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Printing the Planets

The fifth graders at Hannah Gibbons were studying the planets of our solar system in their science curriculum. They had lots of questions. What colors are the planets? What gives the planets their color? What are the surfaces of the planets like?

We projected the various planets on the big screen and it almost felt like we were in the planetarium. For the majority of the students in the class, this was the first time they had seen large full color and up close images of the planets. Awestruck is a great way to describe their reactions.

The collagraph plate seemed the perfect printmaking partner for their artistic investigations. We set out together to create collagraph plates of each of the planets that we printed in limited editions. The students became expert printers and grew quite skilled at operating the etching press as they cranked out their small stack of prints. We also tipped our best prints into a handful of collaborative artist books showcasing one of each planet in our solar system.

Collagraph plate, inked and ready to run through the press.

Students asked and answered their planetary questions in many formats within their field journals. These journals recorded their research, and included further investigations of the textural surfaces and appearances of their selected planet with rubbings, collages, and proof prints in preparation for creating their collagraph plates.

Planetary textural rubbing with the beginnings of watercolor study.

Field Journals

Students showcase their textural studies within their field journals.

Sure, there was a little snickering with an occasional Martian and Uranus joke, but there was a lot more serious inquiry and investigation.

Team Mars, also known as our Martian Men, with their first proof prints of Mars.

Armed with their field journals, which were absolutely packed with their findings, students mined their new understandings to create a collagraph printing plate of their planet. We made test plates of nearly ten different texture gels so that the individual planetary student groups could determine which acrylic gels they would use to create their planet and showcase its unique and specific surface. Students cut their circular planet plates, including rings for several of them, out of thin foam core, and built up their textural surface with various acrylic gels including: sand, pumice, fibers, and glass beads.

Students made proof prints of their planet collagraph plates with a single primary color of their planet to get their first textural read of their collagraphs. This is the magic I most enjoy in my printmaking residencies. We’ve spent weeks together, absolutely up to our eyeballs in both investigations and making, yet when students lift their first print off of their plate that they both created and inked, their eyes alight with disbelief. The magic of printmaking!

Team Earth with their printed edition.

After their first impression has been made, students began blended color relief rolls for their small editions. Lastly, they printed their best prints on rice paper to be collaged into our collaborative books.

Planet Printing

The printing process.

The results? They were out of this world!

Team Mercury, also known as The Mercury Girls, showcasing their prints.

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