Teaching Printmaking ... Q&A session
Q: ... but I am most
concerned with whether or not printmaking should be taught at all ...
to students K-12 and university levels. Why should students learn
about printmaking, especially in this age of technology? Any replies,
short or long, would be appreciated. Maybe the answer is simple ...
(from Kim Kaschimer Medina)
A: (from Dean Brink) Why is
it important? It forces students to think in terms of a complicated
process, rather than simply getting pigment to reflect light and make
images on canvas. They learn about an art that straddles modern
technology (not to mention consumerist culture) and the expressive
Also, unlike painting or drawing, printing allows
for reproduction of the "original" so to speak. The children become
empowered by being able to think in terms of reproducing pieces that
express their outlook, may disseminate ideologically engaged
materials (youthful angst), and of course that are more salable
(cheaper to buy, as well as more easily reproduced by the
A: (from Ray Hudson) I
found it the most rewarding of any art projects with kids in grade
school and high school. Whether it was dipping string and leaves in
glue and dropping them on cardboard, letting them dry, running an
inked brayer over them and printing, or wood and lino cuts, there was
something about the transfer of image that produced immediate
success. Kids who were nervous about drawing or painting, could, in a
sense, blame the plate for failures and accept the unique successes
as their own.
Few kids could produce fine lined prints and so we
had to concentrate on the drama of color and larger shapes. Sometimes
we used wooden spoons or student barens to print with; later, I was
able to talk the school into buying a good sized press, but that was
almost more work than it was worth for most students. Print making
was also a way to make decorative papers that we then used in
creating "homemade" sketchbooks, etc.
A: (from Gayle Wohlken) I
did a demonstration of woodblock printmaking in a classroom at Kent
State University's Geauga County Campus and found the students
completely taken up by the process. I think anyone who gets those
little knives and gouges into their hands finds a relationship with
the wood they hadn't imagined. And finally, the pulling of the print
- the unwrapped gift - the exclamations, sighs, giggles even. As they
left the room I heard their plans being discussed with excitement.
More than one copy!!! They were going to buy wood! They had an idea
they couldn't wait to try! What if they turned the paper to the other
side? What if the next time they try a different color on the same
block, but only at the top? I saw creativity awakened.
A: (from James Mundie)
Forgive me for disbelieving that there is any question as to whether
printmaking should be taught in the schools. "Age of technology"?
Printmaking is one of the original technologies (think
Gutenberg) and - as Dean mentioned - still one the most technically
demanding methods of mark making!
In my own experience teaching printmaking at the
elementary school and college level, printmaking was both the most
challenging and rewarding exercise for those students. My findings
match Ray Hudson's exactly.
Printmaking requires an entirely different way of
thinking and reverse engineering. The mental aspect of printing alone
has helped my students in many of their non-artistic studies,
enabling them to reason beyond the obvious.
If you think printmaking is obsolete in this
technological age, then why paint or draw either? Why teach children
any of these things? The reasons to continue to do these things is
obvious. Technology itself cannot replace good handcraft.
Let us not forget that this "age of technology" is
influencing printmaking itself (look at all the folks on this forum
using their computers to help design their prints. Think how the
introduction of acid-etching changed the world of metal engraving or
movable type influenced calligraphy ... boxwood endgrain ... Japanese
color woodblock ... lithography ... etc., etc.
A: (from Andrea Rich) It
wasn't until I discovered printmaking in college however that I
really understood what it was to be an artist. With printmaking I
learned that I needed a plan, a composition. To create one I had to
have an idea or image I wanted to communicate. I learned that once I
had a composition it had to be executed with care and forethought,
that each mark on the final print would be there because I put it
there. It was intended, considered, concrete. Not a vague idea or
happy accident. The planning and forethought were what made it my
As for teaching, I have had occasions to teach
multiple color woodblock printing to children as young as 7 years
old. Real wood, real tools. They come into my studio believing they
can't do it. So we start, and I show them that they can. They draw,
they carve, they print, then they do it again and again. Their prints
are wonderful. Their parents are amazed. These children have really
accomplished something and they are proud of themselves. I am told my
class (offered though the counties Cultural Council) is the most
popular and asked for of the dozens offered. Students call asking if
they can take it again. The point is that they have learned about
printmaking but also about themselves. That they are creative and
that they can solve difficult problems and learn difficult skills and
that it is more fun that work to do it.
Is it worth teaching? Yes.
A: (from April Vollmer)
Printmaking is so important to teach...mainly because it gives a
clear forum for talking about technique. You can't talk about
'meaning' in the abstract! Printing gives a structure to how to
create an image and how to talk about creation that kids especially
need. I need it myself!
A: (from Mary Krieger) Why
teach printmaking in schools and universities?
Teaching specific subjects, whether it's algebra
or printmaking, generally has two types of justification. One is that
you will need this information when you are out in the 'real world'.
For example, math skills enable people to understand their bank
statement. The second explanation argues that something inherent in
the teaching of the subject enables students to learn ways of
learning or thinking about the world.
Printmaking has some real world advantages. If a
person learns how to make prints, they can make prints. Perhaps this
is the advantage you see diminished by new technologies. Someone is
unlikely to go to the work of making a print to advertise their
garage sale when they could print off as many signs as they want from
their computer printer. There are still some objects that will not go
through a computer printer so that printmaking maintains some real
world validity. The stencilling of floors and walls that has
experienced a recent revival is a printmaking technique and
silkscreening is still the method of choice for producing T-shirts
celebrating your favorite cause.
The stronger argument for teaching printmaking is
the contribution it makes to the ability of students to learn and
understand new skills. Printmaking enables students to experience an
indirect method of working. When making a block, the artist has to
predict how changes in the block will change the final print. The
exact effect is not known until the block is printed. Based on the
new information from the print, the artist revises the block and
prints again. This is the "scientific method" embodied in an
expressive art. It also models a good life skill - your actions have
a direct effect on outcomes and you can achieve success by modifying
your actions based on previous experience.
The traditional methods of printmaking (woodcut,
intaglio, stone lithography and silkscreen) have all been used over
time as commercial printing methods. The present day commercial and
high tech methods are identical in principle to those in the
traditional techniques. Get the ink on the paper in a particular
predetermined form and repeat it as many times as possible. One could
argue that today's schools have incorporated printmaking into almost
every faculty and subject by expecting their students to use
computers to generate all their printed assignments. Every public or
private school with a computer lab has set up their own little
printshop. Printmaking is impossible to stop.
My final thought for this post is a more personal
and perhaps emotional reason. Printmaking has given me such
interesting experiences and continues to challenge me the longer I
explore it that I wish to have others able to do the same. The shock
of recognition on the face of a student when they pull the first
print from their first block and find out that the image really is
backwards is the same whether they are in Grade 1 or first year
University. Printmaking continues to offer society something worth
having and I hope that it continues to be taught and adopted by new
artists in the future.
A: (from Jean Eger) I think
teaching printmaking is meaningful because printmaking is not just an
art form: it's also an important medium for communication because it
usually involves multiples. I think of printmakers as the
communicators of the art world. A printmaking teacher enables his or
her students to communicate with numerous people through visual
means. The fact that printmaking involves now-obsolete forms of mass
communication gives it a significant history as a political tool as
well as an artistic expression.
Prints have unique aesthetic qualities that
paintings and sculpture do not have. The combination of ink with
quality paper provides a sensuality that can be well understood by
both the seasoned printmaker and the beginning student. Each
printmaking medium has its own inherent aesthetic strengths that aid
even the beginning student to produce quality art work. Studying the
boldness of screenprinted posters, the sensitivity of a Rembrandt
etching, and the compositional skill and elegance of the Japanese
woodblock print increases the wide range of human experience that can
be communicated by the printmaker.
A: (from Jeremy Hurley)
Printmaking is one of those magical things where the enjoyment of the
process and product are inextricably linked. I have never once in
many years of teaching found a student who doesn't get hooked on the
enormous satisfaction of cutting a block - whether lino or wood.
Block printing is like walking barefoot. You are
connected. It's also the best way I know of getting students to
appreciate a craft process - the skill, care and patience required to
do it well. It's interesting that students will often be more keen to
keep the cut block than the print. What an antidote to working with
the virtual blandness of a keyboard and a screen!
A: (from Barbara Mason) I
have been teaching printmaking to kindergarten through high school
kids for the last 10 years as a volunteer. Sadly funding for the arts
has all but disappeared and schools are relying more and more on
practicing artists to come in and give the kids an experience they
would not otherwise have. My personal experience is that most of them
love it and are so excited about what they make. The processes I use
are all water soluble and the results are always amazing. These kids
are so creative they put me to shame. There are always a few in
middle school who think they are too cool to try it, but they usually
get hooked and end up liking what they do. I love printmaking and I
love teaching what I know.
A: (from Kristy Jane) I
have just received my BFA with a concentration in printmaking, relief
especially, and I often asked myself, when I felt I had chosen
something too complicated and difficult for the amount of
appreciation from the public, why am I not painting or doing graphic
design. Then I realized that things are made too easy in this time
we are living in, embrace the opportunity to learn something
underappreciated and complex. Give it life. Make people look at
something you actually had to make from start to finish all by
yourself, no help from computers, only your hands and wood. There is
art beyond the technical reality, art in a natural reality. Children
especially need to know this.
A: (from Tracy Schwartz) As a graphics major at a university I have discovered a growing dependency on digital software as a single means of art creation and reproduction. Many students are ignorant of the more purist process of Block printing, intaglio, and planography. Due to this lack of exposure to these processes, many students are deficent in composition analysis, drawing skills, hand skills, in general methodological problem solving. I fear that taking the 'art' out of graphic design, we are creating a generation of computer software experts instead of producing creative artisans.
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