How do you feel about Hallowe’en? Do you dress as a ghoul and bob for apples? Maybe you wonder how ancient festivals to frighten away spirits have been so completely overtaken by commercial exploitation of children and their parents. Perhaps you worry that celebrating Halloween can tempt people into worship of the occult. Or maybe you’re a pumpkin grower, happy to make good money selling ninety nine percent of your pumpkins to people who don’t care what they taste like because they just want to carve it up and throw away the tasty bit in the middle.

When (and where) I was growing up, Hallowe’en was no big deal. There was no trick or treating (aka demands with menace), no spurting fake blood or enormous packs of spooktacular sweets. Hallowe’en was about ghosts and scary things. We thought it enormous fun to jump out from dark shadows to frighten each other and sometimes gathered in dimly lit rooms to whisper tales of ghosts and spirits until we were too scared to leave the room alone. But that was about it.

I confess that I have no carved pumpkins sitting on my doorstep ready for this evening and I’m not going to wear my clothes inside out and walk backwards in the hope of meeting a witch. We could of course turn down the lights and sit in the flickering light of candles telling tales of ghostly apparitions as we wait for shadowy footsteps to halt outside the door. It wouldn’t be unknown in this house.

One evening, when my parents-in-law lived here, they heard someone coming up the three steps that lead up from the side door. They weren’t expecting anyone to call round that evening so Father-in-law went to see who it was. There was nobody in the hallway. Nor any of the other rooms. He checked the outside door to see if it was locked and sure enough, the key was turned and the bolts across. How mysterious. That wasn’t the only time the footsteps were heard as Mother-in-law heard them again and though she’s not the sort of person to have fanciful notions, she could find no logical explanation.

When we first moved here, I occasionally noticed a peculiar smell when I walked into a room; a mixture of tobacco and something else that I couldn’t work out. Nobody in the house smokes, nor had done for the previous thirty years, so it seemed odd but not spooky.  I’m sure there’s an obvious reason – maybe a mouse had died under the floorboards or something like that. Have I heard the footsteps on the stairs? Well, it’s an old house so there are often noises that are hard to pinpoint, but no, I haven’t heard the footsteps.

However, one day I opened the kitchen door to go through and stopped dead in my tracks because someone was standing just the other side of the doorway. For a split second I was convinced that someone or something was blocking my way, even though I couldn’t see them. It was probably just a trick of the light, but the kitchen door does stand at the top of the steps that lead from the side door, so you never know …

jelly printing with a gelatine plate

jelly printing for beginners

Even though it was purely the name that drew me in  (because I love jelly)  jelly printing has proved to be tremendous fun. Jelly Printing is a bit random; there’s no guarantee that when you lift the paper you’ll get exactly the print you were expecting. Over time the Gelatine Printing Plate changes too, which means that even if you did exactly the same for every single print, you’d still get variety. I get pretty easily bored by repetition, so it suits me fine. In The Barley Barn, Ruth and I have been teaching people how to make simple Jelly Prints like the one above, though Ruth has renamed it “Printing without a Press” to make it sound a little more adult like and serious. The truth is that Jelly Printing is a wonderfully easy printing method for any age.

If, in the spirit of home-spun creativeness or half-term entertainment, you fancy having a go at making some simple jelly prints using plants or feathers, then read on.

Firstly, you need to make your Gelatine Printing Plate. I suggest you start off with A5 size as it doesn’t take too much gelatine and it’s an easy size to work with. There are recipes all over the internet for making your own plate; some are made simply with gelatine and water, others include sugar, alcohol, glycerine or vinegar. I make my plates with powdered gelatine, water and glycerine using this recipe, which simply involves a bit of stirring and then pouring into a mould.

Once you’ve made your Gelatine Plate, you’re ready to print.

You will need:

  • A gelatine plate
  • A flat surface for your Gelatine Plate – a chopping mat, Perspex sheet, plastic tray, smooth glass shelf from a defunct fridge or Formica type worktop work well
  • A palette for your inks – again a chopping mat etc will do the job
  • A brayer (roller) – the sort used for lino printing
  • Water based printing Ink or Acrylic Paint
  • Flowers, leaves, grasses, feathers … avoid thick woody plants or anything with sharp thorns that will make holes in your Gelatine Plate
  • Paper, card or sticky labels

Get ready:

Gently ease your Gelatine Plate out of its mould and carefully plop it onto the board.

Squeeze a little ink (about a teaspoonful) or paint onto your palette and roll your brayer back and forth to coat the roller. If your ink seems very sticky, spritz over a little water to thin it.

Roll a 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. Cover with 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 doesn’t come in contact with the gelatine plate then it won’t get any ink on it.

Pull your print:

Now, carefully peel back the paper and you have a silhouette print of your plant.

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.

Lift the plants and feathers from the Gelatine Plate using your fingers or tweezers, which will leave a clear inked image on the gelatine plate. Take a clean sheet of paper and lay onto the Gelatine Plate, smooth it down with your hands and then peel it off. You should now have a wonderfully detailed print of your plant.

jelly printing labels - detailed prints

Try printing with different colours, layering one print on top of another. Print onto cheap newsprint, expensive art paper, pages torn from books, sticky labels, card or copier paper and make envelopes, gift tags and bookmarks. Tear up prints and make collages, use the prints for scrapbooking or art journals. Or just frame your amazing prints and admire them. The labels above are detailed prints and the envelope below is made from a silhouette print with blue ink overlaid with a silhouette print with yellow ink on photocopier paper.

jelly printing envelopes

Believe me, this is just the beginning. Have fun.

There’s a few ideas for Jelly Prints here on the Slamseys Art Pinterest board.


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