Printmaking: Self Portraits


This art lesson has been cultivating in my mind for quite some time now, so actually getting to watch it unfold has been such a treat for me. To be honest, I’ve had very limited success with printmaking in the past…I tried it my first year teaching and it was an ABSOLUTE disaster. Ever since, I have felt very wary about printmaking and have approached it as if I were walking on eggshells.  This year, though, I decided to be brave and revisit printmaking!

As usual with Middle School self portraits, I started off by taking a picture of each student. This time, though, I asked each 7th grader to make facial expression that shows off their personality.

PicMonkey Collage One thing that I have learned is to always create checklists for students to follow throughout any multi-step and complicated art project. This way, students can follow the steps at their own pace and monitor their own progress. I distributed their pictures (I call them “reference photos”) and passed out plan rubber stamps that I ordered online. 7th graders followed their checklists and completed Step #1: Go over all of the lines in the reference photo with charcoal. Next, students used charcoal to darken all the shadows in their reference photos.

3They transferred the outlines and shadows from their reference photo onto their rubber stamp by placing the photo face down and rubbing.

11PicMonkey Collage


There is a lot of room for error in this transfer method…. and that is OK! Not everyone’s face transferred perfectly onto their stamps, so students filled in the gaps. This made them all the more interesting, in my opinion.


Next, we discussed positive vs negative space and looked at some examples of relief printmaking in my slideshow.  I demonstrated the process of chiseling with my carving tool and instructed 7th graders to chisel out the highlights of their face. They carved around the darkened shadows and outlines in their stamp.

9a1c8They turned out great!


After the stamps were completely chiseled out, I took a deep breath and prepared my demonstration.  First, I demonstrated how to use the brayer to roll out an appropriate amount of ink.  Next, I rolled the brayer onto my stamp. Then, I placed a small piece of paper over my stamp and pressed down with the tips of my fingers. I called each table up to the front of the room at a time to try making a plain  black print on white paper. d


The other students created a simple pattern on the backside of their stamp while they waited to come up.  Not only did this keep them busy, but it provided them with a new pattern to interchange their self portrait stamps with. I showed students how to label their prints so that they could keep track of their impression number (1/5 2/5, 3/5, 4/5, & 5/5.)10933830_10100317228753011_1229669258177800650_n

The initial impressions were made and now it was time to add in color, mix in textures and patterns, and have fun with it. While I view this as the ‘fun’ part, it was definitely the part that I most dreaded. So far, I had been able to control the flow of things and adding all of these elements (such as moving around the room freely, sharing brayers, and mixing inks) felt a little scary. warhol-02

I showed 7th graders this Andy Warhol quote above (^) and asked students to tell me what they thought it meant.  Several students applied this theory to their own lives by using daily routines and schedules as a reference. For example: students get up in the morning, get dressed, eat breakfast, and go to school.  In terms of printmaking, this routine can be seen as the “stamp”- the backbone of our image.

But… and here’s the fun part…we tend to switch things up. Yes, we get up in the morning, but not always at the same time every day. Yes, we wear clothes to school, but we don’t always wear the same colors.  And yes, we do eat breakfast, but we don’t always eat the same food. Little details inside of our daily routines change each day and, as human beings, we are always changing too. All of these fluctuations represent the multiple impressions made in our printmaking process. I set up printing stations and allowed kids to “play” and move around, mixing and matching their foregrounds and backgrounds. Watching these middle schoolers buzz around with excited urgency to keep creating: probably my favorite moment as a teacher so far.





I asked students to make PLENTY of extra prints so they would have lots to choose from to submit…and I didn’t have to ask twice! Students fished through and selected their top 5. 7th graders glued them down onto black paper and turned them in.

a11bwbrrHere is a picture of all of the pieces placed together on the floor. We are just missing Spencer and Beth!


I think that these self-portraits capture the personalities of the students and shines light on their interchanging impressions.

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