Thursday, April 28, 2011

Relief Prints (K-2)

One of the biggest challenges I have with my kindergarten students is giving them opportunities to explore and be creative while keeping a cap on the chaos. This project for K-2 is one that I feel truly lets them be expressive and independent and doesn't require me to spend an hour prepping and another hour cleaning, resulting in delighted, well-informed young artists and a stress-free teacher!

Pretty much every art teacher makes Styrofoam relief prints, so I don't expect that I'm teaching anyone anything here. And I'm sure I'm not the first to discover the value of markers in inking Styrofoam printing plates, but I must say I was pretty proud of myself for figuring out how to let kids "ink" their stamps themselves without hauling out the paint and smocks. It really is the little joys that thrill me.

For this particular foray into relief printing, I simply had K, 1st and 2nd grade students draw a circle around the flat surface of a Styrofoam plate (the inside) and then cut out the circle. The result should be a flat surface on which to create the drawing. In the past, I've used index cards as a template and cut rectangles out of plates for the students prior to class. Not only does this take time (not a ton since I use a right triangle and an X-acto knife, but still, time is time), it also takes a step away from the kids, and I think it's important for them to be involved in as much of the process as possible. Also, since we're working with a standard size plate, if a child has difficulty cutting and the circle ends up smaller than the plate surface, it really doesn't matter. There's still plenty of room to draw.

The Project:

Time: 45-minutes

  • 9" Styrofoam plate for each student (or more...1st and 2nd work quickly)
  • Pencil for each student (dull tips work best)
  • Variety of water-based markers
  • Newsprint (I used 9"x12")

1.  Draw a circle on the bottom/flat surface of a Styrofoam plate.

2. Cut out the circle, removing the raised edge of the plate. The circle becomes the printing plate.

3. Using a dull pencil, draw a picture on the printing plate.

  • Draw large, leaving plenty of space in between lines. When inking, the lines will remain white, so if lines are too close together the student will get large areas of white when printing, and the image/drawing will not be clear. 
  • Press firmly, with pencil tilted at an angle to avoid "tearing" the styrofoam. Have students go back over lines to make sure they are pressed down enough to create a relief effect. I walk around the room with a demo that students can touch so they can feel how deep the lines should be. (A whole here or there is okay along the lines...the lines become negative space and don't print anyway!)
  • I discourage words, because the image is reversed when printed, and this just causes too much confusion for younger artists (and too many requests for me to write things on the board backward). Also, without words, students focus more on the visual elements of their design.
4. After the drawing is complete and all lines are deep enough to create a relief effect, "ink" the plate with water-based markers. (Dryer markers will not work well...there has to enough ink in the marker for an effective transfer.)

5. Carefully lay a piece of newsprint ON TOP of the paper. Press down with both hands, keeping one hand still to keep the paper from sliding and using the other hand to smooth the paper. Smooth from the center out to ensure a clear print. 
  • Students usually want to "stamp" their printing plate like you would a rubber stamp, putting the paper on the table and pressing the plate onto the paper. This doesn't allow for enough pressure to adequately transfer the image.
  • Also, thicker papers, like construction paper, don't work as well as newsprint for transferring marker ink. 
6. Peel the paper off of the plate to reveal the print! (I love the delighted chorus of "oooo's" and "ahhhh's" that I get when demonstrating this for the kids.)

A few student examples:

Kindergarten students drew suns and used different line types to express emotion and energy in the sun's face and rays.

I encouraged 1st and 2nd graders to think about the circular shape of the printing plate and to consider this shape when deciding what to draw.

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