Stepping Stones is a monthly column that breaks down seemingly daunting tasks into simple, manageable “steps” that any art educator can take and apply directly to their classroom. Stepping Stones will explore a variety of topics and share advice for art-on-a-cart teachers and those with art rooms.
by Heidi O’Hanley
Printmaking is one of the integral parts of our art curriculum. We typically introduce the process at a young age and, as students grow, so does their understanding of printmaking’s importance in today’s society. Printmaking is the art of reproducing the same image or design, which includes books, newspapers, posters, fine artworks, and images on clothing. Long ago, the Chinese were using wood block carvings for relief printing, but when Johannes Gutenburg invented the printing press in 1440, artwork and books could be mass produced at a quicker pace.
In as early as pre-kindergarten, students are introduced to printmaking by using simple materials to create a pattern or design, using ink or tempera paint. I’ve seen cut celery, pompoms, and even handmade sponge shapes used by early elementary students to create detailed artworks.
1. Gyotaku prints are also very popular with early elementary students. The technique was invented by Japanese sailors over 100 years ago to document their catches out at sea. Many artists still enjoy creating fish print artworks. At the elementary level, students can use silicone rubber fish shapes to create prints, either small size with markers for ink, or large sized with paint. In this printmaking issue, I’ve shared a project I enjoy creating with my first- grade students that I hope you can use for your own classes (see “Gyotaku Fish Printing with First Grade,” page 14).
2. Gel printing plates are a recent trend within the art class. Students can roll ink or paint onto the gel plates, remove portions of the ink, then press with paper to create a monotype print.
3. Monotype prints are artworks that can only be produced once instead of multiple times. Gel plates are good for created painted or textured paper for collage projects plus clean up can be easy.
4. Relief printing can be introduced early with stamps, but you can introduce more advanced methods closer to middle or upper elementary. Relief printing happens when a student creates a master surface from which multiple images can be made. Typically, master surfaces for relief printing could be linoleum, foam, cardboard, rubber or any other material that can be pressed into or carved. The students prepare the their projects by cutting, etching or drawing an image onto the master surface. Ink is then applied and paper is pressed onto the surface, either by hand, brayer, or printing press. The finished print is then pulled and the process can repeat to create more prints.
5. Printing on foam is one of the two common relief printing techniques used at the elementary level.When using a foam printing plate, students can create a drawing or design on paper, then press down onto the foam to capture the image. When ink is rolled onto the foam, the areas pressed in should remain empty from ink, which will print a negative image for the students. Once a print is made, students can repeat the process until they achieve their desired results.
6. Rubber block printing, a more advanced step of reproducing prints, is the other most common technique used at the elementary level. Instead of pressing into a foam plate, students use carvers to remove lines from rubber pads. When a student creates multiple prints, they can go back to the block, remove another part from the master design, and print another color on top. The process can repeat for as many colors as desired.
7. Intaglio. I was introduced to Intaglio printing in upper high school, close to college. Intaglio prints are made by cutting a picture into the surface of the printing plate. The students then gouge the lines of an image into the surface of a smooth polished sheet of metal or a piece of plexiglass. To make a print, ink is pushed into the lines of the design. The surface is then wiped clean so that the only areas with ink are the lines. A sheet of paper (soaked in water) is then placed on the plate and ran through a printing press.
8. Screen-Printing is another form of printmaking that uses stenciling. Screen-printing occurs when you force ink or paint onto a surface through a prepared screen to create a picture or pattern. There are multiple techniques used in screen-printing that can be shared for an after-school art class or middle to high school classes, such as vinyl cutting, Mod Podge fill-in or plastic cut-out stenciling. Screen prints can work with many fabrics, boards, canvas or other material that stencils can be placed upon.
The techniques listed are some of the few that I’ve touched upon while teaching kindergarten through sixth grade. I work with different printmaking techniques because when students are creating their prints, it’s not just the final product, but the whole process that matters. Each process is a unique experience that develops students’ appreciation for the art they create and the reproduced works and literature around them.
Arts & Activities Contributing Editor, Heidi O’Hanley (NBCT), teaches art at Brodnicki Elementary School in Justice, Illinois. Visit her blog at www.talesfromthetravellingartteacher.blogspot.com.