Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Elementary School printmaking instruction

I have been active the past month in the role as an arts educator visiting grade five classes in a couple of elementary school classrooms here in the city of Thunder Bay.
This is through the Community Arts and Heritage Education Project or CAHEP. I have been actively getting placements in schools through this program since 2006.
This year the learners have been given the opportunity to learn relief block printmaking. Not only do they get to try a brand new visual arts technique but learn about the principles of design and explore colour theory in the process. This years theme for the program is Thinking Outside the Box.
Here is the Project Overview for the second and most recent venture:

Project Title: Construction

This project uses relief block printmaking as the basis for the creation of hand printed imagery that utilizes several stages of process from start to finish.
Learners were given the opportunity to use two surfaces to create a two colour print on paper.
One surface was left solid and the second surface was carved into using special cutting blades to produce a relief design. Prints were produced by using careful registration of paper and application of ink to both sides of a block in two separate printing sessions.
To begin, the learners were encouraged to think about and share dialogue revolving around the concept of the word structure. Using photo reference they focused on a particular section of either a manmade or nature made structure. They enlarged the chosen area and proceeded to develop it and construct a colour print that would allow it to be viewed in an entirely different way.
This is where adhering to the theme of “thinking outside of the box” came into play.
Learners were also challenged by utilizing the principles of design in their respective works of art. During the project they learned about such important areas such as line, shape, positive and negative space, rhythm, repetition, texture, composition, contrast to name but a few.
Using linoleum cutting tools they were able to carve their images into a soft composite material (softoleum).  Ink was applied to the relief surfaces using brayers and prints were made in two colour combinations on paper using traditional hand printing methods.
An emphasis was made on using complementary and split complementary colour combinations in the prints that would allow for real contrasts and impact in the images.
The students printed a solid colour square first and then the cut side of the block with their design was printed over top in a contrasting colour.

Materials used:
Softoleum blocks, linocutting tools, water based printing inks, soft rubber brayers, registration
boards, subi printmaking paper, rubbing sticks, spray adhesive, white foamcore board panels, spray adhesive

Individual panels contain 6 prints are stacked vertically with an overall measurement 25.4 cm (10 inches) in width by 101.6 cm (40 inches in height).
Each image explores the concept of structure in two colours.

The finished results have been very good. I have put together a display module where an equal number of prints (6) are affixed to a foamboard panel in a vertical format. Four of the panels will be hinged together into a four sided column and set on a table to allow for 360 degree viewing.
The results of these sessions will be presented to the public in a day in Feb. at a Community based Arts Fiesta held annually in our local auditorium. Then the works will continue as a display in a public space such as an art gallery or other public accesible space for a longer duration through the month of March.
Below are some photos that were taken during different stages of the projects.

cutting the softoleum using linocutters
 reference for the drawing on the block is from a colour rough sketch

water based Speedball inks applied to the block using a rubber brayer
that was rolled out onto brayer from plate glass surface

registration of block on simple cardboard with foamboard strip taped on top.
The paper is held in place with push pins and the paper is set over the inked block
and burnished using a plastic rubbing stick using constant pressure in a circular motion.

back to back prints hung to dry on a clothes line.
One of several stations set up for application of different colours of inks to the blocks.

zig zag design - orange printed over top of a solid violet square

detail from square print panel - spiral shell design printed in green over red (complementary colours)

another detail from a print panel
spider web study - yellow over top of a solid red square

four panels each with six prints that will be hinged together to create a four sided column display 
Each  print is 14 x 14.6 cm (5.5 x 5.75 inches) and there are a total of 24 prints in total. 


  1. Looks like it was great fun, with excellent results. Who had most fun - you or the kids?

  2. What a great project. These prints are beautiful--I bet the kids really felt proud that they made something this professional looking (at least to my untrained eye).

  3. Is it possible to carve out an image on illustration board and use it as the plate for collagraphic printing process?

  4. krissy...yes indeed it is possible. Using a pointed blade kraft knife and careful handling the top layers of the illustration board can be cut and peeled away. You are left with a depression in the board surface that will hold ink and print onto the rag paper when passed through a press. This wouldn't work any other way however as you need the pressure of the roller to drive paper down into the recessed areas much like an etching.

  5. Sorry for the delayed comment...
    Did you roll the ink onto the paper with a brayer for the solid color background? or use a different process?

    1. the students used their uncarved blocks to first roll a solid colour of ink onto and print onto paper. This established the first colour as a full square. They then carved the block surface and applied another colour of ink. By using the registration board and with the top of the paper of the first solid colour square (3 holes pre-punched) they set the block into position, lowered the paper with the first ink square facedown and using hand rubbing again transferred the design from the block onto the colour square.

  6. Would like to see a picture or two of the registration of the second print, in process. Thank you.

  7. Very informative..fabulous results..I just love this medium!✌