Corrugated Cardboard Printmaking for Children
Not usually for children
Printmaking isn’t usually a craft for children. It is usually reserved for the seasoned artist wanting to create many copies of a single work of art. It has been done using many different mediums. Some believe it was invented by the ancient Chinese but this cannot be proven.
Albrecht Durer created intricate wood block print plates to be printed on a printing press and accompany the first printings of the Bible in Germany during the Renaissance. Using very sharp knives and gouging tools, he cut away from the wood all the areas he wanted to stay white and left raised only those places he wanted to print black. This takes a little planning, time and thought, because you have to think backwards. The end product will appear in reverse, so any letters or words must be designed and cut backwards to print forewords. I have included her a few wood and linoleum block prints I did in high school.
Using sharp gouging tools
Printmaking has also been done using sandstone plates coated with a thin coat of wax. A sharp tool is used to scratch through the wax and expose the sandstone beneath. When the design is complete, acid is applied. The acid cuts into the exposed sandstone but not the wax. Later the plate is heated to melt away the wax and leave only the etched sandstone. The plate is then inked and the ink adheres to the etched parts and not the raised parts. Still the print will be a mirror image of the original design so again you must think backwards. These etchings were later done on metal like copper plates. The etchings are usually left in black and white although they can be later tinted with color.
As you can see these methods of printmaking are time consuming and take intellectual effort to complete, as well as skill with dangerously sharp tools. This has made printmaking rather unsafe for children for many years. In high school, I got to use linoleum blocks to make block prints but I still had to use some rather sharp gouge tools and managed to cut myself more than once. Even though linoleum is more child-friendly and accessible, it still isn’t advisable for grade school children. That’s why these methods are so welcome.
If you want to expose your child to some fun and different artistic expressions, you have to try this method of block printing. Creative and fun. Also they make great plates for printing on T-shirts and cotton fabric you may want to make into pillows or quilt pieces for later.
I suggest reserving this technique for children ages 10 and up because you still need to use a somewhat sharp knife to cut the paper. The edge of scissors will do but will leave a dint along the edges. Some supervision might be in order for the cutting parts.
Have you ever wanted to try printmaking?
Corrugated Cardboard Block Prints
Cardboard is cheap and easily accessible in most empty boxes. We throw away so much, it always gives me a good feeling to be able to recycle something for the sake of art and creativity. Make sure the cardboard you choose is corrugated with three layers, like the one pictured.
Corrugated cardboard cut into squares
Pencil and paper for design
Bamboo skewer, or knitting needle
Water-based printmakers ink tube, any color desired
Hard rubber brayer
Paper for printing
Newspaper or disposable tablecloth for easy clean up
Step 1. Prepare the blocks
The corrugated cardboard has three layers: the top paper layer, the center waffle layer, and the back paper layer. You can design something where you cut away two layers or just one, leaving the waffle lines. Cut the cardboard into squares just large enough to fit onto your chosen paper size. For instance, if your paper is 8.5 by 11 inches, don’t allow the cardboard to be longer than 7.5 inches on its longest side. That is so you have a margin when printing. Make sure you have not made any dints or dings with your scissors or fingernails while cutting, as these will show up in the final design.
Step 2. Create a design
Have your child or student create a design he/she likes first on a blank piece of paper. Newsprint or printer paper will work fine for this. Use pencil to make your design so that you can erase and make it just right. I like to trace my block plate onto the paper so I know exactly the dimensions I have to work with.
Remember to keep the design simple. Details will not really show up well with the cardboard, so don’t bother with them. Also remember the finished print will be the mirror image of your design. If you put your name or your initials in your design, make them backwards.
Step 3. Trace onto block
Once you have a design you are happy with, trace it onto the cardboard using a pencil or pen and pressing right through your paper. To be sure the paper doesn’t slip or move while tracing, you can tape it down to the backside of the block plate. You can stab holes to make dots if you like or just trace lightly. After you remove the design paper, go over the tracing again with your pencil, to make a definite design. All the lines you press will print white, so keep that in mind. Once all your lines are created to your specifications, you are ready to cut.
Cut the top layer of cardboard and peel away the paper where you want only the corrugated lines to show through. Then cut through the corrugated paper parts where you want nothing to show when printed. You can cut the paper layers of the cardboard using one side of your scissors or using a knife or X-acto blade. Once the parts you want to remove are peeled away you are ready to ink and print a proof.
Step 4. Roll out the ink
I have seen this done with acrylic paint rather than printmakers ink before. To keep the acrylic paint wet long enough to work with (it dries fast, remember), you should mix an equal portion of glazing medium with it. Acrylic is what you would want to use to make permanent designs for cloth or T-shirts. Roll it out the same as with printmakers ink but work a little more quickly and deliberately if possible.
You can use a Styrofoam plate (uncut) or the logo side of a take-home container to squeeze out the printmakers ink and roll it with a brayer until it is smooth. I used a flat acrylic cutting board here and water-base ink so I could wash it with ease later.
Once the ink has covered the brayer smoothly, roll it over the block carefully. Remember the ink is thick and sticky and will cause the lightweight cardboard to stick to the brayer, so you have to roll it quickly and firmly. Roll several directions to make sure the ink is even. Now you are ready to print.
Step 5. Print
Get your paper ready. You should have several sheets of photocopy paper laid out so you can print copies of your work without having to leave the workspace. Unlike Linoleum block prints or wood block printing, Cardboard does not print hundreds of copies with little or no deterioration. Eventually cardboard will become saturated, wet and bend or get a dent that will mar your design. Before this happens you should be able to create dozens of copies if you like. I like creating as many as possible for special handmade greeting cards and homemade book covers, wrapping paper, etc.
Rub with a wooden spoon
Because the cardboard is so light, sometimes it is best to lay the inked cardboard face down onto the readied paper. Because my cardboard was large enough, I put the paper directly onto the block. Use a wooden spoon, a clean brayer or just your hands and press the block plate completely and firmly on the paper or cloth. In printmaking circles this wooden rubbing device is called a baron... just a piece of trivia for you. Once you have decided the paper has received all the ink it can, gently pull the plate off the paper. Try not to bend the cardboard at all during the lifting or the bend will later print as a line, marring future prints.
Pull the print
Re-ink and print another
Once you have printed the paper, you must re-ink the plate to print another copy. Do this each time for as many prints as you would like. A cardboard plate can print as many as 25 copies or more before it begins to bend or show signs of loosing the details. If you don’t want to make 25 copies, at least make 5. This gives you enough to keep one and give several away. Try making them with friends and then trading one of yours for one of your friends.
Later, after the ink dries, you can add another color or extra designs to your print. You can add decorative writing too if you would like it to look like fancy French designer paper.
Step 6. Sign your work
Lastly you are ready to sign. ALWAYS sign your work if you are happy with it. The signature means you, the artist, approve of the print you created.
Sign on the bottom right hand side with PENCIL not pen.
To prove it is a limited edition, you want to put the number of the print on the left hand side. This increases the value of the work. If you printed 25 prints and the one you are signing is the 5th print off the block, sign it 5/25. The first copy can be signed as a “proof” and not given a number if you like. This means you want to keep track of each print that comes off the block and have them in order. It also means you have to print all you want before you start signing, so that you know the final total.
You can title your work if you like or if appropriate. Put the title between the edition number and the signature.
I found these to be fun and exciting forms of expression for the children and me. We loved every minute. The process does take time and preparation. There is a little bit of mess involved but I always found that to be the fun part. With newspapers and disposable tablecloths around the work area, mess is kept to a minimum. Enjoy.