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Intro to printmaking a hit with fourth-graders

Northview — Ja’zariah Shelton pushed a roller covered in yellow paint across a glass square and covered that with a foam plate, on which she had carved a self-portrait.

Next, the East Oakview Elementary fourth-grader pressed the plate with a sheet of construction paper of a different shade of yellow, peeled it back and held up the sheet for inspection.

“We did a practice one last week and it turned out better, I think,” Ja’zariah said before trying again. 

Nearby, Jackson Burns supervised a classmate on what he thought was the correct paint-to-roller — or, as it’s known in the printmaking biz, paint-to-brayer — ratio.

“If you take a huge scoop it would mess it up, because it would get in the cracks too much and ruin the print,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I’m an expert, but it’s definitely easier than I first thought.”

It was wrap-up day of an introduction to basic printmaking, the practice of transferring an image from a template — in this case, foam — to another surface.

Art teacher Amy Tefft circulated throughout her classroom as the fourth-graders rolled purple paint onto orange paper, green onto lighter green, blue onto black and dozens of other combinations. 

She stopped to watch Cameron McCullough roll green paint onto a glass square in preparation for his self-portrait transfer.

“Remember to flip that over, Cam, then rub, rub, rub,” Tefft advised.

A few tables over, Mariah Broyles-Claybrook showed off her yellow print on pink paper: “I just know that it’s pretty to do,” she said. “And pink with yellow makes, like, lemonade.”

Practice Builds Skills, Promotes Enthusiasm

Tefft said the annual lesson is part of a unit focused on contour lines. Tricycle drawings in the hallways were part of the first lesson that asked students to practice drawing what they see. They also learned how contour lines show an edge or a change in direction, she said. 

In the first printmaking class, fourth-graders draw their portraits using the proper proportions, which Tefft said is practiced and built upon throughout elementary grades. In the next class period, students transferred their drawings onto foam food plates, which were used as printing plates. They practiced using black and white ink on black and white paper, trying as many times as they needed until they felt comfortable with the process. 

After working with colored paint and paper, fourth-graders learned how to edition prints like real printmakers, then mounted their favorites for display.  

“As the students get closer to fourth grade and moving on to their middle school years, they should feel comfortable using a wide variety of tools and mediums to create something more realistic and difficult,” Tefft said. “Their experiences with different tools and knowledge of vocabulary expands with each grade level.”

Tefft said the accessibility of printmaking is what she likes best about the activity.

“For a number of my students who struggle with some of the other processes, even they can find successes within printmaking,” she said. “We are repeating the same steps over and over, and although not every print turns out perfectly, each student can create prints they are satisfied with and can be excited by their results.  

“My main goal as an art teacher, by introducing many different types of ways to create art, is to get students to find something they love and enjoy, no matter their skill level or past experiences. For many of my students, this class is something they get to look forward to each week.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Kent ISD, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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