First Gel Plate Printing Failures

beginners experiments supplies

How do you decide what to focus on? I want to do ALL THE THINGS!

Lately I’ve been following a ton of printmakers on Instagram. I’d seen some beautiful prints from artists such as Kim Herringe and Sarah Matthews, so I recently asked for and got a gel printing plate for my birthday. I was hoping I could use watercolor paint with it instead of my beat up old baking sheet...but that was not to be.

watercolor brayer texture

I tried it first with watercolor of course, but it took a ton of paint to get what was not even a smooth layer (shown above). This texture is kind of cool, so of course I'm not throwing this reject away in hopes I can use it as part of something else. I also tried painting watercolors on the plate with a brush...but that just beaded up and was an even bigger failure.

Evidently it's best to use the gel plate with acrylic paint or ink. I busted out an acrylic paint set I had on hand, but my next attempt was a thick, hot mess! I printed a deep purple over a pretty wash of orange, yellow, and pink...which you can see practically none of.

acrylic gel painting mess

Like any new skill, it's going to take time to develop. But I'm really torn on how much time I should spend on it. Am I using it as an avoidance mechanism since I've been mostly unhappy with how my watercolor paintings are turning out lately? Or is it a legitimate way to incorporate new techniques into my art practice? I haven't decided yet, so I've just set it aside for now.

In all honesty, part of my hesitation towards learning to work with acrylic is that I view my relative ignorance regarding all things painting or drawing as a benefit to my art. I did not struggle too much with watercolor (once I got the right paper of course), even though the prevailing opinion is that it's "such a difficult medium." I think a large part of that is due to learning it from a place of zero preconceived notions of how it should work or what I should do with it. I readily embraced its fluid, unpredictable nature since I knew nothing else. From what I've seen of acrylic painting, I would definitely have more control...and I'm not sure I'm looking for that yet. I'm enough of a control freak in the rest of my life!

What about you? Have any tips for balancing wanting to learn new things versus sticking with something in order to actually grow your skills?

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