For a quick, easy lesson in art, social studies, and math, as well as early Chinese history, try printmaking. Ink was founded in China in 251 A.D. and developed from soot and glue. What was used before for papermaking led to woodblock printing. These prints were made in China and Japan by 750 A.D. First, gather your materials. These include: a styrofoam meat tray, scissors, paper, pencils, a felt-tipped marker, nails or toothpicks for engraving, plastic straw, kitchen utensils, waterbased ink or tempera paint, brayer, and a cookie sheet.
Japanese prints are based on simple designs from nature so you must first decide what shape you are going to use. Try leafs, flowers, birds, or fish. Try other natural scenes as well such as butterflies, spiderwebs, squirrels, etc… Begin by making preliminary sketches to see what unfolds. To make a printing block, cut a smooth center area from the styrofoam tray. Use your paper and pencil to draw the design for printing from your preliminary sketches. Redraw lightly with a soft marker on the styrofoam block but be sure not to press too hard. Now you are ready to make the design permanent. For puncture portions of your design, you can use the end of a nail.
For curves, use a piece of plastic. These diverse patterns will make your prints more interesting. Remember, any punctured part of your design will not pick up ink. Now, you can begin to spread your ink or paint onto a cookie sheet and roll it out smoothly with a brayer. If you don’t have a brayer, use a brush to get the ink onto the print surface. Roll the brayer over the block to ink it and make a test print. Place your paper very carefully over the inked block. With the back of a spoon or your hand, rub the paper. You can check to see if your print has enough ink by lifting the corner of the paper while holding down the rest.
You can make more patterns in your design, add more ink or try another print completely. Try not to smudge or move your print. When you get the desired results, try making other prints with different types of paper and colors of paint or ink. You will be pleasantly surprised! Your kids and students will be having fun as well as learning the history behind an ancient art form!