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Dog prints.

Dog prints

To me, this is the way art should be...exciting, rewarding and memorable, both for me and my art classes.

It's crossed my mind to turn my dog into a professional model and become her agent...somewhat like the mothers of famous child stars. The truth is that I enjoy teaching art too much. Didi, the dog, must remain the anonymous sleeping dog as she's been widely portrayed by my art students.

Throughout my teaching career I've brought in everything from fish to my horse, but usually only for a single art session. Last year Didi became so requested that she came for a week. This year she modeled as needed for nearly a semester. Students became so involved in these studies that I decided to use Didi as the subject for an upcoming print unit. By the third modeling session, she knew which classes meant work! She willingly trotted to her cushion and waited to be positioned.

It's doubtful I'll ever have another dog as patient, with such a good sense of humor and love for children, as Didi. I could bend her like a pretzel (she even posed on her back, doing a sort of arabesque with one out-stretched foreleg). Once we uttered "stay," she fell asleep in position. To give the full picture Didi has also been known to make off with skeins of yarn, rubber erasers, M&Ms and one student's lunch. In spite of these transgressions she and my classes took these modeling sessions quite seriously.

Twelve-year-old students are struggling to be adultlike and to express themselves in a sophisticated manner, even within the framework of creative self-expression. At this confusing age they need all the positive reinforcement possible. Printing, which combines creativity with mastery of adult level techniques, promises such reinforcement and an increased self-confidence.

Students begin to feel very sure of themselves during printing. In seventh and eighth grades, I stress the proper use of the jigsaw, files, sharpening stones and block sanding to prepare their plate edges. Students become perfectionists at "custom mixing" inks, special wiping, adjusting roller pressure, setting up the press correctly, soaking papers and reg stering correctly -- and correcting me when I goof! I invite anyone to watch these characters in action!

Originally, I taught zinc etching and aquatint to the seventh graders. Over the years we turned to drypoint on Plexiglas to get across the basic concept of intaglio. We found that Plexiglas companies will often sell us an entire bin of scrap pieces for a low price.

Plate preparation

1. A plate can be cut to fit the

composition (or a portion of a large

composition). 2. Students can select any Plexiglas

shape or size among the scrap

pieces available. Then they work up

a series of compositions to fit

within that format. This development

of an acceptable design is a separate

consideration. It is a prerequisite

and equal in importance to the

sessions of printing that follow.

Scratching the design

Assuming the Plexiglas is transparent, designs can be traced directly. Remember "mistakes" can't be erased and everything prints in reverse. I encourage students to finish their edges before designs are begun, in case a file should slip and damage the surface. This is more traumatic if hours of design work have been ruined.


We use small matte board squares to pull ink around the plates. Students keep their gloves in zip-lock bags. Gloves and aprons are a must! Cartridge ink is put into butter containers as needed then mixed on Plexiglas or wax paper plates. Leftover ink is combined in a separate container daily. The resulting color is always surprising.


Stiff tarleton followed by a manila paper wipe seems to work best. Students view the plate surface from angles to spot any smudges of fingerprints. Careful wiping of the edges is important.


Proofs may be run on manila or drawing paper which has been soaked and blotted. Heavier etching papers are used for editions. We store wet prints between clean paper and under drawing boards to avoid wrinkling. Plates can be reinked without cleaning if the color is not changed dramatically.


We use a sprayer to dispense mineral spirits. This is done outside (we are blessed with an empty parking lot next to our room). Mineral spirits should be followed with soap and water, then plates slipped into envelopes for protection.

Proofs are continually evaluated and strengthened. They are drawn over and rerun until the desired prints result. Students are allowed to run off an edition of ten. Some popular prints may require an edition of twenty-five. One print is selected for a portfolio mounting on Crescent board with linen tape and a hinged cover sheet. This sets the precedent for a professional appearing portfolio at an early grade.

Again, it cannot be overemphasized how important drawing, using the art elements and emphasizing composition rules, is to a good design. Printing by itself is an uncreative exercise. I've found that unique subject matter also helps, and Didi surely has a part-time job with my art classes.

With nearly all my students requesting a second printing session or desiring to learn other printing methods, I am certain they have had a memorable experience. (I often recall my own seventh grade rotating art elective. The biggest project I did was layered crayon scratching -- and I thought that was a big deal!)

As I finish jotting notes for this article, I am watching my seventh graders rush in to sign the weekly print schedule. This list rotates them in groups, from printing to various assisting jobs. Anxious, they press together, somehow organizing themselves. Some break from the group, grabbing gloves and aprons. I am suddenly reminded of the midnight sales at big department stores! To me, this is the way art should be...exciting, rewarding and memorable, both for me and my classes. I know I'll never leave art education. Besides, Didi really is a child star to me!

PHOTO : Seventh grade students sketching Didi.

Joi Roberts is an art teacher at Stanton College Preparatory School, Jacksonville, Florida.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Printmaking
Author:Roberts, Joi
Publication:School Arts
Date:Nov 1, 1989
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