Tag: printmaking

Gelli Printmaking Crash Course From a Self Taught Printmaker

This year I taught myself how to create gelli prints a few days before I started teaching it to students. I had been interested in trying it for a couple of years, especially after seeing a demo of it at the New York NAEA conference in 2017. When it came time to plan a quick, easy, and pretty looking project for an annual art fundraiser my school participates in, it all clicked in place.

This process is so easy, fast, and fun! It creates beautiful results with little risk. It’s perfect for a fundraiser project because generally every student will create a successful print. After playing around with the process I decided I wanted to take it a step further and incorporate this process into my intro to watercolor assignment.

But let’s start back at the beginning with a little how to.

Gelli printmaking supplies

For this project you need a gelli plate. I had enough plates to pair up my students, but it helps to have at least a few to pass around. Don’t cheap out! I tried buying two more at the last minute at an arts and crafts store. It was easily half the thickness and the paint didn’t transfer as solidly from the plate. I highly recommend the Gelli Arts brand. I especially loved the round print shape.

You will also need…

  • High flow acrylic paint (or the cheap craft store paints or slightly watered down acrylic paint. Open acrylics work really well because they are slow drying)
  • A brayer
  • A barren (or a wood spoon or flat object)
  • Thin watercolor paper (if incorporating the watercolor portion of the project), drawing paper works fine if not doing the watercolor addition
  • Printer paper
  • Leaves and other natural materials
  • Stencils and texture plates to add additional texture as you print.

For the watercolor portion:

  • Watercolor paints
  • Paint brushes
  • Rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle
  • Salt
  • Waterproof pen, or thin Sharpie
  • Masking fluid

HOW TO:

Leaves and pinecones you can use to print with in gelli printmaking.

STEP ONE: Collect materials to print with. You can press textures, such as pine cones, into the plate and place flat objects on the plate to print with to create negative space. Look for leaves with interesting shapes. Large, simple shapes won’t print well. Think little leaves, ferns, interesting contour lines.

The natural objects don’t last well overnight. You may end up needing to collect new natural materials before every class. You can try pressing the leaves between flat, heavy objects to keep them from curling as they dry.

STEP TWO: Set up your station with your paint colors, paper, texture plates, and natural objects. You will need a sheet of paper for the first print and a sheet of printer paper for the ghost print. A ghost print is a print taken after most of the paint has transferred during the first print. The ghost print helps clean up the plate for the next print, no need to rinse these off in between, and it creates a beautiful second image that can be displayed or used in collages, visual journals, etc.

A gelli plate with acrylic paint rolled on top.

STEP THREE: Apply the paint. Put 3-4 dime size dabs of paint on the plate. Try to keep similar colors together, don’t scatter random colors all over the plate or you will get a messier look. Consider color theory, what colors work well together? What happens if the colors you selected mix? Remember, complementary colors (yellow/purple, red/green, and blue/orange) create grays and browns when mixed. Roll over the paint with the brayer, roll over the plate until the entire plate is covered. If you see paint “peaks” where the brayer leaves texture behind, you might have too much paint on your plate. The above plate is a little heavy with paint.

TIP: Place one color on one side of the plate, another on the other side, and roll the brayer up and down until the colors start to mix in the center.

How to press a textured plate into a gelli plate.

STEP FOUR: If applying a texture through a stencil, stamp, pine cone, or similar, do that before placing your leaves. Press your texture object into the plate, then lift it off. Paint should pull up with the object, leaving signs of the texture on the plate.

Gelli prints with brushstrokes.

You can also add paintbrush texture by adding a few drops of paint onto the already rolled plate and spreading it out using a paintbrush. This texture will also transfer to the plate.

See how to print with leaves using a gelli plate.

STEP FIVE: Place your leaves on the wet plate. Don’t move them once you place them, otherwise you may create unwanted lines and texture.

TIP: Try to move through these steps as quick as possible, unless you are using slow drying paint the paint may start to dry on the plate.

STEP SIX: Lay your printing paper on top, press the leaves down with your hand before rubbing over the back with the brayer. Make sure you move over the entire plate with the brayer, ensuring all the paint is being pressed to the paper.

STEP SEVEN: Lift the paper and enjoy your print! Set it aside to dry.

Gelli print and ghost print.

STEP EIGHT: Remove the leaves and place a sheet of printer paper onto the plate. Rub over the back with your hands or a brayer, lift the paper, and enjoy your ghost print! This step also cleans the plate. After this the plate is ready to be reused right away.

TIP: The above ghost print shows the correct amount of paint was used because the majority of the paint stuck to the first sheet of paper, leaving only the paint blocked by the pine needles and leaves behind for the ghost print. If your students have messy prints and a lot of paint left on the plate after printing, have them cut the amount of paint by half the next time around.

If you aren’t adding any watercolor to your print you are done at this point! Cut the extra paper off to center the print in the paper, try to leave a border for display. Mount the prints and display them. OPTIONAL: Display the prints with the ghost prints.

Gelli print supplies to add watercolor.

STEP NINE: Add watercolor to the negative space of the print. For this assignment, I had my student print until they got three successful prints. They selected two to test out 12 watercolor techniques and selected one to leave as is.

I have a watercolor handout and an instruction sheet that I give to my students to reference as they work. Both of these are included in my gelli print lesson plan. This lesson is now serving as my introduction to watercolor before moving into a more in-depth watercolor assignment.

Gelli print with watercolor.

This example shows the wet watercolor painting to the left and the painting after it dried with ink added. The ink helped define the fern and add texture.

Gelli prints

Display the three gelli prints together. Cut the excess paper off, mount them, and enjoy!

How ghost prints and gelli prints can be collaged into a visual journal.

If you have sketchbooks or visual journals in your class, encourage your students to save mess up prints and ghost prints to collage with in their journals. I will blog about collaging my ghost prints in the near future!

Thanks for taking the time to check out my blog! Help me spread the word about art lessons, printmaking, gelli prints, and visual journaling by sharing with others.Interested in more visual journal stories, tips, and how tos? Check out my visual journal blog page here and my visual journal bundle on TPT here. Interested in other printmaking lessons? Check out a relief printmaking blog post here and my printmaking lessons here. Thanks for taking the time to check out my blog! Help spread the word and get involved with visual journaling by following, sharing, and commenting!

I’ve been sharing a lot of my day to day activities, student work, and art and yearbook lessons on my Instagram. Follow along here!

Linoleum Relief Printmaking Basics + Colored Pencils

Printmaking is such an interesting and historic art making process. My students especially love it because they have the ability to make multiple prints of one image. They often refer to the linoleum block in relief printmaking as a “stamp,” which I have an irrational hatred for. Somehow calling it a  “stamp” lowers the artistic value for me. Or maybe I am just annoyed because they aren’t using their art vocabulary. Regardless, I always try to incorporate printmaking into at least one of my art classes, and relief printmaking is typically the way I go.

For this particular assignment I use linoleum blocks and a number of printmaking specific tools. However, there are a number of ways to incorporate the same basic concepts without the expense of the tools. One option for a simpler version of this is using natural materials you can easily find around your house to create designs to print with. Check out my supply list and how to for this portrait based relief printmaking project below.


An introduction to relief printmaking that covers the basics of using linoleum to make a portrait print. This assignment is turned into a mixed media project by incorporating Prisma colored pencils to fill in the skin tone of the portrait. This is one post in an art education blog hop. Visit and check out more!

SUPPLIES:

  • Computer and printer to edit image and print it
  • Pencil
  • Graphite paper
  • Linoleum block
  • Linocutters and/or other carving tools.
  • Brayer
  • Baren (a wooden spoon also works very well)
  • Printmaking ink
  • Newsprint (for proofs)
  • White paper and rulers, to create registrations
  • Printmaking paper
  • Colored pencils (Prisma colored pencils are my number one choice)
  • Erasers
  • Black paper to mount and display the finished works of art

HOW TO

An introduction to relief printmaking that covers the basics of using linoleum to make a portrait print. This assignment is turned into a mixed media project by incorporating Prisma colored pencils to fill in the skin tone of the portrait. This is one post in an art education blog hop. Visit and check out more!

For the first step you need to select your image. For this particular assignment, my students focus on a portrait. I always encourage them to select someone they know personally. I have found that if my students can develop a personal connection to the assignment they become more committed to the end product. It is also a great way for students to express themselves individually within the constraints of a general topic.

Once you select the image, you must simplify it. For this assignment, my students are creating prints with a single color, so they must simplify their image to just black and white. Not all images work well when converted to only black and white, so it is helpful to try editing at least three different options and select the most successful one.

For this step I use Photoshop. I open the image, select “Image-Mode-Grayscale.” Next, you select “Image-Adjustments-Posterize” and set the number to 2. This leaves just black and white in the image. With printmaking, you are creating a mirror image of the original design. Therefore, it’s helpful for students to flip their images before printing (to do this go to “Image-Image Rotation-Flip Canvas Horizontal”). This is especially true when dealing with portraits. It’s shocking how different a person can look when you create a mirror image of them. Next, size the image to the linoleum block. These were smaller, so I sized my image to 4″x4″ then printed a few copies out. SIDE NOTE: I have done 4″x4″ prints in the past, which saves money on linoleum, but with the colored pencil addition at the end, it is much more successful with a larger size such as 6″x6″ or 8″x8″

An introduction to relief printmaking that covers the basics of using linoleum to make a portrait print. This assignment is turned into a mixed media project by incorporating Prisma colored pencils to fill in the skin tone of the portrait. This is one post in an art education blog hop. Visit and check out more!

After your picture is printed and ready to go, you need to re-draw it on the linoleum block or transfer the image to the block. Because this is an introduction to printmaking I prefer to have students transfer the images. This frees up a lot of time for them to focus on the printmaking process. To do this, place graphite paper between the linoleum block and the printed image. Trace over the lines. TIP: tape the top of the image to the linoleum block. That way you can lift the image and make sure you didn’t miss anything without accidentally moving it.  TIP x2: Fill in the areas you want to keep un-carved with pencil, leave the areas you want to carve blank.

An introduction to relief printmaking that covers the basics of using linoleum to make a portrait print. This assignment is turned into a mixed media project by incorporating Prisma colored pencils to fill in the skin tone of the portrait. This is one post in an art education blog hop. Visit and check out more!

At this point you are finally ready to start carving. Start with larger areas and make your way down to the small details. Switch out the linocutter blades as necessary. ALWAYS cut away from your body and hands. It’s very tempting to cut towards your hand, but these suckers are sharp and it’s very easy to gouge yourself. As I tell my students, “please don’t make me fill out an incident report today.”

With this lesson you can either print onto a sheet of paper, without worrying about the placement and trim the edges later, or you can create a register to help you line up pre-cut paper and center your print in the printing process. I prefer the later because it also introduces a measuring and precision element to the assignment, which covers a different skillset and pushes them to think a different way during the assignment.

An introduction to relief printmaking that covers the basics of using linoleum to make a portrait print. This assignment is turned into a mixed media project by incorporating Prisma colored pencils to fill in the skin tone of the portrait. This is one post in an art education blog hop. Visit and check out more!

Once your image is fully carved out, it’s time to ink and print! I like to work directly on my tabletop for this, although a flat piece of tile would work well and be easier to clean. Place a small spoonful of ink onto your surface, and roll it out using the brayer until you have an even application on the roller. Roll the ink onto the linoleum block, make sure you cover the entire block and have even application. You may notice ink catching areas that aren’t carved low enough. This is why your first few prints are printed on newsprint. It’s cheap paper you can test your prints on until you have the carving just right.

An introduction to relief printmaking that covers the basics of using linoleum to make a portrait print. This assignment is turned into a mixed media project by incorporating Prisma colored pencils to fill in the skin tone of the portrait. This is one post in an art education blog hop. Visit and check out more!

If using a register, place your block in the center and line your paper up with the outer lines. Use a baren (or a wooden spoon) to burnish the back of the paper. Press down and move in small circles hitting every section of the block. Carefully peel the paper off and admire your print!

An introduction to relief printmaking that covers the basics of using linoleum to make a portrait print. This assignment is turned into a mixed media project by incorporating Prisma colored pencils to fill in the skin tone of the portrait. This is one post in an art education blog hop. Visit and check out more!

With the first few prints you are looking for changes that need to be made. I had many areas where I didn’t carve low enough and the ink kept catching small lines in the background. Go back, carve those areas down, and start the process over. Once you are satisfied with your print, start printing on printmaking paper.

An introduction to relief printmaking that covers the basics of using linoleum to make a portrait print. This assignment is turned into a mixed media project by incorporating Prisma colored pencils to fill in the skin tone of the portrait. This is one post in an art education blog hop. Visit and check out more!

It will take a few tries to get the correct ink application. Keep printing until you get at least five quality prints. Make sure you aren’t going too light (a fuzzy, uneven look) or too heavy (small lines in your image are filled in with ink).

An introduction to relief printmaking that covers the basics of using linoleum to make a portrait print. This assignment is turned into a mixed media project by incorporating Prisma colored pencils to fill in the skin tone of the portrait. This is one post in an art education blog hop. Visit and check out more!

To add another element (and a little color) to the print, I decided to add a colored pencil aspect. Since this project specifically focuses on portraits, I decided it was a great opportunity to include a lesson on creating skin tone with colored pencils. The students select one of their five prints to add color to. For my portrait I needed a lighter skin tone and used the following Prima colored pencils colors:

  • White
  • Cream
  • Beige
  • Light Peach
  • Peach
  • Rosy Beige
  • Lilac
  • Light Umber
  • Chocoloate
  • Sienna Brown
  • Tuscan Red

An introduction to relief printmaking that covers the basics of using linoleum to make a portrait print. This assignment is turned into a mixed media project by incorporating Prisma colored pencils to fill in the skin tone of the portrait. This is one post in an art education blog hop. Visit and check out more!

When using colored pencils it’s very important to work in light layers. If too much pigment is put down at once, it creates a waxy layer. The waxiness prevents additional color from sticking and you will end up with a much flatter looking image. It’s important to get layers of various colors to create more depth in your image.

When I work with colored pencils I add in a few highlights to start blocking out the color, then move to the darks and work dark to light from there. With something soft, like skin, it’s best to color in small circles to mimic the softness.

An introduction to relief printmaking that covers the basics of using linoleum to make a portrait print. This assignment is turned into a mixed media project by incorporating Prisma colored pencils to fill in the skin tone of the portrait. This is one post in an art education blog hop. Visit and check out more!

In addition to adding skin tone, I also decided to add a pop of blue in the background. It gave me a way to define edges at the top of the image to create more of a frame and blue reminds me of my grandmother who *unknowingly* became the subject of this lesson. She is a wonderful 94 year old woman who has an iPad and regularly texts on her iPhone (with text special effects I didn’t even know existed) and made me mac n’ cheese and animal shaped pancakes as a child. It doesn’t get much better than that in the realm of grandmothers.

Want to discover more art lessons? This relief printmaking post is part of an art education specific blog hop. My lesson connects to Karen Phillip’s lesson on printmaking with natural materials by making stamps out of potatoes and dying fabric with cabbage, onion skins, and blackberries. Check out Stacey Peter’s lesson next, which connects through mixed media. Her students create mixed media collages that focus on their hometowns, and has a literary tie in. Don’t miss anyone in the loop (or any of the amazing lessons) the list of art teacher’s involved in the blog hop is below:

Thanks for taking the time to check out my blog. Help me spread the word about making art education personal and getting kids creating by sharing on your social network of choice. Also, if you are interested in purchasing this relief printmaking lesson plan, PowerPoints, handouts, and other materials I use for this lesson, check it out on my TPT store here. Thanks for stopping by!

An introduction to relief printmaking that covers the basics of using linoleum to make a portrait print. This assignment is turned into a mixed media project by incorporating Prisma colored pencils to fill in the skin tone of the portrait. This is one post in an art education blog hop. Visit and check out more!