For the bases my students use mat board - all the squares and rectangles of mat board that are just too small to be used to mat anything else: pieces in the 4x6 inch range. Of course any sort of stiff cardboard would do. The students could draw a design on their base with pencil and then carefully add the raised lines following their guide, or they could just start in doodling any which way.
Last year the raised lines were made by gluing cotton yarn to the base. This was a little messy, and limited the sorts of lines or dots kids could make. On the other hand, it ensured that the lines were a consistent height, and the texture of the yarn’s twist made a nice pattern in its own right. The tree below was done with yarn.
This year I had the kids try something new: puff paint. The puff paint came in little bottles with a beautiful fine tip to squeeze out a line of paint. It allowed quite a bit of control, and allowed little dots and sharp zigzags in a way that yarn did not. The advantage of the puff paint over straight-up white glue (which I had the kids try two years ago) is that it’s more dimensional and stays where it’s put better. Also, theoretically it’s a little softer (as in puffier) when dry, thus making inking and printing come out better. I admit to being disappointed by the puffiness of the particular brand we used (Tulip "Puffy"). The instructions said you had to activate the puff by steaming it, but even when I tried I never noticed much difference. So the kids printed with their “unpuffed” paint and I think it still worked pretty well.
Here are a couple of other tips for success:
- The paint (or glue) must dry thoroughly, so don’t even try to do this project in one day. I had kids make their blocks yesterday and not print until today.
- Any large flat areas with no paint will inevitably get ink. So go with it. Use a base with texture and deliberately get extra ink on the base. Or use monoprinting techniques to press in some areas more than others and get different effects. Or allow the interest to come from the white areas immediately around the raised lines.
- I’m a big fan of back-of-the-wooden-spoon printing, but for these blocks a press of some sort works wonders. It helps get all the lines to show up clearly, rather than just the very highest.
- Let’s be honest: this will never be as cool as carving blocks. But it can be done with younger kids, and without so many tools, if those are important concerns. Plus it’s fun to have something a little different to get kids thinking about more relief print possibilities.
[Pictures: Bridge, puff paint relief block, inked block, and final print by CH, 2015;
Tree, string relief print and block by TPN, 2014;
Assorted puff paint relief blocks by students in 2015.]