Author: Székely, George
Date published: December 1, 2011
As hands-on environmental observers, children use printing to save and share "treasures" they find. The following thoughts are based on observing what children find valuable and worth saving, and the printmaking processes used to "lift" images from their finds.
FOUND SURFACES My daughter, Ana, likes to arrive to school early, before the janitor sweeps "the good stuff" from the floors. As an art teacher, I don't quarrel with her dedication. I'm not even upset by her many attempts to dismantle our driveway, picking out loose asphalt pieces for her rock and shell collection.
If Ana's jacket pocket is drooping, it means she had a good collecting day. Admiring something in her collection will prompt her to take out soft papers, wrap it up, then share its gentle rubbing. We frequently take rides to fill her bike basket and my extra pockets with crushed street finds, unusual leaves or part of a comb. We sort out collections after each trip and informally print playful rubbings.
From old clothes I cut off big pockets for students to pin on their own clothing. Outdoor safaris include wearing our special pockets to fill with surface finds. We close our eyes to make trades, making shopping decisions based on what we feel.
Students are welcomed to art class after they have filled specially marked collector bags with precious buttons, caps, chips, keys, etc. Printmaking is about all the objects we gather, objects students can use to stamp, wrap and take rubbings of printed impressions.
COIN PRINTERS To fill in the blanks in her coin collection book, Ana makes rubbings of other coins. Children have interesting art collections - like coins - that can be supported and explored in the art class. Rubbing is a universal form of play and a fundamental printmaking technique. Most printmaking techniques start as memorable childhood play. I teach printmaking to experienced printers - students who happily recall their own coin-rubbing days.
Rubbing is also a way to gather, collect and share collections with friends. In our art class, coin collectors make their own coins. We use rubbings and draw over existing coins. Students rub and join parts of different coins, merge redesigned fronts and backs. Children search for circular objects - buttons, checkers, bingo pieces, poker chips, round stickers - as new coin candidates. See-through cardboard coin holders and slide mounts become our frames used to build our own albums of art-minted coins.
We discuss making and preparing our printing surfaces by hammering, carving, drilling and wrapping objects. We look for foil pans and soda cans to crush and print from. In printmaking sessions, which students call "The Wrap," we use soft paper to wrap crushed objects and other found textures like tree bark and circuit board sections. Students then rub the soft paper packages to create unique impressions.
To promote looking for textures beyond one art lesson, we make home rubbing kits filled with unwrapped crayons, graphite sticks, tailor's chalk (a great rubbing tool) and interesting papers. Back in art class we welcome the home rubbing adventures, which yielded such gems as coin wheel-covers for a miniature bicycle built for two elephants, and a sea monster with scary "foreign coin" eyes. A sensitive rubbing of a woven placemat became the background for rubbings of a child's coin collection. As an example that any place can be represented in a rubbing, one child recreated his room by stapling together rubbings of different parts of the room. A printer's eye learns to notice everything.
UNOFFICIAL PRINTERS When I enter class with plungers and toolboxes in hand, my students suspect a major repair job. They ask what needs fixing and if they can help. I explain how much I love collecting old stampers, especially those forms that are not thought of as stampers. I post an "open" sign over the red toolbox, which houses interesting washers, tire repair parts, furniture leg protectors and a rubber ribbed glove. In the old tackle box, students find squiggly plastic baits for printing and inside the makeup case, they discover lipsticks used for lip prints on soft tissues.
Adding-machine tapes are unfurled as stamping freeways in the hall. Art class takes on a printed look as hallway test prints are cut to wallpaper the room. We list home projects for our printmaking: wallpapering a playhouse, printing fabrics for rugs and umbrellas, and making hand-printed signs.
SUBTLE SYMPHONY Rubbing is a symphony of subtle pressures resulting in changing impressions. To further contemplate pressures, we hum and buzz as we rub. Gentle to outright loud noises inspire different surface contacts. We rock and rub, dancing and moving the "rolling pin" side of wax crayons or the tips of a lithography crayon.
We press down on objects being printed, exploring pressures, and altering our moves and speed of contact with each surface. In street prints, we bend down to celebrate what is under us. Rubbings help to focus on what is usually ignored so that the ordinary can be looked at with care.
Changing the sounds of crayons brushing over a surface is a way to vary the impressions lifted from it. By rubbing, children find beauty in the surface of objects and feel free to use the object in interpretations, overlapping printed layers, creating new patterns and connections with the lifted impressions. Paper rubbings are cut apart, reassembled, drawn over and used to construct new prints.
THE FINAL PRINT Sitting with my 6month-old grandaughter Emilie, she amuses herself by reaching behind me, gently rubbing her hands along the texture of the chair. I offer her an alarm clock, a shampoo bottle and a baby-wipe box to play with. While the clock and bottle are alluring, she keeps returning to the box, rubbing her tiny hands against the raised letters on its top.
We print in art class to rekindle the joyous moments of textural awareness and its pleasures in our world. We explore printmaking to stay in touch with patterns and textures - to stay close to collecting samples, building scrapbooks and playing texture games. One cannot be a designer in art media without harboring some of Emilie's pure joys for the felt and visible textures and patterns in our life. Art teaching, too, often gets caught up in the adult processes and terminologies of printmaking, and we forget to tap into what children already know about it.
Professor George Székely is Area Head and Senior Professor of Art Education at the University of Kentucky, Lexington, and serves on the Arts & Activities Editorial Advisory Board.