If you have ever done printmaking with any age, you understand the mess! Inky fingers, wet prints everywhere, brayers and tubes of ink cluttering up the tables and counters, not to mention all that newspaper all over the room! How in the world do you get the kids to clean up in 10 minutes, keep their prints clean, and keep the students (and yourself) calm through it all? 

The following list of tips have helped me to manage the chaos of printmaking with middle schoolers; if you are looking for elementary tips, there are extra resources at the bottom of this post...

Tip #1: KEEP IT SIMPLE! Start with the messy supplies sloooowly and keep the objectives very, very basic. The first day of printing, I had a few  students at a time pull a test print, taking turns at the counter while the rest of the students painted with watercolor at their tables. (I wanted them to prepare interesting backgrounds for their prints with the paint, and it allowed them an opportunity to experiment with the paint without any pressure of an official learning objective. I adored the beautiful images they made, too!)

Here is one printing station set up for test prints. Only a few students at a time printed, which allowed me a better opportunity to re-teach and supervise. The rest of the class painted with watercolor at the tables:

All the kids left the tables just like this at the end of class. It helped tremendously for me to be able to say, "Look at your tables - this is what they need to look like when the bell rings!" 

Tip #2: USE VIDEOS - these visual aids are wonderful to show the kids goals for clean up as well as to re-teach (see tip #5 below for an instructional video). Below is a video I shot before school to show all my classes what the room SHOULD look like before dismissal...I used it as a bell-ringer:

This is how the central counter in my classroom looks during the middle of class: most of the inking tiles are out on the tables, the inks are scattered, there are printing plates and used paper towels everywhere. Messy, messy messy! 

And this is how one student decided to organize it at the end of class! Neat and tidy! I always ask an art aide to help me organize the counter, lining up brayers and inking tiles neatly. This kid was amazing! 

Tip #Three: DON'T WASH ANYTHING AT THE END OF CLASS....the kids just return all the tools to the counter! To save time, I just lightly spritz with water at the end of each class and the next class uses most of the same colors. (During class, the kids have to check with me before washing off an inking tile, in order to save the ink, and they can wash their brayers if needed. I let them pick their own colors but encourage them to try to use up what is there, first.) All the inking tiles are out on the tables during class, and they all have to be returned to the counter at the end of class. The kids have to clean off the tables at the end of each class, too. This results in a lot of trashed newspapers! There are at least 6 - 8 full bags of trash at the end of the day when we do printmaking. 

Tip #Four: USE STUDENT AIDS...The students take turns every week helping with classroom duties, and I ask these "Art Aides" individually to pick up certain items, like all of the brayers or all of the inking tiles. I have to stand by the counter to oversee where they all end up if it is a younger group. More mature groups require very little coaching, but most of my classes have to be watched closely during clean-up. Even though I am watching them, they still try to get away with mischief! It never ceases to amaze me. I was looking right at two 6th graders who decided to smack each other with newspapers. Maybe they thought that because they were all the way on the other side of the room that I wouldn't notice? Hmmmm. 

Tip #Five: PRINT ON MAGAZINES OR TELEPHONE BOOKS...Seriously, this tip was so stupidly simple it never occured to me until I was reading art education blogs online a few years ago. The kids turn to a fresh page every time they add ink onto the printing plate or when they print. This means they have an INK FREE surface to print on, which means the print will (hopefully) be CLEAN! Thank you to all those art education bloggers for brilliant ideas! 

The video on the left is one of my students using a magazine to keep her prints clean...she paid very close attention to the instructions!
The video on the right is the instructional video - all the directions I gave the kids on how to print are here. (A 7th grader shot the video - she did a great job!) 

Tip #Six: DON'T DISMISS ANYONE UNTIL EVERYTHING IS CLEAN...Make them clean to YOUR expectations before they leave! I will walk around the room with either a laser pointer or a yardstick to point out items the kids missed. There is always a bit of trash, paper, or ink left out. I don't say a word, I just stand there and point. This year, I even made a sign that I taped to the end of a yardstick that said, "No one leaves until all trash and materials are picked up." I walk around with that sign (holding it like I am holding a flag) and point, and the kids think it is really funny. They know I am not being mean, that I expect them to do a good job. I really don't let them leave until EVERYTHING is put away, and they know it! I tell them to help each other out, and I warn them not to "be the one who holds everybody back!" 

Tip #7: USE SARAN WRAP TO SAVE YOUR INK...if there is still a lot of ink left on the inking tiles after the last class, I line all of them up on the counter in a row and cover them with Saran wrap plastic.  There's no sense wasting all that expensive ink! 

Tip #8: STUDENTS WASH ALL THE TOOLS AT THE END OF THE DAY...they love to help wash all those brayers and inking tiles! This is actually a pretty fun chore, not like washing the dishes at home, lol. 

I have done printmaking many times in the past, and I think I have a pretty good plan....even if it is the end of the year, with distracted, wild, kids!

......Most of my 187 middle school students had never done any kind of printmaking before: they had never even heard of the technique. They loved it, though! It was messy, it was chaotic, but it sure was fun! The theme for the unit was "Beauty," and the kids had some pretty interesting ideas for images! 

Here is a link to the introductory lesson on my classroom blog, and here is another link to an article about the results. (If you would like to see what we did each day, scroll down to the bottom of the post.) This unit was one of the best units we have done all year; every single student was pleased with their prints, no matter how "talented" they believed themselves to be. Success! 

What are your best tips for staying sane during printmaking? 


10 Everyday Items To Help Manage the Mess of Printmaking, by Wynita Harmon, theartofed.com

Reduction Printmaking With 5th Grade, by Hope Hunter Knight, Mrs. Knight's Smartest Artists (check out the labeled table covers - brilliant!)

Creative Printmaking Projects For Kids,  The Art Curator For Kids, by Cindy Ingram

Community Maps, 5th Grade Printmaking, Mrs. Knight's Smartest Artists

Troubleshooting Printmaking In the Elementary Artroom,  Cassie Stephens, Youtube

Printed Cityscape Collages With Third Grade, Cassie Stephens

Reflecting Architectural Prints (Middle School), theartofed.com

Kindergarten Students Flipping Their Own Instruction For Printmaking, Mini Matisse, by Nic Hahn

Collection of Articles, from theartofed

5 Secrets For Managing the Mess of Printmaking, by Heather Crockett, theartofed

How To Make Printmaking Easy For Even Your Most Rambunctious Class, by Alecia Eggers, theartofed

Albrecht Durer and Printmaking (On the Cheap), artfulartsyamy, by Amy Zschaber

Easy-Peasy Screenprinting Activity, by Phyllis Levine Brown, There's a Dragon In My Art Room

Ideas for prints from Denise Stringer Davis, flickr.com

Printmaking ideas from Raquel Redmond at Brava Art Press

If you would like to know the day by day breakdown of activities, here is what we did each day of the printmaking unit: 

Day 1: An Introduction to Printmaking; Students Think of An Idea Based on the Theme of "Beauty"

Days 2, 3: Creating a Relief Printing Plate

Day 4: Students Revise and Edit Their Designs On the Printing Plates (Working on the Design, Reviewing Vocabulary, and Writing About Beauty)

Day 5: Printmaking Video Clips (I had to be out this day)

Day 6: Getting Ready To Print: Vocabulary Quiz and Painted Papers

Days 7-13: Printing a Limited Edition of Fine Art Prints
  • Day 7: Printing the Proof 
  • Days 8 & 9: Printing an Edition of Black and White Prints
  • Days 10 - 12: Printing an Edition of Colored Prints
  • Day 13: Students complete a self-evaluation, a written reflection, and begin working on their cards for teachers
Days 14 - 16: Students Make Cards Out of Their Prints In Honor of Teacher Appreciation Week 

article by Mrs. Anna Nichols

Below is an inking tile that a 7th grader "messed up:" she didn't like the colors so she just smooshed the brayer through all the colors to see what would happen: 

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