Studio Saturdays: Create Along Handmade Gift Wrap

We’re knee-deep in November, so it’s time to start thinking about holiday projects. I thought it would be fun to do a holiday-themed Studio Saturday Create Along, so today we’re going to make monoprinted papers, as seen in the article “Hand-Painted Papers” by Elizabeth St. Hilaire in the November/December issue of Cloth Paper Scissors (If you don’t have it, download it right now here, or order the print version here.).

When I saw these papers in person I could not take my eyes off of them. The vibrant colors and designs were so gorgeous, and I knew I wanted to make them. I go a little nuts when it comes to wrapping gifts, and the idea of printing over maps to create one-of-a-kind gift wrap was too great to pass up.

Handmade gift wrap

Printing your own gift wrap is incredibly satisfying. Create any design you like!

In Part 1 of this Create Along we’ll make the paper, and in Part 2 I’ll show you some cool things you can do with it, in addition to using it as giftwrap. And be sure to check out Elizabeth’s new book, Painted Paper Workshop: Easy and Colorful Collage Paintings, to get even more ideas and techniques for painting and printing papers and turning them into stunning collages.

One thing to note before we begin: This project is all about experimentation. Try mixing various paint colors and incorporating different color combinations, printing techniques, and layering options—you never know what serendipitous results you’ll get. If you’re not sure about something and don’t want to risk trying it out on your paper, try it on scrap paper first. If you create a print you don’t like, you can easily cover it over and try again (more on that later). This technique is truly goof-proof, so dive in and have fun!

Here is what you’ll need to make the paper: A monoprinting plate (Elizabeth used a Gelli Arts Gel Printing Plate, 8″ x 10″), fluid acrylic paints in light and dark colors and metallics (Golden Artist Colors Fluid Acrylic paints are recommended), a brayer, a palette knife (for mixing paint), and a palette or some palette paper. Optional supply: acrylic glaze medium (I used Liquitex Glazing Medium). Not shown below are an apron, paper or plastic for covering your work surface, and a printing baren. The baren isn’t a necessity, but it does make printing with some objects easier.

Monoprinting supplies

Supplies for this project include fluid acrylic paints, a gel print plate, and brayer.

Also, grab some baby wipes for cleaning your hands, the printing plate, and some of the tools. I only cleaned my plate when there was a lot of paint left over and I didn’t want to create mud with the next color. I like leaving a little bit of paint on the plate; when it transfers to the print it adds great dimension. I cleaned the Catalyst wedge and the wood grain tool right after using them—acrylic paint sticks, and it’s hard to get off afterward. I never clean my stencils, just FYI.

We’ll be doing two rounds of printing. The first layer needs to include light colors, or metallics, and the second layer needs to include dark colors. Elizabeth recommends Golden Fluid Acrylics because they’re translucent, which is important—we’ll be printing over patterned paper, and you want to see that pattern through the paint. I couldn’t find all the colors I wanted in fluid acrylics, so I used regular acrylic craft paint and added acrylic glaze to it, in about a 1:1 ratio. This helped thin out the paint and make it more transparent, without diluting the color.

Also, think about a color palette you want to work with. For my first sheet I used fall colors, for the second I used blues, silver and copper, and for the third, pinks and bright greens (my favorite Christmas palette).

You’ll also need stuff to print with. Elizabeth uses an eclectic group of items, and as long as you’re not damaging the plate by gouging it with something sharp, you should be good to go. I used a combination of stencils and masks, string, a crocheted doily, a Catalyst wedge, wood graining tool, bubble wrap, a rubber sink mat, and sequin waste (also called punchinella).

Hand printing materials

Items to print with include stencils, string, combs, bubble wrap, and a doily.

Consider also using leaves, mesh bags, wadded-up plastic wrap, the rounded end of a paintbrush, and toy car tires—all will create cool patterns.

The paper for this project is very important. What makes Elizabeth’s printed wrap so special is that she starts with paper that’s already printed, which contributes to the layered effect. She used maps and flight charts, and I did the same—inexpensive maps are easy to find at flea markets, online, and in thrift stores, and most are large, making them great for giftwrap. They’re also the perfect weight. Paper that’s too flimsy will rip, and paper that’s too heavy won’t fold well.

Paper for printing

Maps and flight navigation charts are great for printing.

Quick tip: If you find vintage maps that have tears in them, repair the spots with small pieces of lightweight Japanese paper or mulberry paper. Adhere the paper with PVA or a thin white glue, repeat on the other side, let dry, and then print.

I wanted to make some Hanukkah paper but couldn’t find a menorah stencil or stamp large enough, so I made my own. I found a copyright-free menorah silhouette, printed it on copy paper, and traced around the design onto a 9″ x 12″ Inovart Presto Foam Printing Plate. Then I cut out the design and used it as a mask and a stamp. For custom images you can also carve your own stamps or cut stencil designs from Mylar or cardstock.

Menorah foam stamp

To create a menorah stamp I cut out a silhouette from a foam sheet.

Let’s print! Cover your work surface with plastic or paper, and lay your paper on top. Cover a printing plate with the fluid acrylic paint—a little goes a long way, so start with a couple of drops. Spread it over the plate with the brayer, and add more paint as needed.

Inking up monoprinting plate

A little paint goes a long way–make sure the paint layer is nice and thin.

Press the plate to the paper, rubbing the back of the plate with your hands. Lift the plate, and you’ve got a print! Splotchy is fine, so don’t worry if the entire thing doesn’t transfer. A couple of things to note: I find it easier to move the plate around with the plastic sheet on the back, so you might try that.

Monoprinting over maps

The first print! Woot!

When you press the plate to the paper, you should be able to see the pattern of the paper through the paint. If you can’t, you have too much paint on your plate. Remove excess paint with a paper towel, or gently scrape some off with a plastic palette knife. In the photo below, you can easily see the map through the paint.

Monoprinting on maps

You should be able to see the pattern through the paint as you press the plate to the paper.

For the first layer, you’ll fill the sheet with blocks of color. You can overlap some or leave small gaps between blocks—totally up to you. For a couple of blocks I created a pattern on the plate using a Catalyst wedge, making a wavy pattern.

Monoprinting patterns using a Catalyst wedge

A Catalyst wedge is great for making patterns with the paint.

This is how the printed block looked:

Monoprinting patterns with a Catalyst wedge

The wavy pattern transferred beautifully to the paper.

Here is the sheet after completing the first layer:

Monoprinted gift wrap

For the first layer I used shades of yellow, green, orange, copper, and gold.

For the second layer we’ll use darker paints and add patterns, which will build up the dimension. Staying with the fall palette, I covered a plate with a dark green-blue color and placed a stencil on top.

Monoprinting with stencils

Stencils can cover all or part of the plate.

Instead of pressing the plate to the paper for this technique, Ellizabeth recommends pressing the paper to the plate. I eyeballed where I wanted it (don’t try for perfection!). The block looked amazing:

Monoprinting with stencils

Pressing the paper to the plate with the stencil resulted in this pattern.

But wait, there’s more! You can also make a ghost print from the same plate, since there’s still paint underneath that stencil. I removed the stencil and pressed the plate onto the sheet over another block. Here’s what I got:

Monoprinting ghost print

Ghost prints utilize paint left over from the first printing.

I tried the wood grain tool next. Here’s how the plate looked:

Monoprinting with wood grain tool

Rock the graining tool over the plate as you drag it to get a wood grain pattern.

And here’s the print:

Monoprinting with wood grain tool

The wood grain pattern looks stunning against the color and pattern underneath.

I tried the doily next, combining deep red craft paint with the glaze medium. After covering the plate I pressed a crocheted doily on top, and used the baren to gently press it down:

Monoprinting using a baren

Printing barrens are handy for printing large or textured items.

After lifting the doily off and pressing the plate, here was the result:

Monoprinting with a doily

The print picked up the detail from the cotton doily.

As I kept working on the second printing, I began to see the dimension of the layers appear, and realized what this amazing technique could produce. I continued with even more experiments. Here’s large bubble wrap pressed into red paint, over a metallic copper block:

Monoprinting with bubble wrap

If you didn’t know this was done with bubble wrap, how would you guess it was created?

And here is a block I made after pressing the rubber sink mat into green paint:

Monoprinting with a sink mat

A print made from pressing a rubber sink mat onto the gel plate.

I created one block that was a real mess, and wanted to cover it up. Elizabeth suggests two methods for doing this: Use an opaque layer of paint, like metallic, or mix gesso with paint on the plate, creating opacity that way. I used metallic paint with a stencil, and got a layer I loved:

Fixing monoprinting mistakes

A muddied block fixed with a layer of metallic paint and a stencil.

Here’s the finished sheet—pretty cool, and you’ll never see another one like it!

Monoprinted handmade gift wrap

The finished sheet of handmade gift wrap.

For the next sheet I decided to start with a flight navigation map and turn it into Hanukkah paper. I loved the patterning on the paper, and thought the existing palette of beige and blue would work well.

Flight map base for mono printing

I used a flight chart as a base for some Hanukkah gift wrap.

I created my first layer of blocks in various shades of blue, silver, and copper, then added the second layer. Here I’ve inked up the plate with a deep blue, then placed the menorah mask on top:

Monoprinting with a mask

The mask was placed on top of the plate before printing.

I pressed the paper to the plate and got this image, printed on top of a silver block:

Monoprinted block using a mask

Leave some of the prints to chance and see what you get.

The ghost print came out great, too:

Monoprinting ghost print

Don’t forget ghost prints–they offer great images, too.

I added one more layer to this sheet: I covered a piece of small bubble wrap with copper metallic paint using a brayer, and randomly stamped it around the sheet. This unified the design and gave it some extra shimmer.

Monoprinting with bubble wrap

Add an extra layer to your handmade gift wrap by printing bubble wrap.

Here is a random detail:

Monoprinted Hanukkah gift wrap

After printing this, I noticed how the stencil pattern looks like candle flames–perfect for the menorah image.

And the whole sheet:

Monoprinted handmade Hanukkah gift wrap

The layers in this Hannukah gift wrap are stunning.

For the last sheet, I worked with pinks, greens, and copper, and did the same first layer printing technique. For the second layer I used stencils, masks, more bubble wrap, and because I wanted this to be more holiday-ish, an ornament stencil mask with a deep shade of red to make it stand out. Here is a detail:

Monoprinted handmade Christmas gift wrap

A detail of the Christmas sheet reveals stencil and mask designs on top of a road map.

And here is the entire sheet:

Handmade mono printed Christmas gift wrap

Pinks, greens, and copper come together to make a unique sheet of handmade Christmas gift wrap

I guarantee you’ll have a blast with this. This is fun to do with older kids, and a great group project. Acrylic paint dries quickly, so you can get several sheets done in a short period of time. If you have any questions about the project, please leave a comment below and I’ll reply.

Next week, I’ll show you what you can create with this paper, in addition to gift wrap. We’ll make cards, gifts, holiday décor, and have even more fun, so be sure to come back next Saturday for Part 2. Pssst: We’re also having a special giveaway!

If I’ve piqued your interest about printing, painting, and collage techniques, here are some great books, videos, and digital downloads to fuel your passions, available right now in the North Light Shop:

Painted Paper Art Workshop

Painted Paper Art Workshop by Elizabeth St. Hilaire is packed with ideas and techniques for creating collage paintings.

Cloth Paper Scissors November December 2016

Get the November/December 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors for Elizabeth St. Hilaire’s article on hand-painted gift wrap and more projects for the holidays!

Printing Effects video with Gina Lee Kim

Learn how to combine monoprinting with watercolor in the video Printing Effects with Gina Lee Kim.

Gelli Plate Printing by Joan Bess

Looking for more Gelli Plate printing ideas? Check out the book Gelli Plate Printing by Joan Bess.

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