Gelatin prints are my latest obsession. I love being surprised by the delicate textures and the unpredictable ghost prints. It took a few weeks of experimenting at home before I was ready to try this with a large group of students. In the end, I think it was worth the effort. Here’s what we did.
DAY 1: Getting ready
During the first class, I introduced the process to my 5th grade students and showed them how to create stunning results with texture plates, recycled materials, and paper stencils. Most students seemed excited to get started, but the first day needed to be focused on prepping materials.
Creating the plates:
If you have the funds, using permanent plates from GelliArts would make the process much easier, especially while working with younger students. With my older students, I love the science connection and the fact that it is something they can do at home.
The make the plates, students were divided into six groups. I teach three sections per week, so each group made one plate. At the end of the week that’s 6 groups x 3 sections = 18 plates. I made a few extras to make sure that each student had a plate for printing day.
1/2 cup Vegetable Glycerin
2 tbsp. Unflavored Gelatin
Mix the glycerine and gelatin together in a 5x5ish GladWare container.
Then add 1/2 cup boiling water. I have an electric tea kettle that I use.
Stir slowly to avoid creating bubbles. Any remaining bubbles can be pushed to the edges with a piece of cardboard, or popped with a heat gun if you have one handy. Allow gelatin to cool before adding the lid (I learned that the hard way). A large variety of containers can be used as a mold for your gelatin. Cookie sheets are great for a larger surface area. After a lot of trial and error, I chose the GladWare-style containers because they stack easily and they are microwave safe. Microwave safe is key for reclaiming damaged plates.
A note about glycerine: Glycerine is not necessary for gelatin printing. It is used to strengthen the plate and alleviates the need for refrigeration. I’ve had one sitting out for a few months now without a problem. You can find small quantities of glycerine at your local pharmacy but it is much more expensive than bulk.
Prepping other materials:
Students used the remainder of the first class to prepare for printing. They were asked to make a folder and write their initials on 14 – 6×6 papers. We used 50 pound drawing paper but feel free to experiment. Two of the 14 papers were used to cut paper stencils. We kept both positive and negative shapes. Students who finished early were invited to make a texture plate with Presto Foam.
DAY 2: Printing Day!
On the morning of printing day, I popped all of the gelatin plates out of the containers and onto a styrofoam tray. If you press your fingers into one corner and pull backwards, you can loosen the plate without a knife. This made it easier for students to work with the fragile gelatin. Each table was given a stack of stencils and textures to experiment with. Materials included: paper doilies, bubble wrap, q-tips, yarn, leaves, etc.
The Monday class was given cyan, magenta, yellow, black and white acrylic. Any cheap acrylic paint will work. The mistake here was that they all wanted to mix colors and the prints became muddy in an instant. By the end of the class, several gelatin plates were damaged and had to be “reclaimed” in the microwave. Luckily this is easy to do… Rinse off as much paint as possible then 45 – 60 seconds on full power is usually enough to melt the gelatin. Remove any bubbles and let it set overnight.
I learned a few things on Monday, and with the Tuesday class I was more controlling. To start, students were given ONLY yellow paint. They were told to:
1) roll out a small amount of paint (use a soft brayer)
2) add a stencil (try leaves or paper stencil) and/or texture (try pressing and lifting bubble wrap or texture plates)
3) make a first print (lay 6 x 6 paper over gelatin and rub)
4) “pull the print”, remove the stencil
5) make two ghost prints (Ghost prints are made by printing the leftover paint on the gelatin. Leaves make stunning ghost prints).
The second ghost print rarely had paint on it but it helped to clean the plate. Once they used 6 papers they could move on to magenta. Using the same process (1 print and 2 ghost prints), they layered the magenta over the yellow prints. After about 10 more minutes I passed out cyan. By this point, students had a better understanding of the process and they could mix colors as they liked. At the end of the second class, the plates were much easier to clean and I only had to reclaim 3 of them.
DAY 3: What to do with all of these prints?
A day of printing with gelatin will give you a stack of beautifully textured papers, but few of them look like a finished product. I wanted to make sure that they would be kept and treasured, so on day 3 we turned them into handmade books. Students were give the option to create an accordion fold book or a squash book. They were encouraged to draw into their books with sharpie and the results quite impressive.