Friday, February 22, 2019

Collage with Gelli Arts® by Catherine Tonning-Popowich

Collage with Gelli Arts® by Catherine Tonning-Popowich

If you are like me and you have a few extra prints that you made with your Gelli Arts® printing plate then this blog post is for you! I have accumulated hundreds of prints from playing with my gel plates and they are starting to take over my studio! I decided to try my hand at making collages from some of them.

I discovered a technique from artist Kathleen Mooney with whom I took some workshops with this past summer. This technique involves coating both sides of the prints with matte medium to virtually create skins. I used Liquitex but any brand will do.

You will need to use a clear trash bag to paint on (clear trash bags for glass recycling). You can also use heavy 4 mil plastic from Home Depot that is found in the paint department. It comes on a roll. You are basically making an acrylic skin. When the paper is thoroughly dry you just peal it off the plastic. Look at the edge of the second image below and you can see the skin edge.

Using a sponge brush, paint the matte medium on the plastic bag and then put your print on top of it. Brush the print into the medium while pouring more on top of the print and brushing it to cover the entire paper. You can fit a couple prints on the plastic bag and then move it to a safe place to dry for a few hours.

I spent a day just coating the prints I wanted to use for collages. Then the prints are dry and ready to go when inspiration strikes. I most often use my prints that are made on deli or parchment paper. This technique lends a bit of translucency to the prints and makes great collage material.

Next, I coat my collage surface with the gel matte medium and leave it to dry. With this technique you can collage on mat board, wood panels, canvas board, or stretched canvas. I choose to paint my surface with black gesso before coating it. I like the dark background behind the collage. 

Now that your surfaces and papers are dry you can start to create the collage. I chose to use the beautiful blue papers I made. What better way to use them but in a sunset over a water scene. I made a variety of them using various surfaces. My favorite is cradled wood art panels.
I trace the shape of my board on a piece of parchment paper and move the board aside. I will then arrange the pieces to be collaged on the parchment within this area. Each piece should be overlapped a bit so they will adhere to each other when heat is applied. When I have all the pieces in a pattern that I like, I iron them together between 2 sheets of parchment. They do not adhere to the parchment paper. This leaves me with a collage skin to place on the prepared surface.

Set the iron on medium or polyester and press over the top of the parchment paper. It doesn’t take long and then lift off the top parchment layer and peel up the fused piece. Now you can lay this on top of your surface of choice and place a sheet of parchment on top and iron it onto the surface. Check to make sure it has adhered. If not, iron it a few more seconds. When set, trim the edges with scissors or X-ACTO knife being careful not to pull it off the board or panel.

Look at your design and decide if you want to add more pieces. I wanted the sunset to stand out more so I added some pieces to make the reflections in the water and to shape up the sun more. What’s nice about this process is you can add more pieces on top of the fused piece as long as they all have been coated with the matte medium. When you are satisfied place the sheet of parchment on top again and give it a quick press with the iron.

When you are completely satisfied with your piece you will now apply more matte medium over the top to seal the entire piece and leave to dry for a few hours. Once mine was dry, I did some metallic pen and ink work on top. You can use gel pens if you like but I prefer my dip pens and gold ink. Just a few lines -- don’t over do it as it can take away from the collage technique.

I would like to share a couple storage ideas for your gel prints. It is easier to find what you are looking for if they are out in the open instead of filed away so I save those plastic pant hangers that most of us throw away. I sort my large papers by color and clip them onto the hanger and hang them over the door or from my wire shelf. For the smaller pieces I again sort them by color and put them into a blank journal or spiral notebook. You can put an elastic band around the book to keep them from falling out.

Thanks for stopping by!
Share your collages with us by tagging us on social media!

Finished gel prints on parchment, deli, or tracing paper
Clear recycling trash bags
Matte medium
Gel matte medium
Sponge brush
Canvas panel or wood panel

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Birch Trees using embossing folder on Gelli Arts® Printing Plate

Birch Tree Monoprints

I've always loved Birch trees and I am obsessed with drawing and painting them! 
I wanted a project that was quick and not too complicated involving these trees. I think I have every stamp, die and embossing plate of various trees so I decided to try printing with an embossing plate.  Just so happens I had a plate that was 6” x 6” to match the size of one of my gel plates. I usually lay out 2 or more Gelli Arts® printing plates when I work on a project so I can get a couple prints at the same time. Don't mind the difference in color, one plate has been used a lot more and seems to have taken on a color.  This does not affect the prints.

1) Using Sequin Black Metallic paint by Plaid I loaded my brayer and rolled the paint onto the embossing plate.  I used the side that had the trees raised out. The brayer just catches the trees when you roll over them.  I then turn the embossing plate over and press it into the gel plate. I used a clean brayer and rolled on the back of the embossing plate to push the paint onto the gel plate. Lift it off and the trees are on the gel plate. Let this dry about 10 minutes.

2) When this is dry pick a color for the background layer. I used Plaid Color Shift Orange and Yellow for the orange print. These paints are very translucent  and sheer so choose your paper color accordingly. I used brown deli paper (I order from Amazon) for the orange one and blue cardstock for the others. As soon as you apply the colors put your paper down and pull the print.  Depending on how dry the black on the trees are you might have to leave the paper on for a minute or two and burnish the backside with your hand or an old credit card.  Pull up a corner to make sure everything is coming up on the paper before pulling the print completely.

Catherine L.Tonning

Fall Birch Print using Embossing Plate

Fall Birch Monoprint in Aqua

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Fallen Leaves Layered Gel Print


By Catherine Tonning-Popowich

 8” x 10” Gelli Arts plate, Plaid Metallic and Gelli Arts Paints

Technique: Layering with Plaid FolkArt Metallic paints and Gelli Arts Paints on cardstock

I am so excited to create my first blog as a member of the Gelli Arts® Artist team! Having been asked to join the team is an honor, I love all of their products!

"My work is informed and influenced by nature. Whether working in the colors of autumn, in the flowers of spring, or in the radiance of a sunset or sunrise, I enjoy creating visually stimulating art."

My monoprints, mixed media, acrylic abstractions and realistic paintings all focus on nature whether it be the colors, textures or spirit and my obsession with it.

My prints are one-of-a-kind using mono printing with Gelli Arts® plates. I start with an idea or feeling which, I express in textures and colors using natural and manmade found objects. I see an item's potential by how it might appear after color and pressure have been applied to the plate, that is what makes the mono print process so exciting to me. Each print is unique and the result of my experience with color, texture and form.

Having said all that, I will tell you about this Falling Leaves print. I took a photo of some leaves floating at the bottom of a waterfall in Upper Michigan last fall. I loved how they looked like jewels in the water. I knew that this print needed to be done in layers.

Step 1 – Place photo under the 8 x 10 plate. I started with the leaves first painting them in with Plaid FolkArt Metallic paint. I didn’t paint all the leaves exactly as they were in the photo but most of them. I actually added some around the edges. Try to get a variety of colors, some orange, some greenish yellow, copper etc. I used a rubber tipped tool to wipe out the veins in the leaves while the paint was still wet. Let this layer dry completely.

Step 2 – Now that the first layer is dry paint another layer on the leaves using Gelli Arts opaque paints mixed with the Folkart Metallics. This allows the leaves to be a little opaquer but still shimmer. I paint the leaves in a direction from the outside edge in toward the center vein so that the leaves have a texture of veins. Let dry.

Step 3 – When you are satisfied with the leaves (you can pick up the plate and peek at the other side to see what they look like on the front) start to sponge on the blue colors for the water. I used Folk Art Multi surface Aqua, Metallic Champagne, Metallic Topaz, Metallic Blue Sapphire and Gelli Arts Cosmic Blue for the darkest shade. I used a sea sponge but any textured sponge would work. Sponge over the entire plate varying the colors from light to dark. Again let this layer dry.

Step 4 – Now using the Metallic Blue Sapphire blended with the Cosmic blue load up your brayer with paint and roll over the entire plate. Clean off the brayer on paper and run it over the plate again. You need a thin layer of paint over the plate or all you will pick up is the blue layer. I make sure I have a thin wet layer over the plate and the edges. This step reacts with the first layers and makes them moist again so you can lift them onto the paper.

Step 5 – Using a dark blue color cardstock place the paper over the plate and rub with the palm of your hand. I use an old credit card or hotel room key card and holding it at an angle I burnish the back of the paper. I use some pressure with the card to get the paint to adhere to the paper. Check the print by lifting a corner to see if the paint is sticking. If it isn’t all lifting put the corner down and continue to burnish till all the paint adheres to the paper.

If you are happy with your print let it dry and your done. If you want a little more detail I went over some of the veins and edges of the leaves with gel pens to sharpen the details.


Wednesday, May 2, 2018


Palette knife (plastic knife) painting on gel plate and then pulled on black cardstock

I have always had a love for printmaking but I couldn’t afford the cost or the space for a press for printing but two years ago I discovered the Gelli Arts® Company and I have been hooked! With the gel plates you don’t need a press so after many years of not printing I have rediscovered the joy of printing again and I even teach numerous classes on gel printing throughout the year. I am so excited to share with you a new art venture I am embarking on; I have been asked by the Gelli Arts® Company to be a brand ambassador for their product line of gel printing plates!

This year my program Art Has No Barriers is in its second phase at the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center. Through this I have taught the gel printing process to those with and without disabilities. The gel plates are a great hands-on art project and it has been very well received for the positive impact it has been having on those who participate in the program and in the community.

As a Brand Ambassador for Gelli Arts® I will be working with a team of artists from around the world to bring exciting and creative projects to you all. To make sure you have an opportunity to create alongside me, the company will is offering a 10% discount of Gelli Arts® products if you order with my code: CatherineTP @

I am thrilled to start this new chapter in my art career and to bring you along on this journey! I will share some photos of some of the things I have printed and you can see some things my students have printed with gel plates here at my Art Has No Barriers facebook page. I hope you will share what you create with me, too! Please "Like" my fb page C.L.Tonning.Artist to keep up with my latest creations.

The possibilities ahead of us are endless!

Ink & Acrylic on Parchment Paper

Jewelry made from Gel Prints
Printing on gel plate with feathers on handmade paper

Pocket journals made by gel printing on manilla envelopes

Monday, March 6, 2017


I have been away from blogging for awhile while I tried to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, lol.  I have done a lot of soul searching about my art and my teaching abilities.  I love sharing my talent with others and helping them discover their inner artist. One day the light bulb went on in my brain and I decided to write a grant proposal to teach art to students with disabilities. I applied for the "Artist in the Community" grant through the Art Council of Greater Lansing. In October I was awarded the grant to help students with disabilities to find their voice through art. This project is very close to my heart! If you have read my previous posts you know I had a grandson with severe disabilities that died in 2013 at the age of 6 1/2.  

I have a community partner in the Lansing Art Gallery downtown Lansing, MI.  I will hold 4 classes there this spring to kick off the program.  Thanks to the grant and supporters these classes with be offered free of charge.  Gelli Arts, Stencil Girl stencils and Deco Arts have generously given me enough supplies for all of the classes. Because of this act of generosity the students will be able to take some products home to continue experimenting with what they learned with me.

In the classes we will be making mono prints using Gelli Arts printing plates.  No previous experience is necessary and everyone I have taught this technique to has enjoyed it.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Getting back to blogging about Art

It's been awhile since I have written. I have been keeping busy painting, honing my craft and showing my art. By the time I sit down to write I am at a loss for words, lol. Seriously I find it more difficult to write out my thoughts than to blurt them out. Hopefully for 2015 I can keep up on a regular basis. Did I just make a New Years resolution? Well you heard it here first!

I was recently interviewed for a featured artist piece on Inspired by Willow Wolfe and sponsored by Princeton Brush Co. 
so I thought I would share it here:

Preferred Medium:

Acrylics on Claybord

Favorite Tools?

My Favorite tool is whatever will give me the texture I want, crumbled up paper for bark texture, Hawthorne thorn for scratching in fur, makeup sponge for defusing background atmosphere and of course my favorite brushes. I have recently discovered the Series 6250—Umbria Synthetic brushes and I am loving them for acrylic painting. I have tried many types of brushes and I find that acrylics are tough on brushes but the Princeton Umbria brushes seem to hold up the best.

What would you call your style?

My style is naturalism. I have always looked toward nature as inspiration for my work. As an artist, I have found that when I am portraying the rich texture of a wolf’s coat or the glistening reflection in a bird’s eye, I feel at peace. As a teacher, it gives me immense pleasure to be able to guide my students so that they can emerge as artists and find their own inner solace as well.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a series of trees through the seasons. I enjoy the contrast of the White Birch against the deep blue sky in fall and I like to paint the Lonely Cypress tree against the ocean blue.

What is a favorite piece of art you created and why?

I did a series called "Life in the Serengeti" for and exhibition last year.

This African Bush Baby is one of my favorites. 

                                                                     This baby elephant was also one of the series.


I also enjoy painting flowers and birds:

These paintings are all done in acrylics on Ampersand Claybord.

Who are your art heroes?

Oh the list is long but I will try to list my top 5 art heros: da Vinci because of his sketches, inventive mind and his vast body of work. Van Gogh for his color and moods that show thru in his artwork. O'Keefe for her compositions, colors and her representational work. Wyeth because of his illustrative qualities, mastery of light and shadow. Monet because of his ability to capture the ever changing light and the passing of seasons.

What qualities make your art distinctively you?

My experience and education in both Commercial Art and Fine Arts resonates in my style and in my ability to capture the fine details that make many of my pieces seem more like photographs than paintings. I am well-versed in painting botanicals and other organic forms, my recent work with wildlife is what has been getting the most exposure.

Where do you create?

I have a studio just outside my back door. It is a remodeled garage and I love it! I have lots of work surface and storage. When I am done working for the day I just turn off the lights and lock the door and I don't have to worry about messing up the house!



When do you create?

I try to keep to a schedule of working in my studio from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm at least 4 days a week. I like the solitude during the day when everyone is off to work and I don't have as many interruptions or distractions.

Do you sketch or keep an idea journal?

I love sketching and most paintings start with a pencil sketch. Sometimes the sketch even becomes a finished pencil for framing. I keep all my sketches in a drawer unless I frame it. I have lots of journals with a few sketches in them but I am more prone to get a big sheet of drawing paper and go for a finished drawing. I do always travel with my sketch book just in case inspiration strikes.

What do you do when you hit a creative block?

When I run into a creative block I try to switch gears and start working on making jewelry (my other passion) or cleaning my studio, lol I will place the piece on which I am having a road block up on a shelf either in the studio or in the house and try to ignore it for awhile only glancing at it from time to time. When my mind is ready to take it on again I will put it back on the drawing board and start experimenting with different color schemes, if that was the problem (which usually is) or go back to the drawing reference in case it is about composition. Walking away from it is a safe way for me not to muck it up.

Do you have any special techniques you would like to share?

Techniques that I like are painting trees with a ripped up piece of computer paper crumpled up tightly and dab it into a little paint and stamp it onto the branch to simulate bark. Starting with the darker colors and then progress up to the lighter colors for the highlights.

Do you teach? What and why?

I teach acrylic painting in my studio here in Michigan and I also travel to different locations. I teach botanicals or birds mostly. As a teacher, it gives me immense pleasure to be able to guide my students so that they can emerge as artists and find their own inspiration. I have been teaching on location at our local Community Mental Health with disabled adults. This has been very rewarding for me and they are so appreciative. 

This is a class I taught off site of my studio

What do you listen to when you create?

I go to and find playlist without words mostly but then I also have a few marked favorite that are 70's music and also the Beatles. I don't like to be sidetracked by the lyrics as I am easily distracted. I also enjoy cello music and classical. When I find a song I like I save it to my playlist called "Background Music" then I can just play that list without searching for other songs. Other times I just enjoy the sounds of nature outside my studio and don't turn on any music.

What other things do you like to do creatively?

I enjoy cooking and entertaining, crocheting, photography and jewelry making. I like to travel to historic lighthouses and hear their stories, photograph them and just soak up the sounds and history that surrounds them.

Tell us about any commercial art endeavors:

I received a grant from the Art Council of Greater Lansing in 2013 and it allowed me to create a body of work for our local zoo. I painted 10 of their animals along with teaching painting classes on site. One of the paintings I did was of their lion "Dakota". My lion was chosen to be on a 47' x 17' billboard. It currently is on display in the Lansing area.