Presidential Prints

Article excerpt

My sixth- and seventh-grade students had recently studied the United States presidency, discussing past presidents and the integrity of the presidential office. Each student was assigned to research a past president on the Internet and to then draw a sketch of him. Many incorporated into their reports what the president was famous for, and what place in line the president served, such as the 32nd president of the United States, and so on.

These same students had previously explored printmaking in the forms of vegetable printing, eraser printing, glue prints, found-object and corrugated-cardboard printing, so they were familiar with the printmaking process. Before we began this particular project, we reviewed printmaking by looking at Edvard Munch's woodcut, The Kiss, a woodcut by Albrecht Durer titled The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a colored woodcut from Katsushika Hokusai's Views of Mount Fuji series, a linoleum print by Pablo Picasso titled Seated Woman, some silkscreens by Andy Warhol, and a few vegetable prints made by students.

When I asked the students which form of printmaking they had enjoyed the most, they decided that they had really enjoyed making linoleum prints. This was an answer I hoped they would give because we were going to turn our "Presidential Sketches" into "Presidential Prints."

We reviewed the steps for linoleum printmaking and then set to work. I reminded the students that things print in reverse, so any lettering or wording would have to be written in reverse.

The students made photocopies of their original sketches so they could save the originals. Then, using the photocopy, the students darkened the areas they wanted to print, which are called "positive areas" (linoleum would stand up and receive the ink and thus print) and left alone the areas they desired to be white, which are called "negative areas" (the linoleum would be cut away, thus not receiving the ink and remaining white).

Once the photocopy was marked with positive and negative areas, the back of the marked photocopy was blackened with graphite, and the drawing was taped, graphite-side-down, to the linoleum block. Next, the drawing was traced with a pen. By using the graphite technique, the drawing transfers to the linoleum's surface like carbon paper would, but without the mess.

The drawing is then peeled off and the linoleum is cut with gouges. The shaded drawing is used as a reference when cutting, so that the white areas are cut away and the dark areas are left standing up. The students are cautioned to cut away from themselves because the gouge blades are sharp.

When the block is successfully cut, it is ready to be printed. Water-based block-printing ink is rolled out on a sheet of plexiglass with a brayer (rubber roller). The ink is then transferred to the linoleum's cut surface. A piece of paper is laid on the inked surface, and rubbed with a baren or large wooden spoon. The print is then pulled. There were lots of "oohs" and "aahs" when the prints were pulled. Each student made 18 prints--one for every student in the class. (Students experimented with many colors of ink.)

When all the prints were dry, the students put their prints with accompanying research materials in booklets, so each student had a full book of "Presidential Prints and Profiles."

Before this project, many of the students had no idea what any of the former presidents looked like, much less what they were noted for doing. …