My Almost Dirty Dozen

Using Stencils to Make Collagraphs

This Collagraph design incorporates three Collagraph plates made with Sticky-back craft foam and stencils designed by Gwen Lafleur.

Hi Everybody,

I'm back to share with you another tutorial for Gwen Lafleur Studios Artist Tribe. In this post I’m going to show you how to use your stencils to make a collagraph. If you don't know what a collagraph is, let me explain.

We all know what Gelli prints are, right?  They are all over FaceBook, Instagram, and Pinterest these days.  Well, Collagraph prints are a distant cousin of the Gelli prints; they just haven't gotten as much attention.  

Gelli prints comes from the Monoprint side of the printmaking family; they are pulled from soft plates that people are always poking at to make an impression on.  They are introverts, loners who are individual and unique.  (Ever made a Gelli Print that you loved and then tried to recreate it?  Yeah, not happening...)     Collagraph prints on the other hand, come from the Monotype side of the family; they are pulled from stiff and rigid plates that people are always trying to pile things on top of.  Collagraph prints like to party and in that sense are prolific.  They love to make other similar but not exact copies of themselves to play with.


DSC_0393What can you do with Collagraph prints?  Well like Gelli prints they make great collage fodder for your art journal pages or mixed media projects. You can over print one Collagraph plate onto another print to mix and match design elements.  Because you can make a number of similar prints, they are perfect to use to make cards.  You can make them in any size.  Try making one that is the same size as your art journal and then print a cool design directly in it.  The possibilities are endless.


Collagraph plates are simple and quick to make.  I made these three plates in one afternoon. It can be a great project to do with kids especially when you use Sticky-back craft foam, (aka Fun Foam) to make the plates. DSC_0349


Once sealed Collagraph plates can last for years if you take good care of them, (I take a printmaking class every Tuesday night, and there are examples there of plates that are over 25 years old).  They do need to be dried thoroughly though before they are inked for the first time so be sure to give yourself sufficient time to seal and dry them.


Supplies needed to make and print a Collagraph Plate:

  • To make the plate
    • Stencils (Gwen's Ornamental Circle, Ornamental Circle Cluster, and Ornamental Peacock Feathers were perfect stencils to use in this project.  The designs are easily simplified to minimize cuts.)
    • Pencil
    • Sticky-Back Craft Foam, (aka Fun Foam)
    • X-Acto Knife, (make sure the blade is sharp)
    • A pair of small, sharp scissors to make detail cuts
    • an awl or other pointy object to add design details
    • Heavy card stock, (non-corrugated packaging cardboard or other stiff substrate will also work)
    • Glue stick to minimize drying time
    • Minwax Polycrylic (I used the Clear Matte Finish but the Gloss finish would have been better)
    • Chip brush or other disposable brush to apply the Polycrylic.
  • To print
    • Your Choice of Acrylic Paints
    • Brayer, foam roller, or paint brushes to ink the plate
    • Deli, copy, and/or printing paper, (Note true "printing" paper is meant to be soaked in water for 5-8 minutes and then blotted with a towel before printing.)
    • Water Sprayer
    • Baby Wipes and paper towels for clean up

Here's how I made my Collagraph Plates:

Calligraphy Plate #1 - Ornamental Circle Background Plate

I used 12" X 12" pieces of heavy card stock as the base for all pf my Collagraph plates in this post. (But any stiff paper or non-corregated cardboard will work.)

After sketching a few guidelines onto my card stock, I determined I’d need to cut out nine Ornamental Circles for my design.  Then I  traced the outside and the "eye" of the Ornamental Circle Stencil onto the back of sticky-back foam with a pencil and cut the main shapes out with an X-Acto knife and scissors.  I used the X-Acto knife to put a slits along one edge of the center “eye” shape and finished cutting it out with scissors.  I saved the cut out pieces to use later in my designs  


I used an awl to add details into the design.  Here I pressed into the sticky-back foam to mimic the holes in the stencil.


I removed the backing from the foam shapes and adhered them to the card stock.  More craft foam was cut into strips of varying lengths and widths and used to fill in the white spaces.


That was easy!  The only thing left to was to seal the plate up.  I used two thin coats of MinWax Polycrylic.  I applied a first coat of the sealer with a chip brush and then let it dry for at least two hours.  Then I applied the second coat and let it dry overnight.


Once it was dry, I was ready to pull my first test print with my Dina Wakely acrylic paint and a piece of deli paper. I used  a brayer to apply the paint evenly over the surface of the plate.  The paint could also be applied with a paint brush or roller.DSC_0323

I laid a piece of deli paper on top of the inked collagraph plate.  Since my plate was actually larger than my piece of deli paper I covered the exposed area with another piece of paper, (I love to use my under papers and mop up papers for this)   so that the ink didn't get on my hands.  Then I rubbed the paper with the palm of my hand, making sure that the paper made contact with the plate all over.  

Then I pulled my first print off the Collagraph Plate


I love the chunky handmade look of this print.

Printing Note: If you find that the paper wants to stick to the plate, spritz the back of the paper with a little water and wait a few minutes before pulling your print.  The water should help to soften up the paper.

Here is an example of some under lay paper that I used to cover the exposed areas of the plate with. All three Collagraph plates were printed on this paper.


I know that this paper will make it into my journal someday soon.

To clean the Collagraph plate, mist it with water, blot as much of is as you can off, (another opportunity to further develop your under papers and mop up pages), then wipe the plate clean with a baby wipe.  Because the plate is sealed it will clean up beautifully and you can ink it with another color immediately. 

Collagraph Plate #2 - Ornamental Peacock Feather Mandela

This time I traced the peacock feather stencil onto my sketchpad to help me visualize which areas to cut out.


Then I traced the design elements onto the back of Sticky-back craft foam and cut them out with my X-Acto knife and scissors just like before.


I auditioned my Mandela design before removing the backing. (You may want to take a picture of your design at this point to refer to later.) I was able to use the left over pieces from the first Collagraph plate in my Mandela design.


I adhered the pieces and cut up more Sticky-back foam into strips to use in the border.


After everything was stuck down in place, I sealed the plate like before.


Time to pull another deli paper test print.


And here is my first collagraphed Mandela print.    


Note, In this post I’m only inking the plates with one color.  I could have applied the paint with a paint brush instead of a brayer to give me the option of making multicolored prints.  

Collagraph Plate #3 - Corrugated Cardboard Plate

Did you know that corrugated cardboard makes wonderful stripes when its printed?  And if you print it twice, changing directions each time, it makes an intricate grid pattern.  I took advantage of this by leaving lots of white space in my design.  I used Gwen's Ornamental Circle and Ornamental Circle Cluster stencils as my design elements; carving them out of a 12" X 12" piece of corrugated card stock.  Try this technique with different kinds of corrugated cardboard and see what interesting prints you can make.

I started by tracing the stencil design elements onto the smooth side of the cardboard and then cut them out with an X-Acto knife.


Then I backed the cardboard with a piece of heavy card stock that I adhered with a glue stick.  I adhered the centers of the shapes, laying some pieces horizontally, some vertically, and some with the smooth side of the cardboard facing up.


Time to ink my plate up and do another deli paper test print.


This Collagraph design will make be a fabulous unifying element on top of a chaotic background.


It was really quick and easy to make these three collagraphs. I love that I can mix and match them and use them over and over again.  


I went on to have a fun afternoon of printing; playing with colors and layering one collagraph print onto another and testing out different kinds of papers.  Here are a few of my favorites:

DSC_0389 DSC_0354
DSC_0354 DSC_0355

I will develop this one further by outlining the circle clusters with colored pencils


I printed the cardboard Collagraph twice to form a grid; once in red with the lines running vertically and then again in green with the lines laying horizontally.


Easter Colors!


I love the effect of the corrugated Cardboard Collagraph as the top layer to unify of this chaotic print.

I hope I've inspired you to make a collagraph or two.  They really are a great art tool to have in your studio and they will last you for years to come.  I plan on making a few smaller ones to use in my art journal soon and also adding multiple colors to my plates.   I also think I will try to further develop some of my prints with watercolors, colored pencils, and some other mixed media supplies.   If you have made a collagraph, I'd love it if you would share your experience.  

As always, I welcome your questions and comments.  Until Next Time...  Hugs, Jill


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