July 27, 2018

Mixed-Up Menagerie

        I’m pleased to share with you the new group printmaking project that I introduced with one of my classes this summer.  It is inspired by the version of “exquisite corpse” that appears in a number of novelty interactive books for children: each page features an animal, but the pages are cut into sections so that you can move the flaps and create creatures that combine heads, middles, and tails of any three animals.  In our version, each child created a block of a creature, and then printed enough impressions that I could put together a book for each student in the class (plus myself).  The kids had fun with it, and from a printmaking perspective it was great to give them a concrete reason to print multiples, since otherwise several of them were inclined to print only one impression of each block and then move on.
        First I made a template and gave each person a copy to guide their animal design.  The little horizontal lines show where the top and bottom edges of the body should be.  The one shown here is slightly modified from the version my class used, which made the animals a bit too fat.  No doubt next time I do the project I may have to tweak some more.  The kids did have some difficulty designing their creatures within the parameters of the template, and you do have to make sure they’re at least close before you let them proceed with carving.  The point of the template is so that when the different animals are mixed-and-matched, the parts will actually line up and fit together.
        I reminded the kids that their carving should include plenty of details and texture to help insure that each section of their animal is recognizable.  A scaly creature should look different from a hairy creature, and wool should look different from feathers…  This is something I’ll push even harder for next time, because it makes the hybrid chimeras look a lot more interesting, as well as helping to push the students’ carving skills to the next level.  I made an animal, too, both as a demonstration sample and to add one more creature to the mix.
        After the blocks were carved, I had the kids print on paper with a relatively large margin all around, in order to give me wiggle room to trim them down so that they would all end up uniform.  The kids had to print enough copies for all the books, but I actually ended up printing one or two supplementary impressions if some of them weren’t clean impressions or were too close to the edge of the paper or something.  Plus, of course, the kids could print additional if they wanted some that would not be cut up and bound into booklets.
        On my own time I trimmed all the prints so that they were a uniform size and lined up uniformly on the paper.  I measured not from bottoms of feet or tips of noses, but from the place where those guidelines from the template would fall: the top of the back just in front of front legs and just in front of back legs.  Next, I put together stacks of one of each creature, lined up the edges, and sliced each stack twice from the bottom of the page to within about half an inch from the top, along the same lines where the two vertical lines on the templates would have fallen.  (A rotary cutter and grid ruler are invaluable for all this measuring, trimming, and slicing.)  Then I put on a top and bottom cover of construction paper and stapled them together across the top.  I also glued on a cover label that gave a “table of contents” of each of the animals and who made it.  I had taken orders for what color cover each person wanted, and I made sure that each kid got a copy with a particularly fine impression of their own block.  (I had to make only 8 copies, so obviously all this would be a bigger job with a bigger class.)
        On the whole I think this was quite successful and I’ll definitely keep it in my collection of projects to do again.  As I said, I may have to tweak the template again after another round, and in the future I’ll work harder to make sure the kids’ designs are lined up better with the template, and that they put more detail into their designs.  But you can see how much fun these can be.

[Pictures: Unizale, from rubber block prints by NF, LA, and AEGN, 2018;
Exquisite corpse template (feel free to copy and use!) by AEGN;
Cheepizard, from rubber block prints by EK, CD, and LA;
Dogsharkeetah, from rubber block prints by KF-K, TQ, and EK, 2018.]

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