Author Archives: leslie

Make Your Own Gel Plates

I finally made my own gel plate with gelatin, glycerin, rubbing alcohol and water. I used a microwave method, which seems to be the best method for me. Most of the instructions I found use a double boiler set up. It’s too hot for that in my house.

Keep in mind that this is an investment. For a few dollars you can make a permanent plate that if it gets damaged you can chop it up melt and remold it.

I am providing links to the ‘zon for the materials. Prices are the cheapest for that product by unit price at the time I ordered.

  • Gelatin (Keep an eye on this, gelatin fluctuates in price daily. The pack I purchased was $20 for 2lbs, the next day it went up to $35 for the same package!)
  • Glycerin (Also called vegetable glycerin, they are all vegetable glycerin)
  • 95%-75% Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol (I purchased this locally)


  • Cookie Sheet- with a flat bottom without any texture at all. Dollar tree sells a 9×13 inch tray for a $1.25. Walmart has cheap options as well.
  • Small spray bottle filled with rubbing alcohol.


2- 3 tablespoon of gelatin per cup of fluid. Roughly 1 ounce of gelatin to each cup of fluid. The fluid should be 50% water to Glycerin/Alcohol. This ratio is important. You can adapt the recipe to any size container by measuring the volume of your container. The more gelatin  you add the firmer your plate will be.

You want your plate to be at least a half inch thick and the consistency of Jello Jigglers.  In my experience the larger the plate the firmer you will want it.  I prefer a very firm plate so I use additional gelatin.

Pour 3/4 c Glycerin into a microwave safe dish. Add in 3/4 c of rubbing alcohol. (You can use 100% glycerin for this recipe but rubbing alc is cheaper) Sprinkle 8 tbsp of gelatin over the alcohol and glycerin. Let this sit for roughly 10 minutes to bloom. Use a spatula to gently stir this. Add in 1 1/2 cup of rapidly boiling water. Gently stir. The mix should be opaque and a bit gritty. Put this into the microwave for 1 minute intervals. Stir at every minute until the mix is clear. It took 5 minutes for mine to be perfectly clear. Stir gently but thoroughly.

Pour the hot mixture into your cookie sheet or whatever tray you plan to use. Skim any foam off with a piece of news print. Pop any bubbles with a finger or toothpick. Let sit at room temp for a few hours, once set put it into the refrigerator to finish setting.

You may also want to add in a couple of drops of essential oils like tea tree or lavender. I do not like the smell of the gelatin. A few drops of essential oils mix into the glycerin or alcohol well and do not impact the ability of the plate to function.

Some Science:

The glycerin and isopropyl alcohol are plasticizers. That is they interact with the gelatin to turn the protein strands into something plasticky. They change the proteins of the gelatin to elongate them, which bugs and mold no longer recognize as food. This is why the glycerin and alcohol plates don’t mold or rot.

Some videos that explain the process:

The video below has recipes for a variety of sizes of gel plates. Look from 18:04 to 18:58

As the last video explains, there is some wiggle room in these recipes. You can add a bit more glycerin or a bit less and the plate will still plasticize. If you don’t like the smell of the alcohol, don’t use it. Many of the recipes I saw online did not use it and in fact, Linda Germain, who I consider to be an expert on gelatin plate making, doesn’t use alcohol at all. you can get her recipe by signing up for her mailing list here.

Here is a link to another blog with info about making your own plate.

This is another good blog for making your own plates.

Keep in mind that by making your own plate you are saving a lot of money over buying the commercial plates. You can also chunk them up, melt and remold them, many times. You can add a bit of water to rehydrate the plate and it’s good as new. This is an investment.

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Love and Hate Collage

If you’ve been following this blog for any period of time, you’ll know about my love and hate of collage. I love a lot about collage but I’ll also tell you how much I hate collage. One of my favorite artists from Dada worked primarily in collage (Hannah Hoch.) I don’t know that I’ve ever discussed this on the blog before, but the first piece that I ever got into a show was a small intimate… collage. The collage was met with success and reviewed extremely well.

That year the collage was selected for the show I had also worked in larger scale and smaller scale Matisse and Eric Carle style collages- but instead of the time honored gouache I made my collage sheets out of… Crayon.

I will eventually write a post about how crayons are magic.

Anyway those crayon pieces, now quite sadly lost and a few gifted to friends and former partners, were as magic as the crayons. A few of the larger scale pieces were responses to popular (and less popular) music of the era. And because I am a walking stereotype, more than a few were responses to Ani Difranco. I have no doubt that those collages haave also fallen apart. Wax is notoriously resistant to glue. All it would take would be a few atmospheric changes for the pieces to peel away from one another.

I think the magic crayon collages also showed the power of the arts for healing and processing. I was using the process of making big sheets of my own collage papers- scribbling and making the pages evenly colored, then responding to my own life and music. It’s a great process.

Anyway. I resented the hell out of that piece that was in the show. It was my first foray into collage- torn up magazine pages to create a sea of blue and then carefully clipped images from a magazine to create a surrealist image of confusion. It was good but it wasn’t practiced or even evolved. I hated that my first try (sort of I did dozens of these little collages) was selected, when what I wanted was my more practiced and mature art selected.

I had already turned from what I thought of as immature magazine collages and toward a more refined and matured collage style, and instead of being recognized for my hard work, my first foray was being applauded.

I had selected my own pieces to apply to the show, we were allowed only so many, and I had put in my maximum allowed, and only that one* was selected. I also didn’t have the cash to frame the larger pieces. Even 25 years ago my money was tight and buying large poster sized frames for large work was beyond my budget. They didn’t allow for you to submit unframed work and then frame them IF they got in. Small frames I could build, large frames I could not.

Collage is a long held love of mine, but the sort of collage where you make all your own papers and materials. But then remixing magazine images is also a long held love of mine. But I resent one, but long for the other to gain acclaim.

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Inspirational Videos

Every now and then I make a deep dive into youtube’s art instructional videos. Why? I find some inspiration and often some new techniques in them. I was going to embed a bunch of videos but apparently Youtube makes that harder than they used to. *GRUMBLES*

I’m going to start with the lovely Yeates Makes. His videos vibe with my DIY philosophy but also my grungy aesthetic. Really awesome stuff. He is just starting out (within the last 2 years) with his videos to Youtube but wow are they great.

FroyleArt is a woman out of New Zealand who has a fun positive vibe that I dig. She’s funny (occasionally in an adult way) and extremely positive. Her philosophy is that art making is about process, experimentation, fun, and no mistakes. Her videos are full of her laughing and having fun. She uses a good mix of commercial supplies and DIY supplies. She’s got great examples of working in related colors in a printing and collage session to create nice compositions.

Next up is Elizabeth St. Hilaire. Her videos span the gamut from sketching with watercolor and pen to gel plate to DIY to vlogs about being an artist. It’s good stuff all around. I really like her combination of commercial and diy supplies.

Robyn McClendon is another youtuber who does some great instructional content with a positive focus.  Her videos have a fantastic DIY style that I really like.

Noit Art is another that I pop on for background noise as I work on my gel printing. She uses a lot of found papers and does a lot of collage. Her focus (at least on the videos I’ve watched) is art journaling.

There’s enough inspirational content for you to learn and play in the background for days in the above links!


Making Images with Tracing

One of my favorite ways of making self portraits is with tracing. I use self portraits in my art journals as a manner of self reflection but also as a way to work on my portraiture skills. Though I doubt anyone would want me to explore them as thoroughly as I explore my own self in these images.

I started with a series of selfies. I’m not very good at them and always feel a bit goofy taking a selfie. Since our bathroom has good light I used that. Sadly I think my phone has a portrait filter that softens the image. I was looking for harsh lines and a great deal of contrast. I had to edit the image into black and white and then bring up the contrast and sharpen it a bit. I then printed a half dozen copies of it. Despite my printer’s toner being less than ideal for resisting, it does resist a bit, which leads to a very dirty resist process with oil pastels.

The next steps was to go over the dark areas and lines of the images with oil pastel and china marker. These resist picking up paint from the gel plate really well. The result is a rough uneven texture that looks fantastic. It’s gritty and feels like a bad photocopy. Each resist sheet can be used 2 maybe 3 times. After that the oil pastel gets clogged up and no longer resists. Save the sheet though, the paint over the oil pastel can be scraped away and makes a great collage sheet.

I didn’t include images of all of the resist sheets because I’d already used a few in images.

The resulting images vary from good to barely perceptible depending on the paint I used to pull the image. Some were really great and were used almost immediately. Apologies for not photographing them before processing them into images.

The barely perceptible.

Obviously tracing over images can be a very useful tool, especially when pared with a gel plate. The resulting images from both the resist sheets as well as the plate are great.

collaged self portrait using gel plate prints made using resist sheets.

collaged self portrait using gel plate prints made using resist sheets.

self portrait made with a resist sheet and collage

self portrait made with a resist sheet and collage. Resist sheet was allowed to dry and then dried acrylic paint was scraped away. additional pieces collaged over the image were used.

I’ll be offering some mixed media pieces for sale on my Ko-fi page. I’m also offering a few prints for sale there as well. Expect an update in the next week.

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State of the Art: Open Minded Curiosity

It is important if you are an artist to have an open minded curiosity about the world, people, places, and especially your art. The minute you stop being curious is the moment you start to stagnate. My curiosity leads me down many paths. I like to learn about things unrelated to art and creativity but I also will do deep dives into specific artmaking activities.

Like gelli/gel/gelatin printing.

I’ve been watching every Yeates Makes video available. (And you should too!) Unlike many YouTubers he does everything DIY style- his own masks, stencils, and transfers. You won’t be surprised to find out that his DIY artsy aesthetic matches mine.

I’m a strong believer in the idea that commercial stencils and tid bits are there to jumpstart you. Sadly, I see a great deal of people getting locked into the use of commercial materials. I say sadly because the goal of every instructor should be to help the artists in their classes unlock and discover their creativity. * When an instructor gets bogged down and locked into the use of ONLY commercial materials through contracts and sales of said materials, well. I have some thoughts but this post isn’t about that.

It’s about the idea of systematically exploring a material.

One of the things I miss about my (some) old college classes was the idea that you should explore the materials completely.

This brings me back to gelli/gel/gelatin printing. I really want to know everything these plates will do when I use them, how far can I push them? And most importantly, what materials and tools will work with them to ensure my success when I do have an idea?

I picked up a 3×5 inch gel press awhile back, this creates a perfectly sized print on half a US letter sized sheet of paper. It’s also a perfect size for testing. It fits into my 6×9 sketchbook pretty well, and leaves room for notes. Perfect. I gave myself a few hours with the various materials and filled a few pages in my sketchbook. Below are a few pictures and my notes.


Let yourself play and explore all the materials you have around you, you never know what you’ll stumble onto that just WORKS for you and your style.

Some of these techniques were used in creating this art for my ko-fi supporter packs:

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State of the Art: Filling a Sketchbook

This weekend I realized that I’m about 10 pages away from filling my current sketchbook. I knew I was nearing the end but I’ve had a flurry of ideas to record and noodle out, each time I’ve made sure that my sketchbook is within easy reach. With a mere 10 pages left, my first thought was, “Ohhhh now I have a reason to go to Artist & Craftsman to pick up a new one!”

I did not have access to the car in my moment of weakness, so instead of driving, I dug through my bin of notebooks and sketchbooks. These are books I picked up on a whim at a variety of places when I see them. The first book I grabbed was a traditional hardback black sketchbook with heavy mixed media paper- too “good” for my kick around idea noodling sketchbook. Then I grabbed a dot gridded journal, also not quite right. Then another hardbound sketchbook.

Finally I grabbed a different black sketchbook, and realized that I’d grabbed a black Hand•Book journal, one older than my current version. I had forgotten at one point that I’d bought the black version, and bought a green one about a year and a half ago.  Maybe less. It was before I had my interview for my new workplace. Anyway, I had forgotten that I’d bought a black one as back up for my previous journal, blue I think. So I immediately dug into the new red one and left the black one in a drawer. These have been my go to sketchbook for the last few years. The earliest I remember using one was in 2012 or 2013. I know I was using them before i went to grad school- I carried one with me everywhere through grad school.

This does come with a downside- the elastic needs to be replaced or at the very least tightened. Which is a problem I’ve never had with a Hand•Book Journal before. Their elastics have always been snug and perfect, even years later. This is the first of a half dozen or so of this brand where the elastic has been anything but perfect. (I will note that this is a pre-Speedball distribution Hand•Book.)

I do very little to prepare a sketchbook for use, I write my name, address, phone number, and email inside the front cover. For this sketchbook I’m adding some washi tape to the back pocket- the washi will stick but peel off the plastic pocket with ease. Unlike notebooks I don’t do much prep for a sketchbook, the whole point of one is the clear empty expanse of paper for ideas to blossom.

State of the Art: Blog Readers

I miss Google Reader- the OG epitome of blog readers. I used to start my day with a cup of coffee and Google Reader. It let me catch up on my news and all the blogs I used to read quickly and without following all sorts of links and bookmarks. IT was easy. Sadly Google killed it, largely because it’s hard to put advertisements onto a reader and on blogs.

I love blogs, not only because I’m a blogger myself. Blogs are a truly democratic method of communication- all you need is a free account and an easy to set up website. It really couldn’t be easier. If you want even easier, there are still many free blog platforms out there.

This post isn’t about blogging platforms, it’s about readers. Readers let you bring all your varied interests together into one spot and you can read it whenever you want. Reader allowed you to bring in as many blogs as you wanted- hundreds. The main issue I had when I migrated was that most of the reader replacements only allowed 100 feeds on a free account. At the closure I think I had close to 500 blogs on my account.

Anyway, now I use a couple of services- Feedly and The Old Reader to manage around 200 blogs. Feedly houses most of my coffee and maker interests; while The Old Reader has all the art blogs I enjoy. There are many options for a feed reader, just pick one that works for you.

Review: TWSBI Swipe Coral

I am starting this review with this disclaimer,  this review is full of my opinions on a number of matters, which include a review of the pen in question but also the company’s behavior in recent months.

Let me start with this, I’ve historically really liked TWSBI. Their pens, like Diamond, the VAC and Micarta fit perfectly into my aesthetic. I like demonstrators and the rough look of the micarta are just perfect. I own 4 TWSBI pens, 5 now, and I like them all. They fit me. That said, the Swipe is likely to be my last TWSBI purchase for quite some time.

Through reading various blogs and listening to The Pen Addict I learned that TWSBI had written to sellers of their pens, that also sell Narwhal pens, to let them know that they feel that Narwhal had stolen/copied their piston design. My understanding is that they then let these sellers know that if they continued to sell Narwhal pens, that TWSBI would no longer allow them to sell their pens.

I dislike this on so many levels. Sellers/vendors are just trying to make ends meet. I don’t know what the margins are on pens, but I see TWSBI as a middle sized fish in the pen pond. Narwhal is a tiny fish. Sellers are going to keep selling the pens that bring in the most money- since TWSBI likely outsells Narwhal, the effect of their letter on Narwhal is going to be disaster for the smaller company. Buyers would be forced to buy Narwhal pens directly from Narwhal and whatever sellers who decide to tell TWSBI to go to hell.

Listen to and read the various post I linked to above, but the issue TWSBI is really pushing here is that Narwhal has copied their filling mechanism. But do you really have a moral leg to stand on when you have modeled your filling mechanism on Pelikan’s?

From a sales standpoint it makes sense for sellers to stick with TWSBI.

As a buyer I want to have all the options and I strongly dislike it when someone tries to limit those options. I also dislike when one company tried to put another company out of business. When companies try to put other companies out of business through strong arming vendors, get over yourself. If your product is good, it’ll stand up on it’s own. No need to pull this kind of pseudo legal chest thumping nonsense. TWSBI pens are good pens. So are Pelikan pens. As are Narwhal pens. I wrote it in my review, Narwhal isn’t breaking new ground with their pens, but they are making decent pens. And hell while Moonman/PenBBS are smashing together styles from other companies, their pens function solidly.

Rise above.

It is my sincere and honest opinion that TWSBI has delved into unethical business territory in an attempt to drive Narwhal out of business. I don’t like it at all. I will not buy another TWSBI pen until TWSBI backs off this nonsense. I also have to wonder if this is legal? I mean, good lord, imagine if Pelikan decided that if a pen store carries Lamy that that store cannot carry Pelikan? It is preposterous and ridiculous when you change the brands involved. TWSBI really has their head firmly wedged in their butt cheeks on this one.

So why review the pen at all? In part to include my little rant, but also I bought the pen with Ko-Fi fund to review.  So I want to fulfil my obligation to my readers, but I also feel I should inform you about TWSBI and their shenanigans.

To start I like the pen, mostly.

So what I like? The color is killer- coral, or salmon pink. It’s the perfect millennial pink that I love so much. If you’ve known me since high school, you’ll remember that this was the color of my prom dress. Think pink with a hint of orange.

The ink window is nice, especially with the spring inside. I like the way the ink sloshes around the spring. When the pen is uncapped, the grip section is also clear, allowing you to see the ink in the feed.

Despite the hard clear plastic of the grip, it feels nice in hand and I don’t find that my hand slips when I’m writing and sketching for long periods of time. The light weight is super comfortable and enjoyable.

The nib is a typical TWSBI- hard as a nail with a smooth feel as I write and sketch. It isn’t buttery smooth or glassy, but just nice. I like it on all of the papers I’ve used it on so far. The feed is right in the middle- not wet nor is it dry. It lays down enough ink that I’m happy with the darkness of the line.

The clip is the major downside of this pen. It feels a bit cheap, and is very tight. I tend to carry my pens in the chest pocket of my flannel shirts, and this pen sits very high when clipped in place. When I clip it to the placket of a shirt it hangs out way to far. I cannot tell if it is painted or a textured finish, but I carried a painted wooden box at work, and it left gray marks allover the painted finish where the clip rubbed. Yet, I do not see any damage to the clip.

Filling the pen with the spring loaded converter works well enough. I did find that I have to dip the pen multiple times to get a good fill. This means depressing the partially filled spring loaded cart down partially and then redipping the pen. It was a bit messy but effective. Included in the packaging is a regular twist style converter and a cartridge with a spring to hold it in place. Nifty.

The mold lines are cleverly hidden in the edges of the facets of the pen body. Those on the cap and grips are visible and textured enough that I notice them, through use I’ve worn them a bit smooth. (Also a note to self, pick up hand lotion for the studio. I should not be able to smooth rough mold marks with my finger tips!)

Overall I am quite impressed with the Swipe. At the under $30 price point it’s a solid and fun colored pen. I enjoy the color, feel, and even the twitchy spring loaded fill system. I love the bright fun coral pink color. It’s bright and cheerful. Continue reading

State of the Art: Creating a Place to Work

One of the key items in my art making and creative arsenal are my headphones. With these I can create a place to work, make art and be creative, just about anywhere. By extension music helps too.

I’ve used headphones as a way to tune out and tune in since I was in elementary school. Back then I slipped the foam cushions of my Sony Walkman over my ears and tuned out of the world and into my art or homework and later in high school to work. Soon I was using foam covered earbuds and trying to hid the black cords around my ears, through my hair and into a hoodie to wear them in study hall.

My parents had rules on when my brothers and I could wear them.

As I got older I used headphones to tune out a variety of things- the noise of my roommates, construction, late night noises in the neighborhood, the people on the train and other various things. Over time I moved to in ear buds (IEB) and I found they worked better to help me tune out and tune in, and it really kept the noise of the subway out of my head.

At the DayJob I needed to buckle down and get a LOT of paperwork done, some of which I had let build up, so I popped my IEB in and sat in the gallery with my laptop and churned through the work. In the few hours I had I churned through pages and thousands of words of work. The combination of noise cancelation through the DIY plug tips and the music I chose (The Tidal 420 Playlist for giggles) let me tune out of the stuff that was happening around me, while I focused on the music.

Of course when you use true wireless BT IEB it can lead to confusion- one coworker laughed as I pulled a bud out, apologized, then said hello back.

For me, there is something really helpful about being able to isolate myself from the noise around me. I tend to look up when I hear a noise and then get distracted. It takes me a minute or two to get back to what I was focusing on. Headphones means I can ignore all the little inconsequential noises around me, and just focus on the task ahead of me.

It seems dramatic to call this bliss, but as an easily distracted person, being able to focus on just one thing is fantastic. That combined with the controls being on my ears just makes setting up a place to work easy.

In some places, like my home studio, I use a speaker system. That works well enough there since it is a private location, in a more public location, like my DayJob studio, I use a speaker when I’m not feeling distractable, otherwise it’s headphones.

I have to admit, I never really thought much about my use of headphones until recently. I’d been feeling very distracted and popped my IEB in, did my work, then realized I’d been doing this for YEARS of my life, and that I’d unconsciously been making a place to be creative.

It works for me. Do you use headphones or music to make a creative space for yourself?

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State of the Art: Product Labels

I can’t believe I’ve never posted here about my various product labels that I create. I was pretty sure I had posted about them but not even the g00gles can find those posts. I have posted about them on insta, so maybe I’m just confused.

When I make or cook certain things I make goofy labels for them. The labels are crudely rendered in Microsoft Publisher with clip art, various fonts, and thick outlines. The expectation is that they are imperfect and short lived- the label would wash off and be composted. I printed them on plain paper and adorned them with watercolors for a splash of color. I also printed some for coffee on plain paper sticker paper. These labels were expected to be torn through and disposed of when the coffee was finished.

I utilize black and white clip art from this site and others. Please read their faq. I like to start with images that fit my aesthetic- brains, skulls, skeletons, etc… I like things that look like etchings. Sometimes I make my own drawing and scan it in.

I drop the image into Publisher, resize it to the correct size for the label, add in a border ingredients and a name. My blueberry scorpion hot sauce was called “Blue Scorpion.” It had an old fashioned etching of a scorpion and sky blue watercolor splashed on it. While my pumpkin spiced ghost pepper sauce was called… “Basic Bitch.*” This had an etching of a large pumpkin, with the word bitch in tiny font hidden in a gray area. It had a splash of gold and orange to color it.

The cold brew coffee labels I made were a departure on a number of levels- I printed them in full glorious color on vinyl! The choice was made because I refill my cold brew bottles over and over again. So the sticker needs to hold up for a few washings. I added color only because I was able to do so. Had I not had access to a color laser printer I would have added color with acrylic paint or paint markers.

Before anyone comments, yes there is a misspelling in the decaf label. We just won’t talk about it okay?

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