Four Unconventional Printmaking Methods You Must Try!

Printmaking is such an accessible art technique. You don’t need a lot of fancy supplies or a big budget to get kids excited about pulling prints. It can be so fun and satisfying to engage kids through unconventional materials that you might already have in your classroom, or even in your kitchen!

Here are 4 offbeat printmaking materials that can turn your classroom into a wacky, world-class print studio.

1. LEGOs

LEGO blocks are a great way for kids to create print blocks. Students can create any number of patterns, images, or even letters out of LEGOs (they must be reversed, of course!) and print them, change them, and print them again. Imagine how pumped your students will be to find that they get to use LEGOs in the art room!

2. Gelatin (Jello) Printing

Gelatin makes an excellent substrate for monoprinting. Students can ink up a cookie sheet full of hardened gelatin and pull one-of-a-kind prints.

Two methods work here: students can carefully draw into the ink or they can add leaves or lace and print negative and positive image.

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3. Clay

Clay can be both a medium to print with and a medium to print on. I like to replace my oil-based modeling clay every few years.  But I am an art teacher, and hate to throw stuff away. Why not have students create stamps from the old clay? Simply add texture, ink it up, and print! You can rinse the clay and remold for a whole new stamp. Printing on clay is another simple way to up your game. Either print textures onto wet clay or print with paint or glaze onto fired pieces for a new twist on some old favorites.

4. Food Printing

We are all familiar with the old apple and potato print methods, but have you ever tried bread? What about Chex cereal, or brussel sprouts? I love the idea of a “Printmaker’s Buffet” where stations are set up around the room with different foods for kids to experiment printing with.

Have you tried any of these methods in your classroom?

What are your favorite unconventional printmaking methods or materials?

Sarah Dougherty

Contributor

My name is Sarah Dougherty, and I teach elementary art in a large urban district in central Iowa. I love working with our diverse population of K-5 students to bring art to their homes, communities, and everyday lives.

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  • Karen

    Never tried gelatin; sounds fun! We did used shaving cream to make marbleized paper this week and I consider it printmaking. The kids loved it! I try to avoid food printing in a community where many kids go to bed hungry. :(

    • Great thought about the food printing, Karen. I taught in a school with 100% eligibility for free and reduced lunch. Maybe not an appropriate idea at a school like that. What other themes could we work into print buffets? Toys? Shoes? Stuff from the outdoors?

      It warms my heart to have conversations with responsive and aware educators like yourself! Thanks for sharing!

      • Kathy

        I must agree that I don’t use food in art class anymore–used to make potato prints, etc, but now I am more sensitive to a world where so many children go to bed hungry, and I think it send the wrong message, for any school. Love the use of things glued to corks in a previous post. Find one parent who works for a caterer or at a restaurant and you will bring you a trash bag full of corks!

        • Interesting thought. I wonder if there is a way that we can create a teachable moment around hunger and still print with food. I am always looking to tackle a tough subject! Perhaps we could assign students to find a way to use one potato to make prints for everyone. Perhaps their compositions would be posters for a food drive you sponsor. All of these creations could be focused around the social justice topic of hunger. There has to be a way to be more than sensitive to the topic, to really explore it through the art and then address it as a class or school in a positive and productive way. Great conversations!

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  • Lauren

    celery bottoms and pepper slices are cool too!

  • Mrs. P

    Great ideas! I also make my own stamps for printmaking using wine corks and hot gluing all sort of found thinks on them: craft foam bits, buttons, cut NERF bullets (those are actually cool), pom poms, wood shapes, puzzle pieces, glue stick caps, etc.–the list is endless. I just keep a bucket on my printmaking area and when I find something neat, I toss it in there for later. If you ask on Freecycle (or ask your friends and family) you’ll find someone with a big bunch of wine corks they’ve been hoarding.

    I also use dollar store foam plates. They can be used like meat trays, but they also make really neat circular prints.

    I’ve also tried printing with the ends of spruce trees (saw that on Pinterest and it didn’t work as well as they said it would, but the children loved making snow texture with the spruce needles).

    I’ve also just observed a teacher the other day having students put watercolor onto laminated paper and then pressing paper on top of it and creating a monoprint. That was neat–I hadn’t seen that before. She used it as a tie-dyed background for paper t-shirts).

    Thanks for sharing these fun ideas! Mrs. P @ createartwithme.blogspot.com

  • Do you have a lesson plan or a link for the gelatin printing? That sounds awesome!

    • No, not yet. But I am in the process of writing one. Maybe for next month?

  • Diane in Chicago

    I have worked in Head Start classrooms in Chicago. Although I understand the beauty of printing with food, it was pointed out to me how disrespectful that was when working with a population for whom food insecurity is a major daily struggle. To use a potato to print on paper with a child who very likely did not get to eat dinner last night was thoughtless.

    Even when working with a more fortunate population, rendering food inedible is still an issue for me and I have been unable to do it ever since.

    • Thanks for your comments, Diane. I was just visiting a Chicago school in which many of those issues exist, and yet I saw pepper prints on the wall as part of a lesson on power and inequality. Powerful! I think it comes down to being aware enough to understand the needs of your particular student population and make that work with your own value system. As someone who has taught in a school with a 100% free-and-reduced population, I totally understand where you are coming from. We all serve different communities, and it is my goal to offer support and resources to all kinds of teachers and schools.

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