Every child needs a creative outlet. Whether that includes playing music, acting, sewing, or dancing, creative activities give kids the chance to use their imaginations and learn things that a textbook could never teach them. The artists in your family will love practicing the art of block printing – and even if your kids aren’t particularly artistic, block printing is a fun way for them to expand their artistic horizons and try something new.
You will need a few art supplies before you begin. You can get most of these at your local arts and crafts store, or even at a supermarket.
- Pencil and/or permanent marker
- Linoleum block or foam block
- Block carving tool
- Brayer (a roller for the ink)
Choosing Your Image
If you have never done block printing before, start with a simple image, like a heart, a tree, or a snake. You can also do letters or words – just make sure to draw them backwards, as your finished work will be a mirror image. Older children can carve their own blocks, while you may need to carve the blocks for younger kids.
Linoleum block is easier to work with than wood, but it is harder than a foam block. You can get creative with what you use to carve your image – a Styrofoam plate, for example, can make for easy carving that even your smallest youngster can “carve” with a dull pencil or a blunt stick. Cut a potato in half for a small print, or use the rubber back from old carpeting for more intricate designs.
Carving Your Image
Once you have chosen your block and settled on a design, it’s time to carve. Draw your design on your block with pencil or permanent marker. Then begin to carve out the space around your drawing – this is called “negative space” – leaving the image you want to print raised. Make sure to keep your carving tool pointed away from your body at all times, and supervise children closely as they carve.
Block Printing Your Design
Finally, after carving your image, you can do the fun part – printing. Using a brayer, coat your block with ink. You may prefer to find replacement Canon ink cartridges, work with bottled pen ink, or water down acrylic paint. Ink tends to produce a sharper, cleaner picture, although you likely have paint already around the house in a pinch.
Lay your paper over the inked block, taking care to avoid wrinkles and only touching the paper to the block once. Use the back of a spoon, a spatula, or a second brayer to press the paper gently onto the block. Then, carefully remove your paper, pulling up and out to keep the image clean.
Don’t Forget to Keep It Fun and Educational
Working on an art project can offer many teachable moments. As you and your kids work, you can take the opportunity to explain that book illustrations were once all printed in a very similar way. Use real art terms like “negative space” and “media” to keep them familiar with the lingo. Also, encourage them to try new block printing techniques as they become more proficient in the art, such as using multiple designs and colours on one image or printing on tee-shirts instead of paper. With practice, block printing can be a fun outlet for your little ones’ creative energies.
John Sollars always has one eye on the printing industry. When he finds something interesting, he likes to share it by posting online. Look for his informative articles on a variety of websites and blogs.