At the last Art Club before Christmas we tried out a fun printmaking technique to create simple but effective Christmas trees.
Polystyrene printing is the perfect project for introducing young children to relief printmaking for the first time, as it is very easy to create an incised image or pattern by simply ‘drawing’ into the soft surface with a pencil. Purpose-made polystyrene plates are available to buy from good art suppliers, but there is no need to splash out on such expensive materials for pre-school children who are experimenting with the technique for the first time. The thin polystyrene in food trays and takeaway cartons is also effective, and you can feel slightly less guilty about sending it to landfill when you have found a creative use for it first!
I asked the children’s parents to save all their used food trays, which I transformed into printing plates by cutting out the flat, rectangular sections from the bases and lids. I decided to pre-cut the plates into triangular fir tree shapes for my younger group (aged 3-4), who are not yet proficient with scissors. However, I wanted the older children (aged 4-6) to make their own Christmas tree shapes, so I marked each plate with two dotted lines forming a triangle, to act as guidelines. While a few of the kids opted to simply cut straight along the lines to make a triangular shape, most made jagged zigzag cuts along each side to produce some wonderfully prickly and spiky Christmas trees!
Once they had their basic fir tree shape, each child decorated it by incising different shapes and patterns into the surface using pencils as well as other everyday items such as pen lids to make circles, a screwdriver to make little crosses, and a chopstick, which made both dots and little squares depending which end was used.
The children used normal school tempera paint and a short, stubby paintbrush to dab green all over the printing plate, being careful not to apply it too thickly. Then a sheet of paper was carefully laid over the top, and pressed all over with the fingertips, trying not to let the paper move and smudge. When the paper was peeled up, a beautiful print of a decorated Christmas tree was revealed. Some children took a second print from their plate (without repainting), and then chose their favourite from the two. A polystyrene star was then decorated using the same method. and printed with red paint.
The children who finished with enough time to spare added extra festive sparkle to their cards by stamping star shapes with glue and then sprinkling them with glitter.
The star stamps were simple to make from a cardboard tube. I cut the tube into rings about an inch thick, which the children then folded to create five-pointed stars.
The technique worked brilliantly, producing very effective prints even without any specialist printing materials or tools. Next time I will invest in some printing inks and a roller, for an even more professional finish.
Please click through the Gallery to see more of the children’s festive polystyrene prints…