Printmaking in Middle School

One of my all-time favorite units to teach is printmaking. All-time favorite.  I love the possibilities.  Problem is – I also hate messes.  And printmaking? Oh man, without the proper procedures…is a mess!  I have the usual procedures and expectations that help run the class but printmaking always has a few extra procedures for students to take note of.

Printmaking ink is messy.  Of course, so is regular paint.  But the thickness and stickiness of printmaking ink is always on a different level.  It ends up on areas of your clothes you didn’t know for goodness sakes.  To avoid the mess, we open the “Ink Station“.


Inking Station before first shift.

My basic procedures are simple.  Students treat the ink like Nutella.  A serving size is a a bite size amount on their plate.  It’s not a small taste and it’s not a a big bite that they are looking for.  We walk through this the first day but the “bite” rule seems to work.  Once they get their ink, they scrape their spoon like they would to savor every last bite of Nutella.  Finally, they place the lid back on top to keep it moist for the next user.  About 5 minutes before clean up, I call “last call” for ink.  At this point they know that if they do not need ink at that exact moment, then when they run out, they have to clean up – there is no more ink to be had.  That’s when their shift duties come into play.

Ink Station runs like a business.  Because I have two classes in a row that participate in printmaking, the duties of each class differ, like shifts at a job.


A plate and brayer with the supervisor’s stamp of approval.

First shift has the responsibility of opening up. They have the task of placing a scoop next to each color of ink. As they get ink for printmaking, they are required to mix up the ink first go-around.  This keeps the ink even and the color consistent.  After getting ink at any point, they simply place the lid (not screw) on top to keep the ink moist.  At the end of class they do not have to clean the spoons or station because I have a class immediately following.  There are two supervisors for first shift; the plate supervisor and the brayer supervisor. The plate supervisor is the first person who is done printing and cleaned up.  They stand watch and make sure all plates are cleaned and dried thoroughly.  They help keep the clean up going quickly by stepping in to help anyone falling behind.  The brayer supervisor, second person cleaned up, is in charge of doing the same, only for the brayers (or as the students call them, “rollers”).  These two supervisors give me room to help other students and at the end of the class make sure rags, etc are all folded and the sinks are cleaned.

Second shift has the responsibility of closing down.  They follow the same expectations as the first shift when it comes to in class working – scrap spoon, place lid on top; bite sized portion.  But their specific shift duties change.  When “last call” for ink comes out, students know to clean up.  They are responsible for making sure the ink lids are screwed back on tight and spoons are taken to the sink. For second shift, there are two supervisors and an assistant.  The plate supervisor and the brayer supervisor are just like first shift and the assistant is known as the spoon master.  The third person to clean up is the spoon master.  They are in charge of cleaning all of the spoons thoroughly and replacing all of the newspaper at the inking station.

Rather than assigning specific people these titles, I let it vary with this process.  I do this because some students move faster and others need more time.  And because I love rewards in my classroom, this helps ensure that all students have a chance at getting the rewards associated with becoming the daily supervisor or assistant.  Having this set up has made for a smooth ride through printmaking.  The task becomes less messy, students want the responsibility and the unit doesn’t run into any hiccups.  You can learn about the unit I do with students here.

How do you plan and prepare your printmaking lessons? Any strategies I am missing out on?


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