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Nature Art: Printing Poppies

For quick art prints, nothing beats using Styrofoam as a printing plate. Soft and easy to carve, the pressure of your pencil works as a knife on this material--and using it in an art project is a way to re-use something that is not easily recycled.

You can draw your image directly on the Styrofoam as I have done here:


Red poppies are the divas of the garden. I wanted to draw them because their petals were so expressive. Once you have drawn your image on the plate, you might embellish it with texture, as I did with the dots on the flower buds. You could experiment with adding other textures, such as ziz-zag lines (using a pizza wheel), parallel lines (using the tines of a fork), or spiral circles (using the spiral binding of a notebook) to emphasize the shapes in your picture. Remember that if you are drawing words or numbers, you will need to write them backward, because printing reverses your image.

When you are finished drawing on the plate, it's time to ink it. I use water-soluble printer's ink because it is easy to clean up and has no odor. Collect a white paper plate, a printer's brayer (to spread the ink), newspaper, and a 2.5-ounce tube of ink.

It takes only five minutes to make a print! Try these easy seven steps:

1. Squirt ink onto the plate in a circle about the size of a quarter.
2. Use the brayer to roll the ink into a thin, tacky layer in the center of the plate.
3. Lay your printing plate face up on newspaper and roll the inked brayer over the surface of the plate.
4. Replenish the ink on the brayer by rolling it in the ink on the plate.
5. Apply ink to the plate using the brayer until the plate has a even coat of ink.
6. I dabbed in some red ink on the plate with a Q-tip after I rolled on the blue with the brayer.

Here is the inked plate:


7. Press paper (I used white copy paper) onto the inked plate, rubbing the paper onto the Styrofoam with your hands.

Lift off the paper to reveal:


The background of my print is patchy because the ink was drying very fast and was difficult to spread evenly. If I had ink extender, I would have mixed in a bit with my ink to help it spread and cover the plate. If you can't find materials locally, you can find the supplies at enasco.com; the printing plates are called ScratchFoam and the ink is from Speedball. Washed Styrofoam meat trays from the grocery store will work as printing plates...but florists' foam won't. It carves as easily as Styrofoam, but it breaks down into a gritty dust that gets everywhere.

Have fun with your own project!

-- Sue Fierston paints and teaches just outside of Washington, D.C. in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. As a painter, she works in acrylics and watercolor and is in the middle of a series called "100 Flowers." As a teaching artist, she works with teachers to bring art into their classrooms in grades 4-8. Her posts focus on her nature-themed art collaborations. For a look at her paintings or more about her teaching, check out her website at suzannefierston.com.

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