In this activity, learn about Yayoi Kusama, a female artist who uses patterns and shapes in her artwork as seen in Flowers that Bloom Now. Then, make your own homemade gelatin printing plate and create patterned prints! This project takes some time to make, but it is one of our favorite projects in the studios at Crystal Bridges. Making gelatin plates is an easy and affordable way to do printmaking at home.
Take a moment to look closely at this artwork: Flowers that Bloom Now by Yayoi Kusama. Patterns are arrangements of things that repeat. These arrangements can include colors, shapes, gestures, sounds, images, and numbers. What patterns do you see in this sculpture?
Think of where you have seen these specific patterns before. Do the patterns in Kusama’s sculpture remind you of anything?
Kusama was fascinated with polka dots and flowers from a young age. When she grew older, she covered walls, floors, canvases, household objects, and even herself with polka dots. This popular pattern can be seen throughout American pop culture with objects such as comic books and cartoon characters like Minnie Mouse. What are some of your favorite patterns? What shapes make up these patterns?
Kusama’s use of polka dots was also inspired by the universe which holds the sun, moon, planets, and stars. She once said, “Our earth is only one polka dot among a million stars in the cosmos.”
Go on a walk outside with a family member or friend and play “I Spy” by looking for repeating patterns in nature!
[Adult guidance may be needed.]
Step 1: The required ratio of glycerin to unflavored gelatin packets is 1:4. Place all the materials nearby and start boiling the water.
For a large baking pan or dish (such as 8” x 12”), you will need :
Step 2: While the water is boiling, pour room temperature glycerin into a microwavable bowl.
Step 3: Sprinkle gelatin into the glycerin. Using a spatula or large spoon, slowly stir the mixture to remove all lumps of gelatin. Your mixture should look slightly yellow.
Step 4: Pour the boiling water into the mixture. Stir slowly until all the gelatin crystals have dissolved. It’s important to stir slowly to avoid adding air bubbles.
Step 5: Place the mixture in the microwave and warm it up for an additional 45 seconds. Be careful pulling the bowl out of the microwave. Use oven mitts or potholders if needed.
Step 6: Pour the warm mixture into a large baking pan or dish. Set it on a level surface.
Step 7: Rip a piece of paper towel to fit the pan or dish. Slowly drag the paper towel across the top to get rid of any foam or bubbles.
Step 8: Let the gelatin set at room temperature for at least 2 hours. Then move it into the refrigerator to set overnight. If you don’t have room in your fridge, you can also leave it out at room temperature overnight with a lid on the pan or dish.
Step 1: After the gelatin printing plate has set firmly, release it from the pan and begin the fun. Pull the edges away from the sides with your fingers or a silicone spatula and the plate will drop out when the air gets under the plate.
Step 2: Carefully place the gelatin plate onto a clean, hard, flat surface (ex: baking sheet or a plastic board).
Step 3: Apply an even coat of paint to the plate with a brayer or paintbrush.
Step 4: Place flat objects onto the plate. Use items that would be easy to clean or throw away such as string and flowers. Create a pattern with your objects. How do you arrange your objects to show repetition?
Step 5: Then place a sheet of paper on top. Smooth the paper over the plate with your fingertips.
Step 6: Peel the paper off to reveal your print! Set your print aside to dry. Take the objects off the plate.
Step 7: Repeat the printing process using Steps 3-6. You can also try creating a pattern on the gelatin plate with your paintbrush. Try printing on top of another print, and overlap shapes and colors.
Step 8: After you finish making prints, you can gently clean your gelatin plate by misting it with a spray bottle. Then use a paper towel to wipe it. Place your prints together to look at your patterns in a group. What do you notice about your prints? How is each print similar or different to one another?
Store your gelatin plate between two sheets of plastic wrap and place it in a container with a lid. You can also store the plate between two sheets of acetate (mylar) or stiff, hard plastic. This will protect the surface of the plate.
Depending on the size and thickness, your gelatin plate can last from 2-4 weeks. You can store it at room temperature. If you decide to store it in the fridge, you may notice some shrinkage over time. If it breaks, you can reheat it in the microwave and pour it back into the dish or pan. Luckily, this is an easy recipe to repeat!
Have fun exploring! Share your prints with us on social media – tag #crystalbridges on Instagram.
Written by Kim Ly, art instructor, Crystal Bridges.
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