By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Students learn printmaking at Sue Buel

Starla Pointer /News-Register
Sonia Allen explains the art of printmaking to first-graders at Sue Buel School.
Starla Pointer /News-Register
Sonia Allen explains the art of printmaking to first-graders at Sue Buel School.

Silly question. “YES!” the students chorused.

Then a girl asked, “Are we gonna do art?” When Allen nodded, the girl bounced in her seat. “Yay!” she cried.

Allen wants to perpetuate that love of art in her printmaking classes, which she is delivering to every grade level at Sue Buel this winter. She does that by being silly with them while introducing art concepts and vocabulary, tapping into their creativity and encouraging them to solve problems.

“Printmaking” may sound daunting, Allen told the children, but it’s actually something they already know a lot about. If they’ve ever dipped their hands in paint and pressed them onto paper, used a rubber stamp or left wet footprints on the floor, they’ve done printmaking.

For this printmaking class, she said, students first draw pictures, keeping them simple so they can easily be translated into a collection of geometric shapes.

A fish, for instance, might be made up of a big oval, a big triangle for the tail, triangular fins and a circular eye. A flower might include a big circle surrounded by several half-circle petals atop a skinny rectangular stem.

“Remember, artists have to draw something out of their own heads,” she said. “Not SpongeBob. Not Nemo. Not Cinderella. Something from your head.”

Students then cut the geometric shapes from rough-textured cardboard and paste them onto a rectangular printing plate, also made from cardboard.

Allen held up a rectangle of smooth cardboard.

“This is your plate,” she said, speaking in exaggerated tones as students began to giggle. “Not a dinner plate. Not a dessert plate. A printing plate.”

She told them each drawing, and its cardboard twin, should fill up most of the space on the plate. “Don’t draw a teeny, tiny picture,” she said in a teeny, tiny voice. Instead, she boomed, spreading her arms wide, “draw a big, huge picture.”

After they’ve created the cardboard plates, students will apply ink (“Washable!” Allen said.) and press papers onto the plates. That will give them colorful mirror images of their original drawings.

As the lesson got under way, Allen showed students some of the prints she had made. As she peeled the paper from each plate, revealing the image of a teddy bear or a flower or a green pepper, they gasped with excitement.

Allen is one of several artists who are doing residencies in McMinnville elementary schools this year. The McMinnville Education Foundation is providing the funding.

The printmaker said her lessons teach and build upon principles and vocabulary of art. In addition, they link to many other subjects children are studying. Math, for instance -- it deals with geometric principals, shapes, positive and negative space, reflected images.

The art process also gets kids thinking and brainstorming ideas, then takes them through refining those ideas and translating them into a finished product. It’s also about following a step-by-step procedure to reach a goal. And it’s about solving problems and seeing things through, she said.

As students began drawing their ideas, Allen walked around the classroom, offering tips and encouragement. Try making fewer, bigger petals, she told one girl. Great snowman, but maybe you don’t need those little hands, she said to another. Simplify -- maybe just a monster’s head, rather than the whole monster, she suggested to a boy.

She said she was pleased with what she saw.

“They’re really good,” she said. “They’ll retain the information because they’re using it. And they’ll be eager to try art again.”

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