I was looking for something different to do with our art explorations and came across a couple of suggestions of doing “block” printing using foam sheets. By using the foam, you eliminate the need for sharp objects to cut into lino or wood. We already had a huge package of foam sheets so on my last trip to the art supply store I picked up a block printing kit and some purple ink (the four year old’s favourite colour – at least until tomorrow).
In a past artistic endeavour I had picked up a set of leather embossing tools. They have been sitting amongst my tools for a good couple of decades but I remembered I had them and brought them out to see if they would do the job. The girls loved using them, but they are definitely not required to make the imprints in the foam. Anything from a dull pencil to a spoon will do the trick. In fact, I would suggest it would be fun just to find out what marks different household objects make and what the final prints end up looking like. (This may just be another art experiment for us).
So the tools we used were:
- Leather embossing tools
- Foam sheets
- Tube of water soluble block printing ink
- 4″ Brayer
- Foam tray for inking
- Watercolour paper
- Large spoon
The process for creating the impression in the foam is straightforward. Use the tools you’ve amassed and press into the foam. One thing to remember is if you’re going to put letters or numbers into the foam, ensure you’re going right to left and the letters are reversed. Even knowing this, I started one of the girl’s names on the left hand side of the foam. The girls loved trying the different tools out to see what type of mark they would make. Once the “block” is ready, it’s time to get the ink out.
The kit I bought included a foam tray for inking. It worked fine, but there were depressions in the tray where the ink just sat away from the brayer and eventually was just wasted. Almost all of the “serious” sites regarding block printing suggest using a sheet of glass. Next time I’ll either try glass, a glass pie plate, or one of our sheets of plexiglass. It doesn’t take a lot of ink to get the brayer covered, so for each print I squeezed a toothpaste size drop of ink and rolled the brayer across it. The described way to know you have enough ink is the brayer sounds like you’re pulling it off of a surface covered in Velcro. In reality, the girls inked their own foam so their inking went from “barely there” to “we need to buy a new tube of ink”.
We used our water colour paper to transfer the print. We simply put the paper over the foam, took the big spoon and rubbed it evenly (kind of) across the back of the paper and then peeled the foam off of the front and voilà, we had a block print. The inking / printing process was the highlight, so much so that for one of her sheets my two year old skipped the whole imprinting the foam portion of the art exploration and went right to the inking / printing. The funniest part was her asking why there wasn’t a picture on the paper when she was done. We will be selling a limited edition of ”Cloudy Midnight Sky” on Etsy.
The project was a success. My four year old has already asked to do it again and I will collect some “unique” tools from around the house and outside to see what type of images we can create. I think we would also experiment with different types of paper to see how the textures affect the final print. The only thing I would do differently is instead of buying the kit, I would simply buy the brayer and the ink. This art process will definitely be going into our regular rotation.
Have you ever done any block printing with your kids? Have you used any unique “blocks” or imprinting tools?