Tuesday, February 14, 2012


When I heard myself telling someone it was impossible to make flat dried gelatin I heard myself accept a new challenge. Sometimes I think I have tried everything...but there's always somewhere else to go.

As a screenprinter, I have a surplus of old screens and have used them to make paper, which works admirably to make smooth flat sheets. I tried it with Jell-O, which is of course way more liquid than paper pulp, so presented some extra problems.

I leveled and covered a card table, first trying just a sheet of plastic and then deciding to pad it with cardboard and newspaper for a more resilient surface. The screen is a wood frame with polyester fabric stretched on it, and most of my old ones are a bit warped and the fabric slightly loose, so I thought I would weigh down the frame to press the fabric tightly against the plastic to keep the gelatin from flowing out the sides.

That resulted in the gelatin staying on top of the screen instead of under it, between it and the plastic, so I took off the weights and created more space under the screen. It seems that the thickness of the gelatin is crucial and will take some control. Part of the reason it doesn't dry flat is the difference in thickness and subsequent drying time. I took a plastic scraper and tried to remove all the gelatin from one side of the fabric, leaving a thin flat plate of it on the other side.

One I dried with the sheet of plastic peeled off, and one with it left in place. When it is left in place the gelatin won't dry, but my best case scenario would have been for the gelatin sheet to adhere to the plastic and not the screen, for easy removal. Ha ha. I was amazed to find that this worked on one piece, when I happened to hit the exact time it was ready, and carefully peeled it from the fabric. This did result in a few stretched places where it was still too wet.

Over a few days I tried many variations on the process and discovered that releasing the gelatin from the fabric was the biggest problem. If I gently misted the underside with water, I could get some of the gelatin to peel off the fabric, if I tried at the exact right stage of softness. This did result in some distortion with the final drying of the piece. I kept trying different things and made a lot of interesting discoveries.

I got one pretty flat, pretty smooth piece about a foot square (the top picture.) It's uneven in thickness and some parts are glossier than others, but it's flat and it's thin. The picture doesn't show it that well, since I tried to use a low angle to show the flatness. I'm going to try printing something on it with screenprinting ink for my next development.

That's right, I'm going to make printed Jell-O! This is quite exciting.

The problem will be controlling the amount of ink and getting a good print with no chance of do-overs. I'll probably find an old Radar Angels t-shirt image to use for the experiment. I visualize selling gelatin sheets instead of shirts, since no one really wears most of the shirts from the past. That's one of those ideas that will not fly, of course, but if I went to the trouble of shadow-boxing the art and making it into a high-value product, I'll bet it could be some actual fine art. Mayor's show, here I come.

When the gelatin did pull off the fabric, it took a faint image with it of whatever had been in the screen originally. The gelatin seemed to pull out the traces of ink that were left in what is called the ghost image. On the pink pieces this came out as an interesting texture kind of like fish skin, mottled spots. There were also interesting bubbles from spraying with water and not smoothing out the drops.

I tried to find more deliberate designs to use, by using a screen that still had the stencil on it, but while I did get some small areas of pattern, the release problems were worse with the partially stenciled pieces. You can kind of see the fractal pattern on the purple pieces, kind of a wavy watery pattern to begin with.

This would more properly be described as embossed, which of course is easy to do by just putting the gelatin on a textured surface, but it opens some possibilities too. I have hundreds of screens with lots of interesting designs and textures on them. File notes in "pending uses."

The flat gelatin is the most exciting thing I have come up with so far this year. I had been wanting to combine papermaking and printing with Jell-O art in new ways, and this is a step forward into new territory. Just a small step with no clear direction, but yay!

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