I posted a week or so ago about returning to lino prints and the feeling that the medium was offering new possibilities. One week further and I’m feel more certain. There is still plenty to do, but progress is refreshingly fast.
When time is short, particularly studio time, it is difficult to remain patient. The feeling that every second counts as you try to squeeze creative time in amongst other, mostly work related, activities is a challenge. This is particularly the case when you are learning new skills, skills that you need before interesting results might roll out. The question of whether you are investing time that in the end will prove fruitless always nagging at the back of your mind.
This is very much the case when it comes to printmaking. Whilst an art student I spent a little time in the print room learning the basics. Since then though, well, nothing at all. Earlier in the year I bought myself a small lino press because I suspected that my current work might offer some possibilities to produce some prints. I’ve had a few sessions making some initial attempts, with limited success. Today I have been busy again, and for the first time I have looked at the results and thought that there are indeed possibilities to produce some interesting images. I’m not there yet, but am on the way I feel. More patience and more experimentation in the weeks ahead, maybe we’ll get there.
The last lesson of the week on a Friday afternoon. Not the best moment to have to teach, but somebody has to, or are we to shut all schools on a Friday after lunchtime? For me this year this has meant teaching H2P (13-14 year olds) as my final session of the week. I’ve always had a last lesson of the week of course, but this one has felt a little different. This has been the case for a couple of reasons:
It’s fair to say that they are a class that you have to learn how to handle. My teaching style is not to dominate my pupils, I prefer to sweep them along with enthusiasm…yes, even on a Friday afternoon. Having said all this though discovering how exactly to do this in our one hour a week has been a bit of a process of experimentation and discovery.
We’ve drawn, we’ve painted, done some collage and designed for the 3D printer. It all went OK although it did take a while before I actually had the whole class traveling with me on our artistic journey. Some of the boys seemed to be testing me out to see if it was acceptable to do, well the absolute bare minimum. As the weeks went by even this group started to up their game.
The 3D printer idea was one that I thought would trigger the enthusiasm, it did for a few, but a significant number were blocked by the intellectual leap that is needed for working digitally in three dimensions. To be honest I was surprised, but teenagers can really be as irritated by computer software as their grandparents!
The true watershed in the activity of this jumpy group of teenagers came in an intense drawing session, using charcoal that we had one afternoon. In 45 minutes of drawing each child produced a series of six to eight drawings. Which the following week I immediately rolled into the beginning of a lino-printing project. Suddenly there was so much energy in the class, and all being channelled into the practical activity.
The last few weeks I have presented the necessary materials at the start of the lesson, the ink, the rollers, the paper and the lino, and then I have largely stood back and manned the drying rack making sure we start loading it up at the bottom and work our way upwards (why do teenagers always fail to work that out for themselves?). The drying rack aside we have enjoyed a series of lessons where kids have been wandering with fully loaded inky rollers, others have been head down over their lino block, whilst others are frantically rubbing the backs of their paper trying to get the best possible prints.
Yes, we’ve had messy tables, messy children and occasionally messy floors. But we have also had children standing back at the end of the lesson, the end of the week, thinking wow, did we just do that.
The challenge for all teachers is of course to try and carry this energy into the next assignment…..I still have some thinking to do about how I’ll approach that!
There are some classes that enjoy a truly creative activity, a painting or drawing assignment with plenty of space for imaginative interpretation of the assignment or a complex collage challenge. Others though respond better to small bursts of creativity and longer sections of process where an artistic task simply has to be worked through in order to achieve results. My second year class (13-14 year olds) is one such group.
It is a relatively small class who don’t always perform as well as we might hope in all their timetable subjects, but when given a practical assignment that involves plenty of physical activity they generally respond well. This year I have produced large scale papiermâché and soft sculpture inspired by pop art with them and more recently have been doing some lino block printing. I only see the class for sixty minutes a week, so getting them started promptedly has always been important. They don’t generally like long explanations at the start of the lesson and with only an hour I don’t much either. Again here the more practical ‘making’ things approach seems to work best, materials and tools out on the table and get on.
We’ve spent the last weeks first drawing a pencil drawing of an insect, then transferring the design to a piece of lino, one week doing a first cut, one week printing a first colour, a week cutting again and a week printing a second colour. It seems all to have been so clear in their heads, step by step towards the end result. If we’re honest, several hours of process and more like minutes of real creativity as they plan where exactly to cut with the knife.
Having said though, that the creativity is relatively limited, the pay back of engaging with their materials, carrying out the necessary tasks and the always surprising result as they peel the paper from the block to reveal their print more than makes up for this. This was definitely the case today as the second colour went onto the block to reveal suddenly an unfamiliar complexity in the resulting image. Pupils step back with a ‘wow’ to admire their own work.
Two other results are, firstly that I leave for the weekend with an equally positive feeling. A little later there will be a second moment of pride when we assemble the best prints as a set, then comes the extra layer of achievement, this time as a class and all the positive vibes that brings with it. One last point though, if anyone can advise on how to get thirteen year olds to clear up after a lino printing session without leaving a soaking wet floor and inky fingerprints everywhere as they squabble round the sink I’d be interested to hear about it.