 2D Art, Inspiration, Mixed Media, Printing, Tutorials
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There are a lot of techniques and materials  I love to experiment and play with. To be honest, I am one of the first persons to try something new. This holds true for new flavours of lemonade as well as new paints or clays. Not all are for me, but hey, I will only know if I tried. I need to try at least once (and you may be surprised by the results: cucumber-lime lemonade is a new favorite of mine… very unexpected!).

Some techniques and materials I realize I don’t need to incorporate into my repertoire and then there are some I always come back to. Polymer clay is one example and for some time now, monoprinting as well. I don’t even know how I could manage without it so many years!

This is my work space for today’s blog post: The little table on our balcony. The last warm and sunny days, no way that I will work inside! And coffee, of course, coffee….!

Monoprinting is not a new technique but I think it just gained popularity and a broader audience with the introduction of polymer gel plates that you can buy in any art/craft supply store and easily use. I was asked to show a little bit more about my printing process. The principles are the same but I think everyone has different preferences and maybe also some new tips and tricks. 

I took a lot…. a looooooot of pictures…. and then I thought I should divide the material into different parts otherwise it may be a little bit much. Also I can go a little bit deeper into the parts without “stuffing” too much into a single blog post.

In this “part I” I will show you how I make my own gelatin printing plates and also how printing plates differ in their properties.

1. Gelatine plate

Material:

  • 250 ml glycerin
  • 4 packages of powdered gelatin 
  • about 500 ml water
  • small pot
  • container
  • tea bags (for re-pouring the plates)

This glycerin was in the same area like rubbing alcohol and cleaning “stuff”. The content is >95% glycerin and it is written to be useful to take care of anything made from rubber, for the car, house, and/or gardening tools. Normally I would by the organic quality gelatin but it was sold out.

Notes:

  • 1 packages of powdered gelatin is normally meant for 500 ml. So in the end I use a 3-4x higher concentrated gelatin than normally used for food.
  • The glycerin is added to makes the plate more flexible. Pure gelatine plates break easily while with the added glycerin the are a little bit more rubber like.
  • The starting ratio water to glycerin is roughly 2:1 but believe me, it doesn’t has to be exact. You can always add more glycerin or water, or also let some water evaporate, or add some more gelatin.
  • I pour my mixture into plastic containers with a tight lid and store them in the fridge. One time I had some mold after more than a year, but that was actually because the lid was broken. My actual ones are also older than a year now and nothing happened.
  • You can melt and re-pour the gelatin plate as often as you like. You may only have to add some water in between. I do this after every use to clean the plate of leftover paint.
  • If you use a container with a flat bottom, you can use both sides of the gelatin plate.
  • You could pour the gelatine mixture into any kind of shape.

So this is my workspace… also known as our kitchen. I have a really good advantage, I have to admit: an induction plate with temperature control. I can set 60 °C (140 °F) and don’t have to worry to overheat my gelatin. I just set the temperature (also a timer if I want to) and just let the mixture heat. If you can’t do this, don’t go away and take care that you never overheat your gelatin mixture (NEVER boil the mixture). Otherwise the protein structure will break down and the gelatin won’t create this jelly-like mass anymore. You can always use a water bath like for melting chocolate if you really want to be careful. 

Yes, our kitchen backsplash is pistachio green! Like our fridge, my husband painted both 😉 I always have my container ready to go like everything else I may need before I start.

  • Mix the gelatin powder (4 packages) with 50-100 ml cold water
  • Let it sit and swell for about 10 min 

Since I use a lot powder for not so much water, it will get really stiff after some minutes.

  • Add the rest of the water (about 400 ml)
  • Set the temperature to 60°C
  • Let the mixture cook for 10-20 min

When the gelatin starts to melt it creates a lot of tiny bubbles. It is melted really fast but if you heat it longer, the bubbles will go away.

  • Add the glycerin
  • Heat it further until the gelatin and glycerin is mixed

As soon as you add the glycerin, the temperature will drop and the gelatin will stiffen a little bit. You will still have to heat and mix it for some time. But what you can see immediately is how elastic and rubbery-like the mass becomes. I tried to capture this in the video below. This is something that gelatin can’t “do” alone 😉

  • Pour the mixture into the container
  • If there are too many bubbles, just use a little bit of paper and go with the edge over the surface and “push” the bubbles to the edge. Any trick that works with jelly also works here 😉

The more often you reheat and re-pour the mixture, the less bubbles you’ll get. The first two times are the worst, afterwards there won’t be a lot of bubbles anymore.

I also made a short video to show you how I remove a gelatin plate of the container… so you can also see how flexible and elastic the plate is! If you ever wanted to remove a nice jelly, you may know how fragile it can be. So thanks to the added glycerin this plate is nice and stable. Also if it breaks, keep in mind, you can melt and pour it again!

Before I show you how this plate and other kind of plates work, I wanted to add the re-pouring step. I do this also to clean my gelatin plate from acrylic paint leftovers.

  • Heat the gelatine plate at 60 °C
  • Let it melt for a few minutes (you will see the dried acrylic paint flakes floating on top)

I use this big tea filter (we normally use them for fresh peppermint tea, but a really versatile material 😉 ). Again it is nice to be able to set the temperature so I won’t worry to overheat the gelatin. But as I already said, you can also be careful or use a water bath for heating.

  • Pour the melted gelatin mixture through the tea filter
  • Let it cool down to room temperature before you put the container into the fridge 

Can you see how all the paint leftovers are captured in the filter? This plate is milky since it is my old and often reused one. I often use high quality paints. The white I use is titanium white, PrimAcryl from Schmincke. Really expensive but it lasts a long time… it is said to be one of the best acrylic white paints there are… and the pigments actually stain the gelatin mixture 😉 But don’t worry, it is not changing the quality of the plate and it is also not released while printing.

2. Printing plates

I will show you some different materials / plates you can use for printing. There are different companies selling the material but for printing the company and/or material is not so important but rather the properties of the plate. So my categories are stiff, medium/middle and soft:

  • soft – gelatin plate
  • medium/middle – Gelli plate
  • stiff – stamping rubber plates (for carving), rubber mate (you will find such things for tools or in a car supply store)

By the way, I just won a giveaway for a really bit Gelli plate from Gelli Arts. I already had a smaller one, but I will use the big one for the first time for this blog post. It was also the reason why I made this blog post now…. I so wanted to play with it! 😉

upper left: Gelli plate – upper right: different papers (ranging from 31 g/m2 to 110 g/m2), I’ll show you more about this in the next part – lower left: acrylic paints and rollers I use – lower right: stamping rubber plate (for carving) and rubber mate I used

I put some craft paper on our small balcony table and tried to fit everything on it. This may not have been my best idea due to the limited space but I wanted to be outside. The rubber stamping plate and rubber mate give comparable results so I only used the rubber stamping plate as an example for a stiff printing plate. 

Gelatine plate: soft / stamping rubber plate (for carving) and rubber mate: stiff / Gelli plate: medium/middle stiffness

In general you get more paint and colour uplifted from a printing plate the softer it is. But you will get more unexpected and really interesting prints from a stiff printing plate. There is not one better than the other in general. It rather depends on what you want to do with it and for what kind of prints you look. If you want to play and experiment without a certain outcome in mind, I highly suggest to try all! It is so relaxing and satisfying (for me definitely). 

As a first example here is an impression about the amount of colour you will lift from the plates. As a (partial) disclaimer. I tried to work with all plates at the same time for this first experiment. Not the best idea because it was a warm day and the paint started to dry fast. 

In the upper row there is the first layer of paint and in the lower row I printed a second time to also show you the leftover paint you will lift up too. The soft gelatin plate gives a very even print with a lot of paint, the Gelli plate gives a good coverage with some lovely oganic irregularities and the stiff rubber plates only release some colour but with the next pull you can get this super interesting rough prints. I love them all!

The next pictures show you the differences if you use a stencil or something similar. The effect you want is to “simply” block areas – a classic “yes or no” situation. 

Upper row: Using a punchinella piece as stencil – lower row: Second print after removal of the stencil (so called ghost print). The order is again: Soft / medium / stiff plate.

Some more detailed pictures as comparison. You will get more details and paint with the soft plate and a more rough irregular look with the stiffer plate. The medium plate (Gelli plate) always works nicely in between while being more closer in the results to the soft plate (gelatin plate).

Take a closer look at the edges of the circles!

The stiffness of the plate will also change how your second print or ghost print will look.

Can you see all the possibilities while combining different printing plates?

The last comparison I want to show you is also actually the one where I personally think the results will vary the most: Printing of natural patterns like leaves, feathers, or textiles. The softer a plate is, the more fine details you may catch.

The stiff plate gives only a very faint printing, while the soft plate gives you a lot of extra colour around the leave but with a lot of details too, while the middle / medium plate gives a nice crip edge and some details.

In the end all what matters is what you want to create and how to balance the strengths and weaknesses of every plate.

Order: Stiff – Medium/Middle – Soft. The softer the plate, the more detail as well as background you will get. Actually this is the same like our laboratory methods! 😉

That was it for today. The next time I will show you more about how I print (this time I wanted to focus on the effect the stiffness of the plate has for printing) and what I create with the prints. If there is anything more you want to know from me or maybe in deeper detail, please tell me! 

Thank you for joining me. If you try out different plates and materials for printing, please share your results (I am always curious)… also any kind of tips and tricks! 🙂

Claire

PS: If you are wondering, I mostly use gelatin plates as well as Gelli plates. Both are fun to use. If I am in a hurry, I rather use a Gelli plate, and if there is something I want to capture with the tiniest details, I use a gelatin plate. I can recommend both for beginners, if you just want to start and play with it. For people who want to really experiment and/or do more abstract work, please give a stiff plate a try! It can be frustrating at times but the results are so interesting!

PS: I promised in my last blog post to show you our progress on the furniture we are making for ourselves. Since the ceramic kiln at the makerspace Leipzig was not working the last weeks, we are still not finished. But I managed to repair the kiln yesterday! So hopefully I can show you our progress soon 🙂

 

Claire Fabian

Claire Fabian loves to experiment with materials and ideas. She needs to create to “keep her sane” and the process of creation itself is the most important in her work. She is drawn to weird things, to organic and natural textures and loves a tribal and ancient vibe. She makes beads as well as jewellery, but also loves mixed media pieces and little sculptures. Amongst her favourite materials is polymer clay, ceramic clay, all kind of metals, glass beads as well as everything found in nature. She is also working in research which may explain her desire to experiment.
  1. Reply

    I have been wanting to buy some Gelli plates for a while and try this out. But after reading your post I want to try to make my own gelatin plates! Thank you for sharing this.

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