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Activity: Create a Gelatin Printing Plate to Make Patterned Prints

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.


Look Closer:

Yayoi Kusama, Flowers that Bloom Now, 2017, stainless steel and urethane paint, 41 x 103 x 39 3/8 in. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2018.5. © Yayoi Kusama, Courtesy of David Zwirner, New York; Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore/Shanghai; Victoria Miro, London/Venice; YAYOI KUSAMA Inc. Photography by Edward C. Robison III.

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!



Activity: Create a Gelatin Printing Plate to Make Patterned Prints


Materials needed to make a gelatin printing plate:
  • Large microwavable bowl
  • Large baking pan or dish
  • Silicone spatula or large spoon
  • Measuring cup
  • Bottles of glycerin (You can find this in the pharmacy section at your local store. See ratio in the recipe below.)
  • Packets of unflavored gelatin powder (See ratio in the recipe below.)
  • Water
  • Paper towels










Materials needed to make patterned prints:
  • Gelatin printing plate
  • Acrylic paint (recommended), tempera paint, or block printing ink
  • Paper (ex: drawing, watercolor, or construction paper)
  • Brayer or large paintbrush
  • Flat household objects (ex: bubble wrap, string, yarn, metal washers, rubber bands, paper clips, art stencils, paper shapes, leaves, flowers, fabric scraps, etc.)
  • Spray bottle (optional) 
  • Plastic wrap
  • Acetate (mylar) sheets or container with a lid
  • Paper towels










Recipe for a gelatin printing plate:

[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 :

  • 2 (6 oz) bottles of glycerin
  • 8 (.25 oz) gelatin packets
  • 1 ½ cups of boiled water


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. 










Instructions for making patterned prints:

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.


Special thanks to our sponsors:

Youth and Family programming is supported in part by AMP Sign & Banner, Arthur J. Gallagher Risk Management Services, Juan, Marcy and Joaquin Camacho, The Coca-Cola Company, iHeart Media, JTH Productions, Northwest Arkansas Naturals, Pinnacle Car Services, Procter & Gamble, Gordon and Carole Segal, The Simmons Family Fund, and ViacomCBS Consumer Products.

Education and Learning is supported in part by Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, The Northern Trust Company, Pamela and Wayne Garrison, Doug and Shelley McMillon, Jack and Melba Shewmaker Family, Neff and Scarlett Basore, Galen and Debi Havner, Lance and Sharon Beshore, Cardinal Four Foundation, Colgate-Palmolive Company, Harry Cornell, Cox Communications, Dorothy Hurt, J.M. Smucker Company, Kimberly-Clark, Nice-Pak Products, Inc., The Russell Berrie Foundation, Stephen and Claudia Strange, Felix and Margaret Wright.


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