String monoprinting is a great project for very young children as it’s simple, quick and fun, with impressive results. I often choose this as a fun ‘first lesson’ when I am welcoming a new group of 3 and 4 year olds to Art Club. It is a twist on the classic kindergarten ‘butterfly prints’ activity, but instead of applying paint to the paper with a brush or the fingers, a length of string is used instead.
I start by preparing trays of slightly watered-down paints and several sheets of coloured paper for each child, choosing 3 or 4 colours of paint, and 2 or 3 colours of paper. The paint and paper colours should compliment each other, and I recommend selecting a limited range of colours that produce pleasant colour combinations when mixed together, so that you don’t end up with a stack of colourless brown/grey pictures!
The paper is folded in half and opened out again. Then the children dip lengths of string into different colours, using a paint brush to ensure that the string is coated with paint (leaving one end clean so that it can be handled without getting too messy).
The string is then arranged in a wavy pattern on one side of the paper, which is folded together again and pressed down thoroughly with the hands and fingers.
At this point there is a choice: (A) open the paper straight away and remove the string to reveal wavy lines printed symmetrically on both sides. Or (B) pull the string out from between the folded paper while still pressing down with one hand, wriggling the string backwards and forwards to create blurred swirling lines where the paint is dragged across the surface. I encourage the children to combine both methods on one sheet of paper, for really interesting results.
There will always be at least one child who cannot resist the temptation to pick up a paint brush and start daubing their paper in the traditional manner. However, the beauty of this technique is that mistakes can easily be incorporated into the picture by simply folding the paper and bringing any accidental paint marks into the symmetrical design!
The swirling abstract designs are reminiscent of those famous Rorschach inkblot tests used in psychological analysis. I’m not sure what the children’s string monoprints say about their personalities, but one thing is certain – they had a lot of fun making them!