Bob Blackburn Art Making Workshop

A Printmaking Activity based on the work of
Robert Blackburn
ACFF author: Diane Cherr


1. To engage and enthuse students by teaching them the magic of printmaking.

2. To give students the opportunity to learn a method of relief printmaking after
    reflecting upon Robert Blackburn’s woodcuts.

3. To give students confidence in a new technique while giving them the opportunity to
    explore printmaking media.

4. To create a series of experimental prints using a Styrofoam printing plate.


1. Meat/Vegetable tray or Styrofoam plate. You can recycle vegetable trays from the

grocery store or ask the butcher area at the grocery store if they have extra clean

trays for an art project. You can also buy a pack of scratch foam. You can cut

Styrofoam plates to make round prints. Dick Blick has a Scratch-Art Scratch-Foam

Soft Surface Printing Board in a package of twelve, which is a very reasonable

alternative to the Styrofoam trays. The advantage is that they come ready to use

and do not require any prepping for printing a simple one color print. Dick Blick:

2. A more advanced older student can cut out shapes and ink them up in different

3. Ball point pen, sharpened pencil, lollipop stick or chopsticks for mark making in the
4. Water based printing ink- Speedball comes in a variety of colors. Tempera paint and

acrylic paints will also work, but Speedball inks are great. A variety of colors lend to

color mixing and exploring composition on jigsaw plates.

5. Scissors

6. Xacto Knife

7. Metal Ruler to use when cutting with Xacto knife

8. Newspaper to cover tables

9. Printing paper- Speedball makes a good student grade printing paper or white

drawing paper, construction paper, even scrapbooking paper will give an interesting


10. Tray, piece of plexiglass to squeeze ink onto- old cookie sheets are great.

11. Wooden spoons or printing barens for applying pressure to the paper on the inked

Styrofoam printing plate.

12. Brayers- Dick Blick has a variety of Scratch-Art Foam and soft rubber brayers or

rollers. Speedball also makes great brayers, though they are more expensive. They

are a great investment.

13. Water source or sink in the room. Buckets of water are an alternative.

14. Smocks or aprons for each participant

15. Paper towels


In contrast to the slide presentation segment of the program about Robert Blackburn, this art making activity will provide an opportunity for students to explore their own creativity by creating their own relief printing plates and making prints from them.

The instructor can either provide Styrofoam trays or plates that have been made flat by cutting away the curved edges or using Scratch-Art Scratch-Foam as a printing plate.

Cover the tables with clean newspaper. While everyone is drawing on their printing plates during the first class session, it is unnecessary to set up areas for inking and printing. The drawing station can become smaller or disappear as the class is ready to ink and print their plates.

Draw into the plate using pencil, pen and other drawing tools to create an image, remembering that the image will print backwards, especially important if letters or words are used. Create lines, shapes, dots or the still life if interested in creating a figurative piece. A still life can be set up in the room, using similar objects to those in Blackburn’s lithographs. Students can review the still life prints in the slide show and help set up the objects to replicate those they have looked at or the teacher can set up the still life.

When the drawing is complete, it is time to print. Using a tray, place a small amount of ink across the surface. Run the roller back and forth over the surface to create a smooth but tacky even covering of ink. The ink will make a sizzle noise and will come up in little “points” if you look closely at the surface when the ink is spread properly.. Start with less ink. You can always add a little more.

Once the roller is “inked,” roll onto the printing plate. You will need to roll over the plate with ink several times to cover it evenly. If planning a color mixing exploration, begin with lighter colors of ink first. 

Once the printing plate is inked, place paper on top and using a wooden spoon rub lightly in small circular motions, making sure to cover the entire surface. Do this more than one time if not sure you have covered the whole print. Do not use the edges of the spoon, but the smooth outer bowl, so the paper does not rip. Put one hand over the covered plate to keep the paper in place. Check how the print looks by holding the printing paper in place and lifting the paper from different angles. Go back over the print with the spoon if you are not satisfied

Remove the paper. You have your first print. YAY!

Repeat the process for more prints.
More advanced students can cut apart their printing plates and ink up the different parts of the plate with different colors. Put the pieces together like a jig saw puzzle and print.


Cut out random shapes and ink them in different colors. Print. Ink them up again and move the shapes around before printing again.

Photo: ArtsWestchester, White Plains, NY

Diane Cherr presented this workshop at Grimes Elementary School for Arts Westchester.

Prints and trays created as part of the Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination (AEMDD) initiative at Grimes Elementary School, Mount Vernon, NY. The AEMDD program was made possible through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to the Mount Vernon City School District in partnership with ArtsWestchester. For more about this project, visit:

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