Jelly printing is tremendous fun but it sounds a little frivolous, which is maybe why it’s often described as Printing without a Press or Monoprinting with a gelatine plate. It’s a bit random as there’s no guarantee that when you peel back the paper you’ll get exactly the print you were expecting and over time, the jelly plate changes too as it develops tiny holes or dries out slightly, which means that you’re unlikely to get identical prints.
Jelly printing is ideal for anyone who is easily bored by repetition and revels in the process of creating and experimenting. It’s also a great introduction to printing for children because it’s quick and easy with no need for great precision or sharp cutting tools and suits their uninhibited attitude to art.
If you’d like to try jelly printing, you can follow the instructions below to produce monoprints from nature. Like many craft activities, it’s easy to pick up the basic technique and then you can experiment and develop your own style. Once you’ve mastered botanical monoprinting, you might use stencils to compose pictures or add texture by using fabric or found objects as stamping tools.
Abandon perfectionism, embrace experimentation and enjoy the process.
TO MAKE BOTANICAL JELLY PRINTS
You will need:
Jelly Plate made from water, powdered gelatine and glycerine. Find instructions for making a jelly plate here.
Flat surface – your plate needs to sit on a smooth, non-absorbent surface such as a Perspex sheet or an untextured chopping mat.
Palette to roll out your inks –I use a glass shelf from a disused fridge but you could use a Perspex sheet, plastic tray or smooth chopping mat.
Soft roller – the sort used for lino printing. If you have two or more, it saves washing them every time you change colour but you may want to see which size you prefer before you rush out to buy lots. A narrow roller is useful for laying down bands of colour.
Water soluble block printing ink. If you’re in the UK, Scola ink is very reasonably priced for beginners and Speedball has a useful sized starter set.
Large pile of inexpensive paper or card. Start with cheap sketchbook paper, office printer paper or cartridge paper and then try printing on book pages, coloured paper and maps. Don’t use anything precious or you may hold back your experimentation for fear of wasting a special piece of paper.
Newsprint to blot up excess ink or mask areas of the jelly plate.
Bowl of water and kitchen paper (or hand wipes) to keep you and your equipment clean.
Flowers, leaves, grasses, feathers … anything that’s not too bulky but has texture. Avoid woody plants and sharp thorns that will make holes in your jelly plate and be warned that ripe seed heads tend to stick to the jelly plate so that you have to pick off each seed, one by one. Reuse these natural objects throughout the session, without cleaning between colours.
Gently ease your jelly plate out of its mould onto the mat.
Squeeze a little ink (about a teaspoonful) onto your palette and roll your roller back and forth until it’s evenly coated and the ink is tacky.
Roll a very thin layer of ink onto your gelatine plate. Don’t worry too much about getting a completely even coating as a little unevenness and texture can add interest to the finished print (I’m no perfectionist and can always find a creative excuse for being slapdash).
Lay down your plants on the gelatine plate, with the most textured side face down in the ink. At this stage, I wouldn’t worry about composition. Take a piece of paper and firmly smooth over with your hand, making sure you follow the contours of the plant and reach right into the corners of the paper. Remember that if the paper isn’t in contact with the jelly plate then it won’t pick up any ink.
Peel back the paper and you have (cue drum roll) a silhouette print of your plants.
If you’ve laid down too thick a layer of ink you might want to take another silhouette print; it won’t be as dark as the first, but it will lift off any residual ink. Use newsprint if you don’t want to waste good paper.
Now carefully lift the plants from the jelly plate using your fingers or tweezers, which will leave a clearly inked image on the gelatine plate. Put the inky plants ‘ink side up’ on the table away from your stack of paper. Lay a clean sheet of paper onto the Gelatine Plate, smooth it over with your hands and peel it off. You should now have a wonderfully detailed print of your plants.
Try printing with different colours, layering one print on top of another.
Sometimes a print can be transformed by layering a dark colour on top.
Add interest to your botanical jelly prints by using shapes cut from paper or plastic envelopes to make stencils. Combine silhouette prints with detailed prints. Drape a piece of thread across the plate, stamp a pattern with something textured like a duplo brick or a piece of fabric … Use your imagination.
Wipe your jelly plate gently with wet kitchen paper or hand wipes. Cover with cling film and store in a cool place. Wipe the excess ink from the rollers and palette and then wash thoroughly.
USING YOUR PRINTS
You may be so pleased with your jelly prints that you simply want to frame them and hang them on the wall. But you could also …
Decorate labels for preserves using the leaves from the plants
Make a log book of your garden, though in my experience scrawny weeds print better than succulent flowers.
Make a book of maps decorated with prints of plants collected on walks and journeys.
Make greetings cards. A good way to use part of a print (and scrap the mistake) is to cut it down to make gift tags or labels. Try lifting a print from the jelly plate with a piece of sticky tape and sticking it onto a label.
Make fabulous background pages and covers for scrapbooks
Mix printed pages with plain paper and sew together to make small books or journals.
This is just the beginning; once you get bitten by the bug, you’ll develop your own style and find countless ways of using your fabulous prints.
Jelly Printing is one of the techniques covered in the Introduction to Printmaking Short Course in The Barley Barn at Slamseys. We also occasionally run Jelly Printing workshops. If you’d like to be one of the first to know of new courses, sign up to our newsletter.