Many of the processes, crafts, and materials that we explore in Maker Space have been around for hundreds, even thousands of years. One amazing example of this is the art of printmaking.
Put simply, a print is any mark created by pressing one object into another softer surface in order to leave an impression. The earliest known prints were created thousands of years ago by rubbing and pressing engraved stone cylinders into wet clay. Over time, artists and crafters took this basic idea of pressing a carved image into another material in all kinds of amazing directions! An early innovation that became the basis for most modern printing processes was woodcut printing, a process in which an image is carved into a block of wood, ink is spread onto the carved piece, and then the block is pressed onto a piece of fabric.
The art of printmaking expanded greatly as printmakers explored exciting new ways to transfer images from one surface to another. Some used acids to burn or etch images into metal or stone plates, while others have created stencils on special mesh screens that ink can be pressed through. While some of these methods of printmaking require advanced equipment or specialized tools, there are many methods for creating prints that you can jump into right now at home! Here is one method from the Maker Space team.
For this recipe you’ll need:
- 12 packs of gelatin.
- 3¼ cups of water, separated (2 cups room temperature water, 1¼ cups boiled water).
- Pieces of scrap wood or cardboard.
- Ink brayer.
- Block printing ink or acrylic paint.
- Paper or fabric.
- Texture materials (read on for more information).
- Flat bottom tray or baking dish. (Something like this would work great.)
- Flat piece of metal or plastic for ink. (A large plastic plate would be great for this.)
In this printing method, we will be creating flat gelatin blocks that we will cover in ink, stamp into, and then create beautiful relief prints. Let’s walk through the different parts of the process.
Creating Your Gelatin Blocks
To start, you’ll need to create some flat gelatin blocks to use as the base for your prints. The gelatin provides a flat, non-absorbent surface for rolling ink onto. The block printing ink will rest perfectly on top of the gelatin without sinking in which will be important as we begin making our prints.
To create our blocks, you’ll want to use the following recipe:
- Pour 1 cup of room temperature water into a mixing container and add 4 packets of gelatin. Mixing well to get rid of clumps.
- Once you’ve mixed in the first 4 packets, add another ½ cup of room temperature water and pour in 4 more gelatin packs. Mix again.
- Add the final ½ cup of room temperature water, the last 4 packs of gelatin, and mix again. You should have a thick, beige/brown goop.
- Pour in the 1¼ cup of boiling water and mix again.
- Pour the gelatin mixture into your flat bottomed container and rest in the fridge for at least two hours.
- Once the gelatin has solidified, gently lift it out of the tray and flip the block over to the side that was pressed against the bottom of the pan is facing up. This will be the flatter of the two sides and will be the surface we use for making the prints.
These gelatin blocks can be used multiple times, but will not last forever. At Maker Space, we keep them for about a week, stored in the refrigerator.
Making Your Texture Stamps
Next, you’re going to need to create some “texture stamps.” These stamps will be pressed into ink rolled out on top of the gelatin. This process will be described more in the next section of this tutorial.
There are A TON of possibilities when it comes to materials for your texture stamps, and you may have noticed that we did not specify what to use here. We encourage you to look around your home, classroom or whatever space your working in, and find materials that you’re excited about! Anything with a distinct texture will work. Here are some examples of materials we’ve explored:
- Old pieces of jewelry
- Old coins
- Cut cardboard
- Craft foam
- Drawing with hot glue
- Pipe cleaners
- Chopsticks/ toothpicks
Attach whatever materials to your pieces of scrap wood or cardboard so they are easy to press into the gelatin during the printmaking process. We recommend hot glue for attaching pieces to your blocks.
Print Some Prints
Now it’s time to bring it all together and make some prints of your own! Start by laying your gelatin blocks out on the table so they’re completely flat. Next, grab the piece of plastic or metal you’ll be using as your rolling tray and your ink brayer. This tool, which looks like a mini paint roller, will be for spreading the ink onto our gelatin plates.
Squeeze a small bit of ink onto your rolling tray. A little ink goes a long way! A drop about the size of a dime will get you at least two good prints.
Once you’ve got a blob of ink on your tray, take your brayer and start rolling it through the ink in all different directions. Keep rolling through the ink until the entire brayer is coated in ink. Next, take your inky brayer and start rolling it onto the gelatin plate. The ink should transfer from the roller onto the gelatin creating a thin even layer of color.
Once your gelatin is all inked up and ready to go, grab your stamps and gently press your textures straight down into the ink. You don’t need to press very hard to get the stamps texture to transfer. You’ll notice that since the ink does not stick to the gelatin, it pulls off ink when you press down, leaving an imprint behind.
The final step is to transfer your ink off the gelatin, creating your final print. To do this, grab a piece of paper or fabric and lay it down on top of the inked gelatin. Gently press your material into the gelatin, smoothing it out and making sure that it’s pressed into every part of the gelatin.
Slowly peel the paper off the gelatin and voila! You will be left with an amazing print of the image created on the gelatin.