Kids Print Extravaganza
A rainbow-colored paper mosaic and the rare winter sun create a welcome respite for our February Art Hop visitors who are ushered in by a draft of bitter cold. Drawing nearer for closer inspection, they find colorful children’s drawings scratched into black rectangular ink blocks, printed on delicate tissue paper. Butterflies, triangular men, a spaceship (giraffe?) cruising through outer space, and that ever-present block letter “S” that has managed to show up in every student’s notebook since notebooks were invented. Third graders from King Westwood, El Sol, Woodward, Winchell, and New Genesis fill our multiple walls with unique prints, alongside multi-layer prints from kids with the Parks + Rec program.
Others with the county-wide literacy group Read and Write Kalamazoo (RAWK) paired their prints with Whopper stories, tall tales of unusual make. Juan Figueroa tells a harrowing tale of a world filled with attack pizza that only he and his hippo can stop. Prints from high school students in area Education for the Arts classes explore more advanced printmaking techniques, such as collographs, multi-color plexiglass intaglio, and linoleum block prints.
The Kids Print Extravaganza isn’t the usual call-for-entry show, but a culmination of a year’s worth of effort from kids all over Kalamazoo County working at the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center. The process started all the way back when the weather was still warm. Groups of students (some as large as 60) pile into the gallery area of the KBAC. Half of the students gather around Director and teacher Jeff Abshear (“Mr. Jeff”) to learn about the history of printmaking, crowding around the 104 year-old Chandler and Price press. “Printers would have big rubber bands tied around their hands—like puppets—so after placing the paper, their hands would naturally pull out of the press. Otherwise….” He stops cranking the big steel wheel and the lead type block and steel plate slow to a stop just short of closing in on his fingers “…their hand would get crushed in the press.”
In our paper workshop, Studio Manager Katie Platte, Intern Coordinator Crystal Shaulis and college interns work with the kids to pull their very first sheet of paper. “Stick your hands in the water and move your fingers like a little spider.” Katie wiggles her fingers around, distributing the paper pulp in a large, rectangular bath. A few seconds later, she pulls out a screen covered with an even layer of pulp. Pressing it down on a pellon, a special cloth that separates sheets of handmade paper, she draws back the screen to reveal an expertly made sheet of paper. The kids are in no way shy about jumping right into the process, splashing water and pulp everywhere as they “kiss off” imperfect sheets by slapping the screens onto the surface of the water to release the pulp and try again. After pulling that perfect sheet, students decorate it with squeeze bottles filled with dyed, overbeaten pulp in bright colors. Interns will later load up the soaking piles of pulp into a hydraulic press, squeezing out all of the water and pressing the fibers together to make thin sheets of paper.
Students return on another day to create their first block prints with small styrofoam sheets. They all crowd around Mr. Jeff as he takes one of the sheets and firmly presses into it with a dull golf pencil. Slowly, the indented lines turn into a tiger. “It’s best to fill up the entire plate. So, where does the tiger live?” he asks.
“In the jungle!” one student shouts out helpfully. The tiger is soon surrounded by different plants, with clouds in the sky. A few passes of a brayer later, the lines of the tiger pop out stark white against the black ink. A delicate sheet of tissue paper is pressed onto the plate. He rubs the bowl end of a spoon on the sheet in small circles, transferring the black ink onto the robin’s egg blue tissue. Pulling back gently, the tiger appears, drawn in reverse on the tissue, ready to handle in just a half hour. The kids dive into the process with gusto, some students creating enough prints for every member of their family. Some of these prints are saved to paste into books they will bind later that year when Book Arts staff visit them at their school. One of the prints is set aside for our February Art Hop show.
Fast forward to February 3, and some of those same students are excitedly dragging their parents in, searching for that amazing print of a robot (or was it Pikachu?) they made. These students get to experience the life of an artist, from creating their own print to showing their work at Art Hop where the gallery routinely sees upwards of 400 people. As other adults wind their way through the Park Trades Center and stop to marvel at prints of houses, submarines, and all shapes and sizes of cats, they too can make their own print. A table staffed by KBAC interns provide the styrofoam sheets, ink, and tissue paper.
The Book Arts Center strives to give students of southwest Michigan a chance to experience traditional printmaking, papermaking, and bookbinding in a studio environment, using traditional equipment and methods that have been practiced for hundreds of years. These encounters expand upon and complement public school art education, creating a unique experience that requires students to use their imaginations and problem solving skills to create a book. These classes would not be possible without the generous funding provided by the Gilmore Foundation, Kalamazoo Community Foundation, The Dalton Foundation, Arts for More, Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, the Upjohn Foundation, Kalamazoo Arts Council, and individual community members.