Collage and Printmaking with Young Children Gathering
by Emily Benz
This January’s Collage and Printmaking with Young Children gathering was a hands-on textural feast in the art studio at The Blake School. Kim Lane, Blake’s lower school art teacher at the Hopkins Campus, led the group through a joyful exploration of collage and printmaking techniques for three hours. As an adult often busy with the responsibilities of life, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to be a student in the studio for the morning and became so thoroughly immersed in the process, I could have happily gone on for a couple of hours more.
We began the morning with tempera paint soaked in felt and simple tools; a textured wheel from a toy, ridged cardboard triangle, a wooden block with string tied around the middle were some examples, and we used these simple tools to create patterns on brightly colored sheets of paper. Some made simple and clean patterns, others made highly complex prints with layered colors. Colors and tools moved from table to table, and people did, too, when they felt moved to try another hue. The process was simple and the results were bright and surprising. I felt bathed in color and light as I saw our prints on the drying rack. It was easy to see how very young children could delight in this kind of printmaking
Then it was time to cut out shapes to create printing plates. We used white card stock and cut it up and glued it onto cardboard plates to create our plates. Some were experts with the scissors and created intricate patterns inspired from nature, others made bold and abstract work with thicker pieces. I myself cut many different small lines and then let my image show itself to me as I played with the tactile lines on the cardboard. It turned out to be a stick house, inspired by the many similar structures my children built and played in at Dodge Nature Center and Blake.
Kim then offered trays full of colorful piles of paper individually painted to use for collage. In her studio, children mix these complex colors and paint them onto paper first during one class period. Then, the next session, these same painted papers are offered for collage, giving the work a different depth. Again, scissors in hand, we quietly snipped the satisfyingly textured paper and ideas emerged both abstract and realistic as we lost ourselves in the process. After finishing our own collages, we took the time to see some of the Kindergarten collages in the hall; my favorite was an elaborate collage of an exploding ice cream shop, with many tiny red and orange pieces intricately arranged to fashion the explosion dramatically on black paper. Ms. Lane pointed out, pieces don’t even have to be cut to make collages like this, they can be torn instead.
We ended the morning seeing some examples of cardboard collage puppet animals, (a lemur in a beret was a standout) and then creating our final print plates by drawing firmly into Styrofoam plates and then rolling them with black ink and pressing them into bright sheets of paper. The process was crisp and satisfying.
I was struck again and again by the simple materials offered and the visually arresting results that came out of our guided exploration with them. As a parent at Blake of a fourth grader and a first grader, I’ve long admired the projects that my children bring home from Ms. Lane’s studio. But to be a student in the studio myself opened up a whole new appreciation for all of the subtle magic that happens for the children there. To go through that process as as adult, whether as a parent or an educator, is invaluable. It allows us to see the potential for making art with ordinary objects, to savor the gift of slowing down time, and to experience the knowledge through exploration of materials. The time and space and materials to make art – whether in a dedicated studio, a spot in a classroom or on a kitchen table – encourages quiet meditation, critical thinking, collaboration, and playfulness. And as Ms. Lane reminded us very importantly, we don’t need much in the way of materials to create these rich and empowering opportunities for the children in our care.