Copyright Kathleen Garner and Robin Garner, 2001
Gelatin printing is a form of monoprinting in which a gelatin slab is used as a printing `plate' in conjunction with standard water soluble printing inks to create images. Very little pressure is required to make monoprints using this technique - no presses required.
The process is extremely simple and versatile and is equally well suited for professional printmakers, home enthusiasts, professional artists, and young children. The basic materials are inexpensive, non-toxic, and clean up with water.
First, a gelatin plate must be made. Small plates are best made by using tupperware-style containers as molds. Larger plates may be made using larger containers, in which case lining the bottom with plastic wrap will make the plate easier to remove. If even larger plates are required, a mold can be fabricated by using modeling clay to build a dam on a sheet of glass into which the liquid gelatin can be poured. If you elect to try this, be sure that the glass is level before pouring the gelatin, be very cautious as you pour, and do not expect to move the mold for many hours - until the gelatin is firm.
The gelatin plate is easiest to manipulate at a thickness of 1/2" to 3/4". Determine how many cups of water are necessary to fill your mold to that depth and then how much powdered gelatin you'll need. Start with cold water. Mix the gelatin into the water, then bring it to a boil to ensure that it is completely dissolved. Pour dissolved gelatin into the mold. Allow the liquid gelatin to solidify by leaving it undisturbed in a cool place (refrigerator, if possible) for at least 12 hours, until it is quite firm to the touch.
If you used a container as a mold, you must remove it from the mold before trying to print. When the gelatin is quite firm, dip a knife in warm water and run it carefully along the inside of the mold, then invert and shake or flex the mold lightly. Place the gelatin on your prepared work surface. If you fabricated a mold, remove the modeling clay.
Squeeze some printing ink onto your palate or butcher's paper and brayer it evenly until you have a nice thin coating on the brayer. Brayer the ink onto the gelatin plate gently and evenly. Place a textured object on top of the inked plate. Gently press the object down to be sure it has made good contact with the gelatin, but try not to tear, gouge, or damage the plate.
Leave the object in place on the plate and lay a piece of paper down on top of it, pressing gently to ensure that the paper makes good contact with the exposed gelatin plate. Peel the paper off. The resulting print is called a negative image.
Continue by gently lifting the textured object off the gelatin. Try not to move it across the gelatin. Lay a second piece of paper down on the gelatin plate and rub gently and evenly to ensure good contact between the paper and the gelatin. Slowly peel the paper off. This print is called a positive image.
Tape the print up to a wall to dry. Standard water-based printing inks generally dry very fast, typically less than 5 mintues.
The gelatin plate is quite cold when it comes out of the refrigerator and moisture will condense on it for the first 15 to 20 minutes of use. You may find that your first prints are a little bit runnier than your later prints.
As the plate warms up, it will become more and more `mushy' and may start to fall apart. Chilling the plate after 2 or 3 hours of use helps to restore its firmness.
The plate may be stored in the refrigerator and reused for up to 2 weeks (or until it falls apart or you notice green fuzz, whichever comes first).
Experimental Printing Techniques
Once you have a feel for the basic process, consider playing with some experimental techniques: