This project was inspired by my holiday in Devon. Having been rock pooling, I thought it would be good to work on a printing project inspired by things that live in rock pools. After photographing some research material for the students to work from we set about drawing some sea creatures and seaweeds. I had a selection of shells and pictures of fish, crabs etc too that students could use as reference.
I created a digital print-out template that was the same size as the polystyrene tiles the students would be using to create their printing plate. The students sketched their ideas inside the square template print-out, being mindful that some small details could be difficult to transfer onto polystyrene. Keeping the design large with simple texture was the way to go.
Once the design was finished, it needed to be traced onto tracing paper, remembering to draw around the bounding box with a ruler. To transfer the image to the polystyrene printing plate, the students taped their image to the specialist printing polystyrene with a little masking tape. Using the ‘pricking’ method, students pin pricked tiny holes along the outline of their design and bounding box. Very sharp pencils work well for this. We did try biros, cocktail sticks & pins but sharp pencils worked the best. It’s worth mentioning that the pin pricks do not need to go through to the reverse of the tile, just a small indent into the tile is enough.
Once the pin pricking was complete, students removed the tracing to reveal a host of dots that needed to be joined up. At this point it was important to explain how the ink would stick to the areas that were not flattened by the pencil indents, areas that are recessed and flattened would be ink free. This method of printing is called relief printing. Students had to think about how they wanted their finished image to look. I created two tiles with the same image but with different areas flattened, this way the students could easily see the difference in the printing effect.
The students used a pencil to join up the pin pricks of their image, gently sinking the pencil into the top of the polystyrene (not all the way through it). Texture was created by making indents into the tile using different patterns and pushing the pencil lead in at different angles.
Once the plate was finished the students cut the tile shape out and reinforced the tile by sticking it to a cardboard backing, finally adding a little handle made of tape. We used water based printing ink. Apply a blob of ink to a flat surface (we used an A4 piece of acrylic), roll the brayer (the roller) into the ink, so that it is tacky and has covered the brayer. Roll ink onto the plate to be printed, make sure it has a good covering of ink. Pick up the printing plate, flip it over to hold the tape tab on the back. Now position the plate where you want the image to be printed (at this point we covered the plate with a clean piece of paper to help prevent touching the Somerset paper/calico fabric with inky fingers) and press firmly. The plates were printed onto calico fabric strips and also Somerset velvet paper. The calico had previously been frayed at the edges in preparation for printing, we went on to make them as wall hangings. The Somerset paper prints were mounted onto black card and looked great.
Set up a printing station and get organised. Printing can get very messy as the ink can get everywhere and you could end up with a fabulous print with mucky finger marks on it.
Have lots of sheets of newspaper stacked, so that every time you do a new print, use clean newsprint to cover the previous print area.
Keep some wet wipes handy to clean fingers.
Have smaller sheets of cheap paper handy, these are good to place over the plate onece it has been placed in position for printing but pressure has not been applied to the plate yet. This helps to stop fingers touching previous printed images on the same piece of paper and unwanted marks appearing.