I’ve been head down into printmaking lately, even more than usual, as I researched and prepared Art Together Issue Three: Printmaking. At the beginning of this issue, I define the categories of printmaking, and every category includes at least one version that is possible to do at home, without a printing press…except for intaglio printing. In this type of printmaking, grooves are carved into a plate, which is usually metal, through any number of methods. The plate is inked and then wiped clean, so the ink only remains in the grooves. Paper is dampened, placed on the plate, and the whole shebang is run through a printing press, so that the heavy pressure pushes the paper into the grooves, resulting in the print. It’s just not possible to create enough pressure to do that without a press.
However, the process I describe here, which I read about in Making Monotypes Using a Gelatin Plate, by Nancy Marculewicz (sadly, out of print), mimics the effect of intaglio, taking advantage of the give that a gelatin plate provides–the surface is soft enough to be imprinted. I didn’t include this method in the zine; it’s a little more complex than the free-form experimentation with the gelatin plate that works so well with children and beginners (and truthfully, never gets old), and it uses a Very Sharp Tool. But I do want to share it for those of you who fall in love with gelatin plate printmaking and want to take it further.
Materials: Thin Plexiglas sheet (I found mine in the art store with the drafting/engineering type supplies); scribe or something similarly sharp; block-printing ink and palette of some sort; brayer; baren; gelatin plate (instructions for making one can be found in Art Together Issue Three)
Process: First, you need a line drawing that you want to work with and that fits the size of your gelatin plate. I did this twice. The first drawing is at the top of this post; the tutorial was made using the second drawing. When you have a drawing you’re happy with, tape it to your surface and then tape your thin Plexiglas sheet on top. You want to try to minimize slippage.
Now you’re going to use your scribe to scratch into the surface along the lines. You’re aiming to throw up a burr on each side of your scratch, so it holds the ink.
Apologies for the glare…overhead lighting in the studio.
You can lift up the plastic to check your progress. This isn’t easy work; you don’t want to scratch right through the plastic, but you do want the grooves deep enough to hold the ink. (You may find, after going through the entire process and taking a print, that you want to deepen your grooves and try again.)
When the etching is complete, ink up your plastic plate using block-printing ink and a brayer (again, if you’re unsure how to do this, you can check out Issue Three). I tried colored ink but found black worked best; however, experiment! Another type of ink, or acrylic paint, may yield completely different results.
Make sure you cover the grooved area, but you don’t need to ink up the entire plate. That’s because in the next step, you’re going to wipe away the excess ink. I used an old dish towel for this, one of the really thin ones. Any lint-free cloth will work. I’m thinking old cloth diapers might be perfect.
Work quickly, because ink dries fast. See how it’s been caught in the grooves? The next step is to place your etched, inked plate face down onto your gelatin plate and press, to transfer the ink to the gelatin.
So cool, right? Now lay your paper over your gelatin plate and take a print. Normally with a gelatin plate you don’t need a baren, but for this process, you really kind of do.
It’s really an organic-looking result. Pressing hard enough on the plastic plate to transfer the ink causes some bubbles, which may show up on the finished print. Make sure to take ghost prints, too. (Ghost prints are second prints taken without re-inking the plate.)
Knowing that inked gelatin plates also pick up texture from textured surfaces, such as bubble wrap, that are pressed against them, I wondered if I could use the plastic plate in that way. So I inked up the gelatin plate instead, then pressed the non-inked plastic plate face down onto it. Then I took a print from the gelatin plate. This is the result.
You can really see the bubbles in this version. You can also see that the plastic plate was slightly smaller than the gelatin, because a firm line was created where the edge of the plate plastic into the gelatin. I prefer this version. It’s interesting.
As I said, this is a bit more labor intensive and controlled than the usual methods of using the gelatin plate, which are very loose and “let’s see what happens.” Yet because it uses gelatin, it’s still very organic looking and impossible to completely control. It’s also a way to integrate original drawings into gelatin plate prints.
If you try this method (or have tried it) and have any tips to share, I’d love to hear them. And if you’ve never tried printmaking before, it’s so much fun…and I have an entire issue of Art Together to help you get started.