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Making a Good Impression.

Over a period of four years, a group of fourty students from the Brown School in Somerville, Massachusetts, participated in a unique printing project at a professional print studio in their neighborhood. Watercolorist and printmaker Catherine Kernan, co-owner of Mixit Studio, began organizing yearly excursions when her daughter Josephine was in first grade. Her daughter's peers came to her studio and printed texturized cardboard plates using an etching press. Kernan procured small grants for materials from the Somerville Arts Council and the Brown School P.T.A., and designed projects with other teachers, that would amplify an aspect of the curriculum.

The first grade students, standing on milk crates with T-shirt smocks to their ankles, printed feathers for their bird unit. In second grade, they made large dinosaur prints. In third grade, their science study of insects graced their prints. In fourth grade, the two classes created different bodies of work--shaped dimensional prints of rain forest flora and fauna, and prints of ancient Egypt with pop-out pyramids that opened to reveal hieroglyphs and treasure.

Students came to the print shop in groups of eleven, and stayed for two or three hours. The platemaking and modeling paste took about two hours, and the finishing in the classroom another three hours.

After looking at visual resources to create a preliminary sketch, students drew their animals and plants on 22 x 28" (56 x 71 cm) piece of tag board and outlined them in permanent black marker. Then they applied acrylic modeling paste to their drawings, and drew further textural details with pencils into the modeling paste before it was dry. When dry, the plates were coated with acrylic medium to seal them from moisture.

Students made animals and background elements and cut these shapes out of their tag board. Background environments were rolled in various colors on 22 x 30" (56 x 76 cm) Plexiglas plates. Then the cutout animals were placed onto the Plexiglas and run through the large printing press.

Students could use water-based crayons and pencils for detail work, texturizing combs to pull through the ink and make patterns, and other colors of ink to replenish their palettes when they ran out. Parent volunteers rolled different leafy colors onto large Plexiglas plates. These plates were used to print on the back side of the student's prints, so that the leaf cutouts could be bent and folded.

In the studio, students painted their animals with water-base inks. They painted the background around their animals in broad areas of leafy colors, which could later be cut out and made into leaves for the rain forest. Fine details were drawn on-to their animals with water soluble crayons and pencils.

After the plates were checked by adults and dried, dampened printing paper was placed on top of the plate and sandwiched between felt blankets on the bed of the press. Each student got to turn the big wheel that moves the press bed under the rollers and watch their print emerge. The prints were dried and brought back to the school for students to cut.

The students took the pieces of their prints and laid out their compositions on pieces of foam core. When they were finished arranging, I helped them staple the pieces together.

When their animals and leaves were structurally sound enough, they were hung by Velcro in the classroom. The rain forest unit culminated with a performance of poems, chants, recitation, and rap for parents about the rich ecosystem of the rain forest and how its survival is crucial for life on this planet.

It was interesting to see how their printing skills changed and developed year after year. Along with the physical challenge, the idea of objects reversing while printing, and the notion of painting something and then transferring the paint onto paper with a big metal machine seemed difficult concepts for many seven- and eight-year-olds. Nonetheless, students helped each other and parent volunteers to understand the steps of the printing process.


Students explore and understand prospective content for works of art.

Student Response

Students responded to this year's work, in relation to last year's, as follows:

"My artwork has improved a lot from last year. All I did was a sky, a ground, and three butterflies. This year I did lots of leaves and animals."

- Jackie McWeeny

"I think my art and printing skills have gotten very detailed. I am able to draw better now and I drew exactly what I saw from pictures of animals and plants."

- Josephine Graf

"When I was in second grade, we had to do dinosaurs and all I did was a mountain and two trees. (Last year all I did was a cricket--one single thing on my paper.) This year I said to myself, `I need to do one really good this year so that I can prove to myself that I am a good artist.'"

- Katherine Lee

Annie Silverman is an artist/educator who lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:student study with printmaker
Author:Silverman, Annie
Publication:School Arts
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U1MA
Date:Oct 1, 2000
Previous Article:Malcah Zeldis Self-Taught Artist.
Next Article:An Artist and Teacher.

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