Our fourth grade spends their year studying the Middle Ages through the Reformation for their history section. Since I try to plan my art lessons around their history when I can, fourth grade has been an awesome art year. We looked at some art history, we made some frescoes, we studied cathedral and castle architecture, we designed illuminated letters and we played with calligraphy. We learned about concepts like simultaneous narrative, and how to understand it in a painting, and how still lifes became popular. We looked at some popular subject matter and tried it for ourselves with St. George and the dragon. And when we came to Gutenberg we tried our hand at printing.
From which came one of our few art disasters this year. In third grade it was carving plaster; in fourth grade it was woodblock printing. Don't get me wrong--we learn through our less-than-perfect results. Even the masters had disasters--just look at Leondardo's The Last Supper fresco, which was already deteriorating during his own lifetime because he experimented with oil in the fresco (Bad choice there!). Not every art project is going to come out perfect, no matter how well you plan.
And I did quite a bit of planning with the woodblock printing project. My kindergartener proved that the wood blocks could be indented with a ball point, but the fourth-graders did not prove so hardy, and my own acrylics turned out to be much thicker than the school's tempera. Which equalled disastrous results. C'est la vie.
However, since the printed pages were meant to be part of our Book of Hours project, it was hard for me to let go. With so few pages already going in the book, having one more missing felt extra-discouraging. Enter the grand idea. You know about grand ideas, don't you? The ones that seem so good when they enter the brain; so right that how could anything go wrong? I would just carve my own woodblock and make prints for the kids.
Okay, have you ever carved a woodblock? They don't go real fast. The weeks--no more like months--it would take stretched out in my mind and I tried thinking of other solutions. Wait, a friend gave me a heat tool for Christmas. Surely burning would go faster. Nope! Exchanging a blade for fire was not a good thing.
Now that the year is rapidly coming to an end, it became crucial that I either find
a solution or abandon the project. But how to let go of Gutenberg when movable type changed the world?! (Don't you love hyperbole.) With only a few days left before we need to think about binding our books, I made the decision. The supple block of rubber that I've been hoarding would work just right. And in one night--from drawing to carved--it was done! Now I just have to print them.
If you've never tried carving out your own stamps, I highly recommend it. Being a person with way too many disparate supplies and far too many ideas, I had resisted the interest I felt whenever I read about people carving their own stamps. Earlier this year I gave in when I needed a small bird stamp for some inchies. Taking out an extra eraser I drew my little image and then made the first cut. My co-workers used to tease me about being the keeper of the knives (at every job one of my first requests was a box-knife--I mean have you ever tried cutting mat board with scissors?), and I guess there was more to it than I realized, because that first cut sealed the deal. My exacto blade went through the plastic so nicely. Three birds, two asterisks and one word later my eye fell on a pink pearl... I hate pink pearl erasers; they are the destroyers of too many pieces of art. Being of petroleum origin, when old the oils come to the surface and the unknowing art student puts them to paper and bam! Ruined! A nice oil stain in place of your graphite. So what better use for a pink pearl than life as a rubber stamp--depositing far more pleasant things on a piece of paper. Ha!
By now I've replaced the exacto with a small carving kit and had purchased a nice piece of rubber that was destined for a bunch of smaller stamps. Oh well, I guess I have to go back to the art store now. Please, don't cry for me--I can make the sacrifice! It is teacher appreciation week at our school, maybe I'll be blessed with a gift certificate. (Yesterday I was blessed with a set of beautiful markers--I can't wait for school to get out so I can play!)
But school isn't over yet, so I'd best get back to the world of art history and Gutenberg. Now, if I can just find the table underneath all this plaster and burlap, paper, fabric, markers...
Separate note: The extra photos are our frescoes. The Madonna image was done after a Byzantine image to show the kids what we were doing. However, they all made crosses, based after the cross fresco on the table underneath the Madonna. I made it in true fresco fashion, by mixing pigments into very watery plaster and painting them onto the wet plaster. Very interesting and intriguing process. Another medium I could get very distracted by.