Recently I was invited to teach a group of young ladies the craft of lino printing. It turned out to be quite a positive experience, for both students and teacher alike.
Michelle Austen is a successful artist and teacher in Calgary with a unique studio that enables a student to discover and explore their creative mind. Among her many different creative pursuits she holds creative classes in the middle of July for her young protégé and this year I had the opportunity to join them (8 students) for a morning of lino fun.
Let me start by thanking Michelle for this opportunity. I had such a great time. Not familiar with teaching such a young age group, it wasn't quite what I had expected - it was better than that. Much better! With Michelle's guidance and support I was able to find a way to deliver a class to a new audience. Kids, I learned, are curious and energetic by nature and can be fascinating to work with. They keep you on your toes and challenge you in ways that are always surprising. Put a group of high-spirited and like-minded individuals together and you have such a positive vibe to work with. It was one of those days and their collective input made my day such an enjoyable one.
However, after introductions my first hurdle was communicating this complicated process for 8 to 12 year old's. So far I've only taught adults and it's important to translate according to the needs of the class. Using examples of my own work they were able to see what a lino print looked like and get a basic idea of the possibilities using the medium. Since this was a beginners class the students were encouraged to just go along with it, find a topic that they like, keep their drawing simple and I would guide them in making any complicated decisions.
My first big surprise was seeing how fearless they were in finding their own subject matter. Simple graphic lines representing Palm Trees, Ice Cream Cones, Butterflies, and a even figurative image, were among some the excellent ideas. Once again I was reminded that you don't have to be talented in drawing to produce some marvelous printed images. They were quick with their drawing and eager to get cutting and printing. That's the spirit of the game! Their agility impressed me from the start. Once they learned the tricky part of reversing their drawing using tracing paper (and the difference between using hard and soft pencils in doing so) they were then able to forge ahead with the cutting and carving process. This was when things began to get awkward for some of them. The dexterity of using cutting tools is never easy the first time, but not being hindered by this too much, they quickly grasped the value in using the right sized cutting blades, learning what to cut and what to leave on the block, and how to find pattern and texture from leaving some lino block uncut. My focus was in helping them understand what they'd be printing and understand that the print is quite different from the drawing. This concept always confused the novice, whether young or older. As the block unraveled itself at the printing stage, everything became clear to them. The driving force was always in having fun, these are professional fun seekers - that's always the best approach in any creative pursuit and even I tend to forget that.
One of the questions I often come across is, "How do I deal with a bottleneck of people all wanting to use the printing press at the same time?" It's a dilemma that every printmaking teacher has, especially with adult students. But today I found the answer to this question! These young ladies managed to form a civilized line (without being asked), in a clockwise direction, around a central table where they were able to ink up, line up, take their paper, mount their block and take a print ...then start the process all over again - one person, one print at a time. How simple is that? Compare this to the usual scene were students typically (and understandably) get so involved in their own printing block that they often want to print all of their edition before conceding the press to the next in line. There are good reasons for this, such as keeping the ink plate clean, keeping the consistency of ink just right (for your block) ....and not having to deal with the potential mess left by someone before you. But that's another story.
The most valuable lesson here was that it's important to have fun, share what you have, appreciate your fellow artists and not worry too much about the result. There's always another chance to do it again.
Thank you ladies for the learning experience ...I'll be sure to use your splendid example of how to have fun and spread the love in my future classes. Well done, you're a credit to yourselves and your teacher.
(Photos with permission. Courtesy of Michelle Austen)
Helping the attentive student with intricate lino cutting.
Showing the class a great print!
Student carefully loading the block onto the book press
(to the left, out of shot, another student is inking up)
Demonstrating how much pressure the block needs.
Michelle's Art Classes ...a great hideaway studio.
Check it out if you live near Calgary.