Passing printmaking on to a new generation
We set up the table in the busy café area at the library and quickly had a group of interested people coming to investigate string printing.
Some people had done this before when they were kids, but I am always surprised at how many have never come across this magical technique, it is easy and immediate, and also (warning) very addictive.
Happily some of the participants were school teachers, and after having a go themselves planned to take the activity in to school, thereby planting the seeds for another generation of printmakers.
String printing in a nutshell
For specific instructions and a video please see the dynamic string printing post
A community string printing workshop is a great introduction to printmaking. This activity is loved by printmakers of all sizes, ages and levels of experience.
However, when the first small child peeped over the table I realised we had a problem. To make a string print you need to hold the string above the paper and lower it gently down. This tiny persons arms just weren’t long enough to hold the string vertical above the paper on the table!
Parents and older siblings are usually eager to help but I think it is important that each printmaker does as much of their own print as possible.
Some solutions could be to use a lower table or to have the child stand on a box.
Alternatively it is more fun to get the child to hold the string by the lolly stick handle (see below) then lift them up and slowly lower the child while rotating it so the string lands in coils on the paper.
Make sure the small printmaker understands about releasing the lolly stick when it reaches the table otherwise you’ll have to do it all over again. You may need a few goes at this!
Half sized printmakers
For printmakers who are a bit taller this method works well; sandwich the inky string between two sheets of paper with a board on top. Get your partner to press down on the board.
Grab hold of the lolly stick handle (see below) attached to the string, and walk steadily backwards. This technique gives a nice even pull on the thread regardless of arm length.
String printing is very physical – this is part of the fun. Once you get the hang of it you can get into a nice rhythm with a variety of pace and graceful movement;
Slowly pulling the string through the paint
Gently coiling and lowering it onto the paper
Carefully packing up the paper and board
Pressing down on the board
Steadily pulling the string out
Opening up the bundle to reveal two new prints
And repeat till you run out of paper!
One string print can be beautiful but multiple layers look fabulous
Use the same string but dip it in a different colour each time, the mix produces interesting new colours.
Keep laying different coloured string on your print to build up complex designs.
This also saves paper as people spend longer on each print!
Best materials for a community string printing workshop
As it was a community workshop I modified the materials to make sure they were washable, easy to clean up, and safe.
It is easier to work standing up so chairs aren’t necessary. When I run this activity in care homes with older people we stay seated, but make sure the string is not too long to be pulled out while sitting down.
I normally use drawing inks but here we used Golden fluid acrylics. These are not particularly cheap but they can be diluted without losing vibrancy as they have an excellent strong colour saturation. Add a pea sized blob of paint and a few drops of water to the tray as it gets used up during the workshop.
You only need a tiny bit of runny paint in a flat tray so even if it tips up it will not make much mess.
A good quality printer paper works well to print on, very thin cheap paper (eg 80 – 90 gsm) tears rather easily so is best avoided.
Different coloured papers add to the fun.
These are mono prints as each one is different, but it is good to remember to write names on the back of the paper, often people are very prolific and forget which prints are theirs.
Stiff hogs-hair brushes work well. I cut the handle shorter (use garden loppers) which makes them easier to use and less likely to fall out of the paint trays.
Use the brush in one hand to press the string into the paint as you pull it through with the other hand.
Strong thick sewing cotton, eg button thread works well. I tied one end to a lolly stick to make a handle so it is easier for children to grab hold of.
Have a supply of new string as it can get knotted up, and if the paint dries on the string it goes stiff.
We used squares of hard board (get it from B&Q / diy depots) You can cut this by scoring it with a craft knife then bending it.
You can also use stiff card, eg greyboard, anything rigid will do.
Organise your own community string printing workshop
I hope this will inspire you to have a go with a group in your community – remember you are never too young or too old to start printmaking.
Let me know what happens…. please add your comments below.