This year my children are aware, more than ever, of the importance of thanking family and friends for their Christmas presents. But, at six and seven years old, they are still what I call wild writers, by which I mean they will not be told what, when or how to write. They love to write when their play requires it - then of course one sees brilliant prose, lists, poetry, spells, recipes, instructions and labelling - but try taming them by prescribing what they write, and they kick-up like little wild ponies; written homework from school is currently far from fun, and frankly rarely done.
As Buddy and Daisy couldn't be persuaded to write their thank you messages on this occasion I felt they should at least help to make the cards. They agreed to this, especially when I told them that I was going to be teaching them relief printmaking - a very grown-up art activity - which would enable us to make lots of cards quite quickly.
I have taught relief printmaking to groups of young children many times, but at work I use specialist tools in an art studio environment. My challenge was to provide the same kind of experience, and hopefully results, at home - with only household equipment and basic art supplies.
Here's what we used:
- printing tiles - rectangles of neoprene foam (in lieu of tiles made of fine polystyrene)
- a pencil each - to imprint the design on to the tile
- thick paint - we used water-based metallic acrylics (in lieu of printing ink)
- sponges - to dab the paint onto the printing tile
- blank greetings cards
- a toy rolling pin (in lieu of a roller or brayer)
Here's what we did:
1. First we drew our simple designs for the cards onto neoprene rectangles. My tip is to avoid text, as you have to write all the letters backwards. But Daisy was adamant - we had to write THANK YOU or THANKS, apparently.
2. We traced over our designs with a heavier press of our pencils - to indent the foam and create a relief-printing matrix.
3. We dabbed the paint all over the tiles with our sponges (both children needed help here).
4. Then came the exciting part - we turned the tiles over, paint-side down, onto the blank cards and rolled the rolling pin back and forth over the facing side of the tiles. This encourages the ink to be transferred from the tiles to the card.
5. A gentle peel back of the very user-friendly neoprene tiles revealed our designs - in relief.
6. We loaded up the tiles with paint again and again - repeating the process to produce further cards. It was very satisfying. Buddy kept saying, 'It's the moment of truth!' every time he peeled off his tile.
After about five cards the tiles started to get a bit clogged up with paint and the results weren't as sharp as they had been. They would have probably been fine with a quick rinse and dry, but we'd made plenty of cards by then, and most had turned out pretty well.
I'm sure it'll be me writing the actual messages in the cards tomorrow, but both children tell me they definitely want to sign their names; they really do want to say thank you, they're just not ready to put their gratitude in writing just yet. Maybe next year.