August 9, 2023

Experiments with the Gelli Plate

         In general I have little interest in monotyping (with the minor exception of trace monotypes, which you can read about here).  But when I saw ways that people were combining the Gelli plate with relief blocks, I began to get a little more interested.  So I used a coupon to get myself one.  The gelli plate is a stable, long-lasting version of a soft, smooth surface used for monotype printing.  Good thing it doesn’t have a short shelf life, because mine proceeded to sit upon the shelf for months while I was too busy with other projects to try it out.  But this weekend I finally had some time to play with it a bit.
        The first project I wanted to try was to monoprint leafy backgrounds for a small tree sparrow block I carved years ago.  My first attempts were, frankly, very disappointing.  The 
paint itself seemed to have so much texture that it drowned out the details of the leaves.  I’m still not really sure why my prints don’t seem to have the smoothness I see on-line, although my theory is that it may be because I’m using very old paint.  But the other variable I was able to change for my second attempt was rolling excess paint off my brayer between each print.  That definitely helped.
        In any case, here’s the process I used for these little prints.  First I stamped the bird on scrap paper, folded
up the p
aper, and cut around the image to make a whole stack of bird-shaped masks.  After rolling the paint on my gelli plate, I put down a mask, and then arranged a few leaves across it, so that a leaf stem lined up with the
bird’s feet (see F
igure 1).  I then pressed scrap paper over this to pull up all the paint in the background.  You can see that in Figure 2.  I then removed the leaves and mask and pressed paper onto the paint that had been protected by them.  (To clarify, the leaves protect some paint, but the mask removes it all.)  You can see that in Figure 3, although this one is backwards because at first I got confused and put the mask on facing the wrong direction.  The final step was to print my little tree sparrow into the blank space left for it, using archival stamp pad ink.
        There are certainly plenty of other things I could have done with this, and steps I could have added, but for my first attempts I wanted to keep things relatively simple.  The perfectionist part of me is definitely not entirely happy with these, pointing out that the leaves still didn’t print the way I wanted, and the birds are not always lined up as accurately as I intended.  However, the non-perfectionist part thought they were still
pleasing enough for a little piece, so I selected and l
abelled a variable edition.  In an edition of a normal block print, there are always slight variations because they are made by hand, after all, but the goal is for them all to look the same.  A variable edition obviously means there are larger, more deliberate variations, usually in ink color or paper, while monotypes generally are completely unique with “editions” of only 1 of each design.  This piece is somewhere in between.  I’ve labelled it as an edition of 10, but each of the 10 is quite different.  There are variations in paint color and positioning, and most of all, each one has different leaves.  I used sugar maple, Japanese maple, forsythia, stewartia, and mulberry.  (I wanted to try oak and beech, as well, but was too impatient to go out on a quest to find any leaves of the right size.)
        There are other techniques I want to try with the gelli plate, particularly with collagraphy.  Again, my few first attempts were not very satisfactory, but I definitely intend to experiment some more at some point.  So I’m sure you’ll see more monotype touches showing up in the future.  Have you ever played with monoprinting?

[Picture: Tree Sparrow, rubber block print on monotype background by AEGN, 2023;

all photos by AEGN, 2023.]


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