Category Archives: printmaking

Craft Foam Printmaking

Craft Foam Printmaking at

Materials: Craft foam; scissors; glue (Elmer’s or tacky); sturdy cardboard cut to size slightly smaller than paper; brightly colored construction paper*; block printing ink or tempera paint; brayer; glass or Plexiglas for rolling out ink. *I really like the Tru-Ray paper; it’s smooth and sturdy feeling.

I love printmaking, and I wanted to make sure to incorporate it into the preschool art explorers class I’m leading at our homeschool co-op this session. This activity was inspired by “Playful Prints” in What’s the Big Idea? by Joyce Raimondo, and it’s perfect for this age group, because it also involves cutting, something my preschoolers love to do. (Although I think it would work well for all ages. I enjoyed making a sample!) The steps are simple.

1. Cut out shapes from craft foam. Make sure they’re large enough that they won’t be too difficult to either glue down or ink. That was the only parameter I gave the kids; they cut out whatever shapes they wanted.

2. Glue the shapes down onto the cardboard, making sure to leave some negative space. Don’t overlap the shapes. Again, the kids glued them down whichever way they wanted.

gluing down foam

3. When the glue has dried (at least enough so the shapes won’t wiggle on the cardboard during inking), ink up the brayer and apply ink to the foam. Try not to get it on the cardboard.

inking the plate

4. Lay the paper on top and smooth over the back of it to make the print.

print with plate

That’s it! Depending on the age group, this technique could be used to make patterns, designs, or to depict a simple image or scene…or it could be kept abstract. Choosing brightly colored paper and black ink made for a really vibrant and striking print. This is deceptively simple, with fantastic results.

Week’s Work (Making + Listening)

I began this week determined to get some things done. And I have. I’ve been making lists, making plans, and making embroidery transfers from drawings. I’ve cut fabric in the half-hour increments I’ve created during the day. I’ve carved stamps and printed.

stamping fabric

I’ve made brown.

mixing screenprinting ink

My set of screen printing ink has the primaries, white, and black. You can make a good brown with red and a smidge of black.

I sneak downstairs, plug in my phone, and play Pandora–listening to something keeps me moving. I have a variety of stations and I always put it on shuffle, but I’ve noticed after 7 pm it plays me more blues than anything else. That seems about right for the evening hours.

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve made this week is time. Without deliberately putting it into the schedule, it doesn’t happen. After lunch today I told my two younger kids, “Give me a half hour to cut fabric, then we can go outside for the rest of the afternoon.” They did, I cut with a purpose–having made a list so I could make the best use of my time–and then we went outside.

What have you made this week?

Joining up with Dawn once again…

Sewn: Adorned Zippered Pouches

Isn’t “adorned” a lovely word? My husband is away again this week, so I set my sewing machine up on the dining room table and set the goal of sewing together the pouches I began adorning a couple of weeks ago. I was trying out various ideas here. I like some of these ideas better than others.

zippered pouches2 at

These first three have decoration on only one side. The top left is printed with a hand-carved stamp on linen. The top right is embroidered, and the bottom one is a combination of the two.

Embroidery inspired by faience design.

Embroidery inspired by faience design.

The embroidery on this pouch was inspired by designs on faience, such as on this bowl. I tried to match the fabric to the color of faience, but this fabric is hard to photograph correctly. I’m not sure I like it as the entire pouch, actually. (I’ll show you another pouch further down that uses the turquoise fabric more sparingly, to better effect, I think.)

The tree pouch is a favorite size of mine–it uses a 5″ zipper and is just the right size to hold money and credit cards, or a cell phone. I have two pouches this size in my bag and I use them for exactly those items.

The perfect size for my cell phone.

The perfect size for my cell phone.

The buds are French knots, and the tree itself is stamped with a hand-carved stamp. I’m pleased with this design. I don’t think I’d change it. Most of these pouches, by the way, are lined with a simple sturdy woven cotton, thicker than quilting cotton. It gives the bag some structure, and it was serviceable for this trying out of ideas.

These next bags are decorated on both sides.

zip pouches front at

On the top one, I kept the outside fabric as one piece because I wanted to experiment with having the embroidery wrap right around. I do like that effect, but I’m not sure it’s worth the extra fiddling–it makes it much harder to sew the zipper onto the second side, because it creates a tube. Top-stitching was tricky. (I like to top-stitch along the zipper edge so no fabric gets caught in the zipper teeth–you can see the line of blue stitching in the bottom pouch above.) And I’m not sure the lining sits perfectly. I am a stickler for perfection; I see so many flaws in these that I’m not sure I should consider selling anything ever. It bothers me to no end that I can’t figure a reliable way to get the zipper edges to line up exactly right on the sides. They always seem to shift a little.

That said, I will say that the embroidery on this pouch is beautiful, interesting, and unique.

Embroidery detail, inspired by Haeckel's radiolarians.

Embroidery detail, inspired by Haeckel’s radiolarians.

The bottom pouch in the photo above is decorated with prints of hand-carved stamps, again inspired by faience designs (from this hippo). I much prefer the turquoise sewn onto the linen like this, and the inside of that pouch is lined with the turquoise fabric. I find it much more balanced, and I love the patch effect.

Here’s the other side of these two pouches.

zip pouches back at

And a detail of the embroidery on this side of the larger pouch.

Embroidery detail on zippered pouch, inspired by Haeckel's radiolarians.

Embroidery detail on zippered pouch, inspired by Haeckel’s radiolarians.

Finally, a word on the size. I made the larger pouches deeper than I have in the past, mostly to give myself a larger canvas to work with. But I tend to like a shallower pouch with this length zipper. In the photo below, you can see the difference. I keep my sketching pencils in the bag on the right.

Size comparison of two pouches.

Size comparison of two pouches.

I’m not sure what the best use of a deeper bag with this length zipper might be. Is there one?

So, I’m curious. What size do you like best in a zippered pouch? Pencil size, or bigger? Which of these do you like best? Least? I like the look of anything on linen, so I like the stamped and embroidered linen bags quite a bit. I’m a little overwhelmed by an entirely faience-colored bag, but I like it as one element in the design–I really like how the patches came out on the smaller bag. I also like that these bags have a story–they are inspired by something in particular and are all unique. Each design began with a drawing of mine, translated into either a stamp or a piece of embroidery. If I were to work these into something to sell, I’d want to include the inspiration story with each piece.

I’d love to hear your opinions, if you have any! And because today is Thursday (Dawn’s Making and Listening day), I’ll let you know that I mostly listened to the NCAA basketball tournament while I sewed these on the machine, and I watched Merlin while I hand-sewed the lining opening. I created a Mumford + Sons station on Pandora this week, but it dragged in all manner of depressing songs, including a strings-only instrumental of Eleanor Rigby. It’s probably not the best station for me right now…

Ready for the Art Show

Both my boys wanted to enter the art center’s collaboration show, like they did last year, again. G also painted a canvas, but she’s not sure on whether she wants to let the art center borrow it for a whole month. We’re going to bring it along when we drop off the others, in case she changes her mind. Here they all are together (click to see slightly larger):

Each canvas has both sprayed watercolors and liquid acrylic, some brushed, flicked, or dripped on and some printed with various materials–wine corks, sponges, and the like. The top right one (my oldest son’s) also has some dripped black ink. This sort of painting is definitely out of his comfort zone; he likes things to be planned. Once he got into it, though, he even said (in an amazed sort of voice), “This is really fun!”

The top left canvas (my younger son’s) has a couple layers of workable fixative sprayed on. He really puddled the watercolor, and the canvas isn’t really made for that. Plus, it seemed to have a different sort of finish than the other two–same type of canvas, but a different brand. There were tacky spots that just weren’t drying, but the fixative seems to have solved the problem.

The bottom one, then, is my daughter’s. I have to admit, a layer or so back she had some sponge prints that are obliterated now by her brushstrokes, and I had to remind myself to bite my tongue and let her explore the process. She decided when she was done, and I like it now, too, although, again, whether I like it isn’t really the point. She likes it so much she’s not sure she can let it out of her sight for a month.

We’re excited to drop them off tomorrow!

Stamp Making for Younger Kids

In the last post, I showed how my older kids turned a sketch into a rubber stamp. While they were making their stamps, my three-year-old, naturally, wanted to make a stamp, too. Rather than turn a drawing of hers into a stamp myself–which is definitely one option and something we might do in the future–I wanted to find a way for her to be involved in the entire process of making a stamp. This is what we did. Photos are scarce, because I was focusing on making sure my older kids were using the sharp cutting tools safely and properly, but it’s a pretty simple process.

Materials: Craft foam, scissors, wooden block, glue, pencil or other tool to make marks in the foam (optional)

Craft foam isn’t typically on my list of art supplies, but it does come in handy for certain uses, and I still have some sheets knocking about the studio cubbies. G loves to cut with scissors, so I gave her a sheet of craft foam and suggested she cut out some shapes that we could then glue onto the block. The word “shapes” hung her up, as she’s recently been learning about the shapes we call circle, triangle, square, etc. When I realized she was trying to cut out those shapes (a bit hard at her age), I explained she could cut anything she wanted, it just needed to fit on the block at the end. She happily cut the sheet of foam into strips while I worked with her brothers.

At the end of her cutting, we found a piece that fit onto the wooden block and we glued it on, using regular tacky glue. It set pretty quickly.

Then she added some scratchings in, and tried out her stamp.

This was simple, but satisfying. A slightly older child–old enough to cut specific forms with scissors but too young to use the carving tools for rubber stamps–could arrange patterns on the block using more than one piece of foam. Lots of possibilities!

Carving Stamps

Note: This is suitable for elementary students & older. In the next post I’ll show how I modified things so my three-year-old could make a stamp, too.

Materials: Speedball Speedy Carve block (cut into smaller pieces); set of linoleum cutting tools; paper and pencil; bone folder (optional); x-acto knife (optional); block, cork, or something similar for a handle, and glue (optional)

I began experimenting with stamp carving last year, and, if you haven’t tried it before, I can tell you that it’s easier than you might think to get good results. I have a tutorial here, and that is the process I led my kids through, too. However, I stressed a couple of points:

* Fingers have to stay on the edge of the carving block, not on top of it, while carving, because if the carving tool slips, we don’t want it scooping out any finger bits.

* Always carve away from yourself, directly away, not at an angle. Turn the block as necessary. The tools are designed to be pushed away as they scoop. Plus, it’s safer.

Also, using a scrap of rubber, I showed the boys how to use the tool before handing it over. I found all my supplies at a local chain craft store (near the stamps and scrap-booking section), and both cutting sets were purchased with a 50% off coupon, so it wasn’t too expensive to have one for each child. You can also find stamp carving supplies at a fine arts store.

Okay, let’s begin! First, using a metal straight edge and an x-acto knife, I cut the block into smaller pieces. After each boy chose a size, I traced his block onto a piece of paper several times. The boys then sketched their ideas into these squares, so they knew the size they were working with. Once they had sketches they were pleased with, I had them go over the lines with the pencil so they were darker, and then we burnished the sketch onto the carving block. (Details are in the tutorial.)

Now it’s time to carve!

Below, N works on his stamp, his sketch of the Hero Factory shield. Yes, his fingers are on the block, but at least on the near side of the tool. I did need to remind him more than once not to carve towards his fingers.

Here, V has inked and stamped his carving, so he can see what still needs to be carved away.

N’s finished Hero Factory stamp is at the top of this post, and here is V’s initial with a lightning bolt:

This activity is something that requires supervision and knowledge of your own kids. V, age 10, had no problems using the tools safely and well. N, age 7, needed much closer supervision and some help finishing his stamp. But the immediate thrill of sketching an idea and turning it into a stamp really can’t be beat. I love it every single time, and it’s really fun to share this thrill with my kids.

Note: V decided to leave his block as is. N wanted me to cut around the perimeter of his–which I did with the x-acto knife–and then we glued it to a wooden block to use as a handle. Trimming around the outside edge can eliminate the need to carve away all the excess outside the design, but it doesn’t work for all designs. I use a waterproof glue, because I like to rinse our stamps after we use them.

Experimenting With Bleeding Tissue Paper

Materials: Bleeding tissue paper (we used Spectra), water color paper, spray bottle

I’ve been wanting to play with this product for a while now, and during our last trip to the Eric Carle Museum, I saw some in their bookstore (which is an absolutely fabulous place) and picked some up. And then it sat in the studio for a while as we squeezed out every last drop of summer, outside! The other day, G and I decided to experiment with the bleeding tissue paper.

I cut out some squares and spread them on the table, and then gave G half a sheet of 12×18 water color paper. She began by arranging some squares of tissue on her paper. Before she began spraying, I cleared the leftover tissue out of the area.

Then she began to spray.

And spray. The girl loves to use a spray bottle!

The colors began to run off the paper and mix in the puddles. Isn’t that pretty? As she sprayed, G commented on the colors she saw and how they were mixing. (As you can see from these pictures, if you don’t have an anything-goes art table, you probably want to do this in a shallow plastic tub or something similar, to protect your table.)

There was so much water on the paper, G decided to add some dry tissue on top of the puddles to see what would happen. Then she asked for a big sheet of paper to lay on top. I thought she wanted a big piece of tissue, so I asked what color, but she said no, she wanted the other piece of white paper–the other half of the water color paper I’d cut in half.

Carefully, we laid it on top of the wet paper and tissue.

She wanted to make a print–and I love that she both knows the process of making a print and recognizes a good opportunity to give it a try!

From the start, G had said she wanted to color on the paper once it was dry. So the next day, after it had dried and the tissue paper shook off, that’s what she did.

Our colors came out very muted. (I experimented too, on another small sheet of paper.) I’m not sure if this is because we overlapped so many colors and they all bled together, or because we used a spray bottle instead of a paintbrush, which I imagine would keep the water more in one place, or perhaps a combination. I plan to experiment with this paper some more, both with G and with the older kids. We certainly have enough of it to try all sorts of methods.

Have you used bleeding tissue paper? What did you find worked best?

Vegetable Print Wrapping Paper

A cousin is turning three, so G and I decided to make some special wrapping paper. We chose red and blue, but you could make wrapping paper holiday-specific based on the colors you choose.

Materials: Big piece of paper–I cut a piece from a tall roll of white paper that I found at Staples; tempera paint; veggies (we used a carrot, a piece of celery, and a small potato)

The process is fairly straight-forward! We cut the veggies, dipped them in paint, and printed. We didn’t get fancy with the cutting, since I wanted this to be something G could do–and she did. I had a photo, but my camera ate it. We used a safety knife I bought years ago for my oldest, but it’s got large serrations and doesn’t make terribly smooth cuts. Next time I’ll let her use my favorite paring knife, which is old and not pointy sharp.

Anyway, she began with the carrot. When she filled up the area she could reach, I rotated the paper a quarter turn.

After three quarter turns, she’d filled the paper. I did some too. When the prints were dry, we wrapped the presents.

Our extra piece is in the front. G pushed the button for this picture.

One of those boxes holds some Crayola Washable Finger Paints in tubes. G really likes squeezing the paint out herself. We’ll be handing the mom a roll of freezer paper and one of aluminum foil (mainly because I think the three-year-old would be mystified to open those, no?). The freezer paper is good for finger painting–one side is slippery, for the paint to really slide around on, but if you choose the papery side, you have that plasticy backing, so the paint won’t soak through. The aluminum foil is another interesting surface on which to finger paint.

G did this just the other day–aluminum foil on the left, freezer paper on the right, and regular paper up above, which she used for some hand-printing. With the primaries, it’s fun to put two colors near each other so your child gets the delight of making a new color as she smears her hands through the paint.

We hope the birthday boy has a good time painting!

T-Shirt Design: Freezer Paper Stencils

Materials: T-shirt; textile paint; sponge brush; freezer paper; x-acto knife, cutting mat, and straight edge (helpful but not necessary)

As I mentioned in the last post, when the boys began talking about what they wanted to print on t-shirts, I thought perhaps scratch-foam printing–which prints in reverse, with a block of color surrounding the scratched image in white (see our examples here)–wasn’t the best way to go. I suggested perhaps we think about using stencils. They agreed. Come along and follow their design process!

First, they made sketches.

V has been reading lots of comics/graphic novels lately, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted the Captain America symbol or that of Green Lantern. N wanted to go with his custom “Super N—” symbol, an N in a circle. V eventually decided to start with Green Lantern as it’s simpler, with only one color, and N decided upon a yellow N in a red circle, which was still only one color because he’d chosen a yellow t-shirt.

Next we turned their sketches into larger, neater versions, still on regular paper.

After figuring out how large of a logo he wanted, V made his circles using a compass, then added in the lines at the top and bottom with a ruler. He compared it to the actual logo, consulted with his dad, and adjusted the lines a bit so they overlapped the circle more. Then we darkened it up, traced it onto the freezer paper, and I cut it out with the x-acto knife.

I helped N a bit more. We lay a sheet of paper over his shirt so he could show me how large the circle should be, and then I drew the finished circle with the compass. Together we sketched out the N, then neatened it up with the ruler. When all looked well, I traced his image and cut it out.

There are many tutorials online for using freezer paper stencils, and it’s very simple. The shiny side irons right onto the shirt. I slid a piece inside the shirt, too, so no paint would run through to the back. Then it’s time to paint.

Here’s N’s shirt, drying. You leave the stencils on until the paint is dry.

When the paint was dry, the boys and I peeled off the stencils together. So exciting!

V was pleased.

So was N.

We used Speedball Textile Screen Printing Ink, so I set the image with the iron as instructed. I laundered them inside out with no problems. They haven’t worn them yet because they both have art camp this week, and they don’t want to get any paint on their new shirts. Typically up until this point, when the kids have had something specific in mind (like, oh, a reversible fireman-spaceman knit winter hat), I’ve figured out the design and made it. How satisfying for them to go from their own sketch to finished product, with just minimal assistance.


What have your kids been designing recently?

Scratch Foam-Printed T-Shirt

Materials: T-shirt, scratch foam, textile paint (or liquid acrylics); brayer or foam paint brush

After we made prints with scratch foam, I had the idea in the back of my head that it would be cool to make t-shirts with that method. When the boys began talking about their ideas for shirts, though, it became clear that their ideas were better suited to a different technique–so I’ll talk about their shirts in the next post. Meanwhile, G wanted an orange butterfly on a yellow shirt. On the one hand, I always, always want my kids to reach for their vision themselves–if they’re making the t-shirt, then they should make the t-shirt. On the other hand, I didn’t want G to be disappointed if she didn’t end up with a butterfly.

After thinking it over, I asked her what she thought about this: I could cut a butterfly shape out of scratch foam, and she could draw on the inside to add the decorations. She agreed to that, so after consulting her on how big the butterfly should be, we got to work.

My camera had a hard time figuring out what to focus on, with that white butterfly against the white table! But here, G is scratching into the cut-out foam butterfly. She started with a bone folder and a wooden tool for sculpting clay. Then we went hunting around the house and came back with a comb and a boomerang. She also tried a toothpick. She worked on the foam for quite a while–close to a half hour, maybe?–making her marks.

Then we set the butterfly aside and mixed the paint. We used Speedball textile paint, but liquid acrylics would work as well (and don’t require heat setting with the iron). Our set has red, yellow, blue, green, black, and white–but no orange. So we mixed some.

Mixing paint colors is just a delight, isn’t it? “Orange!” exclaimed G. We adjusted until she was happy with the color.

I protected the inside of the shirt with some freezer paper–I just placed it inside, no need to iron it on–so that the paint didn’t bleed to the back of the shirt. Then we rolled the brayer and inked the plate. Except I’ve been having trouble with both my brayers this week–they roll just fine on some surfaces but not others, and the combination of the textile ink and the foam wasn’t working too well. (Does anyone have any idea what the problem might be?) So the paint more smeared than anything, and G used a foam paintbrush to even it out–so you can see some brush marks in the finished print (as always, you can click to embiggen the photos a bit).

I don’t have pictures of the actual printing, because I was helping. You don’t want the paint to be too thick, because then it will smoosh. Pick up the plate, place it paint-side down on the shirt, and gently but firmly smooth down the back. I placed the plate, but G helped with the pressing. “I want to see what happened,” she said. When it comes to printmaking, the reveal is always so much fun.

An orange butterfly on a yellow shirt–a collaboration that quite pleased the not-quite-three-year-old.

This project is easy–just remember that anytime you’re painting or printing on textiles, the paint won’t wash out of the clothes you’re wearing, either. I keep wet wipes handy, too, since any paint on fingers will transfer to the shirt you’re making. I haven’t quite made up my mind, but I think plain old liquid acrylics might be even better for this kind of printing on shirts (that’s what we’ve used in the past for making fish prints on shirts–with fish replicas). So don’t feel like you need special supplies–a plain t-shirt, some scratch foam (or a new Styrofoam meat or vegetable tray), a 59-cent bottle of paint and a foam paintbrush, and you’re ready to create some wearable art!