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Making a stylish impression

Printmaking is a great way of learning about patterns and textures, says Lynne Olney, who gets pupils thinking on their feet

Twenty-six excited children arrive at Haddenham galleries to spend the day with printmaker Lucy Westwood. Printing offers children a unique way of looking at the patterns, textures and surface qualities of objects, and the immediacy of the process makes appeals to them.

Lucy is bubbly and enthusiastic, and soon the children have their shoes out on the table in front of them, for them to study and then make a detailed line-drawing using pencil, with no shading, on a piece of A5 card.

This is to be the printing block, and great care is needed in its preparation. Detail is what makes the print interesting, and shoes, particularly trainers, have all sorts of interesting lines and patterns.

The completed drawings are placed on a pad of newspaper and drawn over in ball-point, pressing into the surface so that the lines can be felt standing out on the reverse of the card. Lucy demonstrates while asking the children about whether the lines will be black or white when it is printed.

Printing is always the opposite to what one expects. The children then cut out the image, as the card print will look most effective like this.

The second task is to create a different type of printing block by building up layers of paper. This time it's fantasy shoes and imaginations can run riot. Lucy brings out some images to start them off. The children really enjoy this, as they cut and stick the papers to make incredible shoe shapes.

First, one sheet of sugar paper is glued onto another, then layers of plain and textured paper are added. Wallpaper is used to add texture and interest to the print. Polyvinyl acetate (PVA) glue makes sure that the paper will not come unstuck in the printing process. No more than two additional layers are applied, as beyond this the background does not print. The "shoes" are then cut out and left to dry.

Successful printmaking needs a system of working involving not only the way the media are used, but also preparation and clearing up procedures. The working area also needs to be carefully organised.

The children work in pairs, one in charge of the inky side and the other the clean side, in turns. In order to obtain a good print, adequate pressure is needed, so Lucy tells them to stand while printing. A blob of water-based printing ink is squeezed into each tray. Black ink on white or coloured paper is the most effective. The children can't wait to attack the ink with their rollers. Lucy shows the children on the inky side how to nudge their rollers into the ink, taking a small amount and spreading it around the tray:"Listen for the sticky sound. Do not spread too thickly."

The ink then needs to be rolled evenly onto the printing block, making sure that it reaches all areas.

Only the sound of sticky rollers can be heard. There is a feeling of anticipation as the inked block is placed on the clean pad of newspaper and the "clean" child takes over. Placing the piece of paper carefully over the inked block, and taking care not to move it, they roll evenly over the surface with a clean roller. As the paper is pulled away from the block, there are gasps of delight when their first print is revealed. The paper blocks of fantasy shoes have now dried and are next to be printed. Because there are three layers, the uppermost layer will be fully black, and a pale layer will surround all layers.

There is something magical about printmaking and the result is always a surprise. There are many possibilities and this is just the beginning. An image can be repeated to make a pattern or printed on coloured paper, differently coloured prints can be pieced together to make a collage or printed onto fabric. The children are amazed by their own prints, which will hang for a while in the gallery alongside work by other artists.

We regularly hold workshops at the gallery, during which children are introduced to the work of artists on display in the exhibitions and have the opportunity to work alongside professionals.

* Lynne Olney is a former primary teacher and is now gallery curator at Haddenham Galleries, near Ely, Cambridgeshire. Email:

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