Saturday, November 5, 2016

Adventures in Printmaking: November's Stepping Stones

For the full article in Arts & Activities Magazine, please click here for the Stepping Stones column.

A few months ago, I was interviewed by Deep Space Sparkle’s Patty Palmer on ways to manage teaching art from a cart.  I was asked what the most challenging projects were when teaching in a mobile situation, and I admitted it was printmaking.  Depending on my classes, I had some amazing projects printed, as well as classes I wished I could have started over again.  As much as I struggled remembering all the brayers, cutters, inks, and paper, I felt it was an important concept that students needed to learn within my classes. 

Printmaking is an important part of our culture and we use objects created from the process every day.  After all, if it wasn’t for Johannes Gutenburg, we would not have newspapers, books, magazines, and art prints without the invention of his printing press in 1440!

If you are starting to take on printmaking in your classroom, I have a few tips that may help you out. I admit I was afraid to work with printmaking materials my first few years of teaching!  I finally jumped in and learned many ways to plan ahead for printmaking in any teaching situation you’re working in. My first bit of advice is to have a feel for your students. 

Know your students before planning the objectives of the lesson.  If you have a high energy batch of kids, get a feel for what you think they can handle.  For example, if you plan on doing a simple ink print lesson with an upper elementary class, decide if they can handle easy-cut rubber blocks or styrofoam sheets.  I’ve learned the hard way that if you give them an objective that is too advanced, most likely your students will miss the concept.  I’ve had a few classes totally rock a 2-color print, and quite a few that struggled.  Knowing what your students can handle will help them make the connections and grow into their work.

Make sure you have all your materials!  I recommend doing a checklist of all the materials you need and plan for extra.  With the block print projects, I always check to make sure I have the brayers, plates, ink, cutters, blocks, paper, and all the extra materials needed for my entire grade level.  Gelli prints also need a number of materials to set up!  Are you working with gyotaku fish prints?  Make sure you have enough fish molds to print with your students!

Make sure you’re prepared for the set up and clean up.  No matter what printmaking project you create, be prepared for the beginning and the end.  When I did printmaking on the cart, I had materials set up in baskets that were dispersed through the students.  For clean up, I allotted a few extra minutes to get the classroom spotless before I pushed the cart out of the room. 

Know your water source. When there’s printmaking, you will need your water source no matter what your teaching situation is.  If you’re on the cart, locate the closest sinks to the classrooms you’re working in.  I would have students collect the materials in buckets  and wash them off in the bathroom while the remainder of students took care of placing artworks on the drying racks and cleaning their desks.  When I was in a room without the sinks, I used buckets filled halfway with water.  When clean up was announced, the blocks, brayers, and pads were placed in the bucket to make the transition as smooth and tidy as possible.

Plan for lots and lots of paper to be used.  Depending on the size of your block, plate, stamp or fish, your students will become addicted to printing as many copies as they can.  Even if you limit the amount of prints, students will still manage to sneak another one in. 

Create your classroom management plan.  Even with having a plan in place throughout the year, you will have a separate set of rules when it comes to printing procedures.  You may have a table arranged as a “printing station,” but you still need to remind student not to use one brayer color with another color.  One tip you can use would be to create a separate chart with the rules to help remind students throughout the project.  You can also start off each class by “quizzing” the students on the printing process to see if they remember the steps needed!

The art of printmaking comes in many forms and depending on your teaching situation, you can adapt any printing style into your classes.  As messy as printmaking sounds you can also work with stamps, rubber plates, vegetables, and toys in creating many types of prints in your classroom!  You may have some trial and error moments, but you will eventually find what works best for you.

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