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Print like an Egyptian.

Print like an EGYPTIAN

Children become excited by the prospect of printmaking. Although materials are often the primary incentive, I wanted to provide my sixth graders with an activity which also incorporated skill development and an historical subject/theme. I decided to offer a printmaking unit using the allegory and symbols of Egyptian art. To provide a focus for the students' artwork, I told them they had been selected to help decorate the inside of a recently completed pyramid.

Having established the context for their work, I then addressed students' anxieties about drawing. Often by the time they reach the sixth grade, children are fairly convinced that they cannot draw. One of the reasons they feel inadequate about their drawing skills is because they are often denied the opportunity to develop them. Lacking the skills (ability to observe and render) they fall back on simple schemas only slightly more advanced than those used by younger children. In addition, drawing assignments usually involve working from memory. While their memories may be more than adequate, when not paralleled by equally strong skills, the children fail to use their eyes.

Thus, I decided to provide students with individual images which would be accessible throughout the lesson for their referral. Artists working with all manner of materials and ideas use a wide variety of resources. Why limit children? When they're intrigued and interested in something, they won't revert to copying or schemas learned earlier, but will use their interpretive skills.

Consequently, I used an inexpensive but profusely color-illustrated book about Egyptian art. I took the book apart, cut out the pictures, and dry-mounted them on lightweight cardboard. Stacks of these were distributed at each work station and shared freely by the children.

After the students had an opportunity to look through the pictures, I gave a brief overview of the printmaking unit. We discussed aspects of the pictures which intrigued them, the time period, religious beliefs and so on. Because the Egyptians were the first to use relief prints to produce designs in numbers, there was an inherent parallel between the past and the printmaking work we would be doing.

Designing relief prints

We then proceeded to a more thorough explanation of relief printing with linoleum blocks: what a relief was, how the block was cut and printed and the resulting reversal of the original design. The students used 9" x 12" (23 cm x 30 cm) sheets of newsprint to work out their designs. I pointed out that while their designs could not be any larger than 9" x 12" (in order to effectively control the print), they could use any size within that range. By using unmounted lino blocks (cut from large sheets), the linoleum could be cut to fit the picture instead of vice versa.

The students' excitement at the prospect of printing was reinforced by the ready and constant access to idea sources. They could choose, alter and combine ideas at will instead of having to rely solely on memory. As the students completed their drawings and brought them to me for the linoleum, I discussed their work with them. Thus, any potential problems could be dealt with before they began cutting.

Producing the prints

When the students were ready, I demonstrated how the drawings would be transferred to the linoleum. We used the simple method of rubbing the back of the drawing with pencil, turning the paper over, placing it on the block and redrawing all the lines. We then went over these lines with a ballpoint pen.

I also demonstrated the safe use of the cutting tools (how to steady the lino block and cut away from the body), and work proceeded smoothly. The students moved comfortably from one stage of the process to another; they made their test runs and then continued by exploring black and white, various colors of inks and different colors of paper. In addition to individual prints, they also worked out different arrangements in series.

The critique

Once the prints were completed, the students chose those which they wanted to submit for decorating the pyramid. We discussed these - how they worked, appealed or didn't, and why. I encouraged criticism of the work as long as each person gave a reason for his or her comment. In some cases, we referred to the Egyptian pictures as a basis for the design and talked about how the prints related, how the original drawings were different and so on. In each case, we made note of the unique approach the Egyptians used in drawing birds, people and objects, and reviewed the reasons which motivated their work.

Once all the prints were mounted on colored construction paper and hung on the "pyramid" walls, the hallway came alive with the color and diversity of the work.
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Title Annotation:printmaking
Author:Weisensee, Marilyn
Publication:School Arts
Date:Jan 1, 1990
Words:798
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