Easy Printmaking for All Ages

Looking for an easy art project for a multi-generational get-together? Try this:

natural printmaking on cardstock
Queen Anne's Lace seed head printed on cardstock.

A few years ago, my cousins on my dad's side and I got together to give our mutual aunt (our fathers' sister) a crafting party as a birthday celebration. We looked for a project for this party that would be simple enough for even our youngest children (preschoolers) to do but that would also keep the school-age kids and adults engrossed for a good hour.

We found the perfect solution: Printmaking with leaves, held in a classroom at a local craft store. For a small fee, a facilitator brought in cardstock, plant material, ink pads, and tissue and waxed papers. She walked us through the printmaking process and then we happily printed for an hour, had a cake, and congratulated ourselves on the hand-printed cards and magnets we made. (This project is easily done at home, but we felt the kids would behave better in a classroom setting and there would be no set-up and clean-up for us busy moms.)

My favorite printed object from that session was a series of small magnets made by printing with white ink on black mat board. There was something about the white on black that raised the printed images to the level of art-even though the colored prints were lovely, too.

Alas, those magnets were lost in a kitchen re-org purge. But I brought in some vegetation from the garden to try to repeat this easy but satisfying printmaking technique.

papers and natural printmaking supplies
Materials for easy printmaking.

Materials:

  • Leaves, seed heads, flowers, herbs (try not to prejudge-dill weed leaves make great prints)
  • Stamp pads (white, black, and colors)
  • Waxed paper and white tissue paper, cut into small squares (a little larger than you want your prints to be)
  • Cardstock and mat board in colors of choice
  • A hard surface (such as a table) protected with a drop cloth
  • Damp paper towels or baby wipes for cleaning your hands
  • Peel and stick magnets (optional)

Directions:

1. Select a piece of plant material to print. Consider using small flowers, seed heads that can be somewhat flattened, and parts of leaves (such as one piece of a fern frond).

2. Place the piece of plant material flat on the stamp pad. Usually, it's best to place it face up as the bottom of the leaf will have more grooves and veins, but you can experiment. Cover with a piece of waxed paper.

3. Press down onto the plant material with your fingers, making sure to cover it entirely with ink. The waxed paper will protect your fingers. Note: if you're printing something with bulk like a seed head, be sure to press down on all the outer edges of the print to get a good outline for the print.

4. Remove the waxed paper and discard, carefully lift the plant off the pad, and position the plant on your cardstock or paper.

printmaking project on found paper
Fern leaf printed on book paper.

5. Cover the plant with a piece of tissue paper and gently press your fingers down onto the plant to make your print. Again make sure to press out to the very edges of the plant to get a good impression. Note: You could also use a small brayer for this process, but be gentle, especially if the plant material isn't perfectly flat.

6. Remove the tissue paper and discard then carefully lift off the plant to reveal your print.

You can continue to print on the same substrate for a grouped effect or isolate them. Cut your paper to size before you print or make the prints first and cut as you wish. Try printing on found paper like book pages (a vintage botanical encyclopedia would be perfect) or purchase plain notecards to print on. To turn the print into a magnet, just peel and stick a small magnet on the back of a small print on mat board.

I love this printmaking activity because it is low-tech and uses materials you almost certainly have around the house. It's appropriate for all ages and you can turn your results into a small gift.

If you want to kick your printmaking ideas up a notch, you'll want to see Sharon Gross's "Nature Print Greeting Cards" article in the September/October 2013 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors. This will be our 50th issue, with our 10-year anniverary issue coming up soon. Subscribe now so you don't miss a thing.

P.S. Do you make nature prints? What are your favorite plant materials to print with? Share any tips with us in the comments section below.

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Blog, Printmaking

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