Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Insect Prints

Art and science merge naturally in an art room, as you have seen my students do here, here, and in many other lessons as well. In this lesson, fourth and fifth grade students observed, drew, and printed insects.

When a teacher tell a class that they are doing a lesson on insects, the reaction is predictably split between abject horror and total exuberance. Knowing that some students will be thrilled to look at samples of insects (I am now the proud owner of glass-encased creatures in the classroom including a Blue Morpho butterfly, a scorpion, and a tarantula), while others may find looking at specimens is uncomfortable to do, so I make it optional.

The library has plenty of options for students who need a little distance from their insects, and many students chose to work with photographs or field guides to make their prints.

Now, technically, insects have have six legs, so our helpful friends the arachnids are not included. The array that fits under the "insect" category is pretty dizzying and beautiful, and beetles especially captured a lot of student attention. Stag beetles, scarab beetles, and dung beetles are shiny and metallic-looking, like little jewels, and were popular among these young artists.

Learning to really look is a skill scientists use all of the time to make correct observations, whether in a lab or the natural world. Differentiating between similar creatures is exactly what we expect artists in field guides to do, to help us identify what we are looking at. The tiniest details matter, especially when multiple species share significant similarities. Where a leg is jointed, how the wings are shaped, and where limbs attach to the body all provide useful identifying information. Scientific drawing is a skill that can be taught very early, like in this fun game I began a couple years back.

Students made a series of five prints (one on flat colored paper, and four on folded cards), and tried out different printing inks and effects, such as offsetting multiple colors or creating gradients.

The process involved transferring a drawing to styrofoam printing plates, and compressing either the insect itself or the background, then using brayers to ink the plates.

A piece of paper is pressed and rubbed onto the print plate (how I dream of students having a small printing press!), and the print is pulled.  Many of the compositions were dynamic, and some were outright funny, like this one saying, Goodbye!

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