Thursday, November 14, 2013

Stenciled State How-To

This is an art project for 4th and 5th grade, inspired by the work of contemporary artist Amy Ruppel. She has a series of prints that feature US States filled with a pattern made from their respective state trees and other natural features. For example, she has one of Oklahoma made out of the Redbud tree or Wisconsin patterned with Sugar Maples. Here is an example of Amy's print of her home state, Oregon:

At Phillips Elementary, I decided that we would make nature-inspired portraits of my students' native state, Pennsylvania. What will follow are pictures of our process and a How-To. Here are the materials we used:

-Manilla folders
-Vellum Bristol board (9" x 12")
-Stencils of nature motifs (leaves, animals, trees) *
-Acrylic or Block printing ink (primary colors)
-Fallen leaves (IMPORTANT: make sure these are freshly fallen leaves)
-Artist's tape

*You can cut your own stencils. Find pictures of state symbols (state bird, state tree, state flower, state dog, etc.) and grab some spare folders/notebook dividers. Draw a picture, making a clear distinction between light and dark areas. Whatever will be dark, you will cut out with an X-acto. Stencil cutting is an art form in its own right.

-X-acto knife
-Mirror/Plexiglass plate or Aluminum pan (for rolling ink/paint)

The first step is to find a picture of your state's shape. I printed a picture of Pennsylvania and traced it onto a manilla folder. Then I cut out the shape with an X-acto. Each artist should have their own state stencil to work with. 

After you have the stencils cut, tape the stencil to a piece of bristol or heavy paper. A piece of tape on each side of the stencil is a good idea. Tip: Check to make sure that your students have taped on the stencil the correct way. Perhaps indicate on the stencil which way is up. A few of our Pennsylvanias turned out backwards.

The next step is to fill the state shape with leaf prints. It is currently Autumn where we live, so fallen leaves have been plentiful. We used yellow, red, orange and peach to make our leafy background. To make leaf prints:

1. Place leaf vein-side up on a piece of newspaper. 
2. Squirt paint into pan or mirror/plexiglass and spread it into a square with your brayer.
3. Use brayer to gently roll paint onto your leaf.
4. Place leaf paint-side down onto your state shape. It is good if the leaf overlaps the edge between stencil and paper. 
5. Put clean piece of newspaper on top of leaf and burnish with the bottom of a spoon.
6. Lift off newspaper and leaf. Repeat until your state is covered with leaf prints.

We found that our leaf prints dried quickly. The next step is to stencil nature imagery on top of the leaf print background. We found that we had nice results when we added a darker color to the same palettes we used for the leaf prints. For example, add some blue or even some black paint. Hold your stencil where you want it on your state, take a sponge and dab a corner of it in your paint. Then take your sponge and pounce it over your stencil. It is important to pounce instead of smearing or brushing. Pouncing is a light up and down motion. 

For our Pennsylvania paintings, we included stencils of lots of woodland creatures: bears, dear, rabbits and specially cut ones of our state bird the Ruffled grouse and the state flower Mountain Laurel. Our students did an especially good job of layering stencils on top of one another. Some of them glued their leaves on with paint to add more texture.

Before removing the state stencil, check to make sure that you have paint on most of the edges of your stencil. Gaps can be okay, but you want to make sure that your state's shape will be recognized. If this is a concern, you can take a sponge with some darker paint and lightly pounce all along the edge. This can create a nice shadowed effect. Remove the stencil and sign the bottom of your paper in pencil. The resulting artworks turned out beautifully. Each one looks like a unique expression of what its like to live in our state.


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