Plaster, Paper, Clay, Print: A 4-Part Art Lesson
Student work, showing clay, plaster, paper-cast and print.
As an Art teacher, I am always looking for ways to teach multiple concepts using one assignment. This assignment is perfect for just that, as it will teach:
- carving techniques
- casting techniques
- clay techniques
- relief sculpture
- plaster casting
This lesson can be used for Middle School and made more challenging for High School.
The first part of the assignment is to design and create a carving out of a flexible linoleum block.
Once the carving is completed, then the template will be ready for the next parts of the assignment.
Introduce your students to relief sculptures by showing videos of famous relief sculptures.
Linoleum carving tools
Linoleum carving and materials
The first step of the assignment will utilize a flexible linoleum block as the printing and casting plate plate.
Linoleum cutting tools will be used to carve your the design into the plate. They are very sharp and must be used with care.
Once the design is completely carved into the linoleum block, then the next steps will be done to create the:
- Clay relief
- Plaster cast
- Paper cast relief
- Linoleum block
- Linoleum carving tools
- Sketching paper, 2B pencil and eraser
- Black charcoal or pastel (to mark linoleum)
- Matte fixative (to fix markings to linoleum before cutting)
Steps to draw and carve your design
- Sketch out your design on a piece of paper cut to the size of the linoleum plate, which is 6" x 6". You may choose to grid out a design from a magazine or photo or create your own design. Don’t forget that letters and numbers must be drawn backwards!
- Transfer the design to your linoleum plate by covering the back of the design with chalk, taping the design to the plate with the chalk side facing the plate, and drawing over all the pencil lines. Remove the paper and verify that all lines have been transferred. Spray the matte fixative on your plate OUTDOORS! This will affix the chalk so it doesn’t smear while you are carving.
- Use the linoleum block cutting tools to carve your design.
The requirements for the linoleum carving are:
- At least three of five types of lines are used to make design (vertical, horizontal, diagonal, zigzag, curvy)
- At least two variances of lines are used (length, thickness, texture, degree of curve)
- Design must fill the entire linoleum plate
After carving your design
Before you do the printing portion, I would recommend doing the next assignments in this order:
I recommend this order as the paper can, and should, be removed from the plate the day it is done. The plaster cast should remain in the plate overnight to set and cure. When it is removed the following day, the plate should be rinsed off for the clay casting to be done. The clay is flexible at this stage and should be removed the same day that it is cast. This leaves enough time to rinse the plate, dry it well, and do the final step, which is the print. You can also leave the printing to be done on a separate day, as students typically want to do more than one print.
LOTS of newspaper
screen from a hardware store
5 one-gallon buckets (one for each color) (if you choose to do do multi-color casting)
LOTS of paper towels
heavy books iron
lint from your dryer (really!!) old letters, old mail, magazines, toilet paper, any kind of paper
smocks (optional, but this will get messy)
tarps/drop cloths for the floor
Add drop cloths on the floor and cover your tables with newspaper to catch the excess water.
- Add torn up paper and lint into a blender with plenty of water. Blend until smooth.
- Remove some of the pulp to get rid of the excess water.
- Press the pulp into the carved linoleum block.
- Place a piece of screen on top of the pulp and use a sponge to remove the excess water.
- Add more pulp and repeat the steps until the thickness is achieved.
- Gentle remove the casting from the mold.
- Set on some dry newspaper to dry completely. This will take at least 24 hours, depending on the temperature in the classroom.
- Clean your linoleum plate for the plaster-casting.
Plaster is a fine white powder, which when mixed with water to a paste or creamy consistency, sets to a hard, cohesive mass.
We used a gypsum plaster used for sculpture, called Plaster of Paris because gypsum came from around Paris, France.
For this step you will need:
- Plaster of Paris
- Containers for mixing
- Mixing utensils
- Cover your tables with lots of newspaper.
- Mix the plaster per instructions on the bag.
- Pour the plaster into the mold.
- Let this set up overnight. Do not remove from the mold on the same day that it is cast. It will need to cure overnight.
TIP: Let the plaster set up slightly (not hard, but not runny). This makes clean-up easier. The linoleum carving should be deep enough that not too much runs over the edges, but inevitably this will happen.
Process: Clay relief
Materials needed for this step:
- Slab of earthenware clay
- clay cutting tools
For this step you will simply press a slab of earthenware clay into the cleaned and dried linoleum block.
- Remove the slab from the linoleum to reveal the design.
- Set aside and let dry completely.
- Bisque fire.
- Glaze as you wish.
- Glaze fire.
Clean and prepare your linoleum block for the print-making segment.
Materials needed for this segment:
- Inking plate
- Inks of various colors
- Typing paper for test prints
- Rice paper or plain copy paper for printmaking
- Ink the linoleum plate by brushing some ink onto a plate, then rolling the brayer to get it covered with the ink. Try some sample prints on typing paper to help gauge the amount of ink you should use for your specific print. Too much ink and your details won’t show up. Not enough ink and too much white will show through.
- Once you can make a good print on typing paper, you can do your final piece or pieces on rice paper. This will be the one you turn in for a grade along with your linoleum plate.
- At least one quality print from the linoleum plate must be turned in (nice edges, no smearing, black areas are solid black
- Carved areas must show bright white.
OPTIONS: You can give your students options, and allow them to use colored paper as their final piece.
Student work showing prints in black and white, as well as color.
More student work examples
Each piece of work can be displayed individually but I believe it is more striking when each design is displayed together. See the examples depicted.
The back ground color can be chosen by the student, or for more uniformity, you can limit the choice to black or white, especially if putting on an exhibit.
© 2016 Gina Welds Hulse