December 12, 2016

De Stijl: LEGO Block Prints

For our final week of the semester, my small friends and I ventured into the Modern Art collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  In the galleries, we read Coppernickle Goes Mondrian*, and as we followed the painter Mr. Quickstep's journey to "find the new", the kids began connecting the increasingly minimal and simplified illustrations in the book with the simple, graphic style of the Mondrian paintings hanging around us.

Piet Mondrian, "Oppositions of Line, Red and Yellow" 1937

Cool, they got neoplasticism: the purest colors, the straightest lines, the most basic forms.

Back in the studio: demo. We would use everybody's favorite bricks to create compositions, one color at a time. 

I had pre-assembled a printing plate with Legos, then showed the kids how to roll out ink with a brayer and ink their plate.  Paper was aligned on top of the plate, then (another new vocab word) the "baren" was used to transfer the ink to the paper.

After each color (yellow then red then blue then black), the kids got a wipe to wipe down their Legos, their plate, and their hands before starting the next layer. With 20-some kids making four blocks each, we went through some wiiiipes. But worth it.

For teachers anxious to try this out, I gotta tell you: preparation was crucial. It took a lot of legwork to get everything together. I've had this project in my mind for a while, and enlisted some help along the way assembling the Lego blocks, AND had my super great assistant Tara on board all day.

For interested parties, here's what we used:
  • 20 6.5x6.5" Lego plates (these were mounted on MDF, for ease of handling, and to help them stay nice and flat during assembly and printing)
  • millions of Legos (we used regular "bricks" for printing dots, and "tiles" which have flat tops for printing solid areas. I bought these anywhere I could find them, including Lego trading sites in Eastern Europe, really.) These Legos are now very dirty, and are designated printmaking Legos.
  • Blick block print ink
  • Speedball brayers and barens
  • plexiglass to roll ink
  • block print paper cut to 8.5x8.5" (allowing a 1" border on all sides, making for easy alignment)
  • a wooden guide - you can see this in the photo above- it was a 8x8" square, with a 1" frame on two sides. Students would square up their inked Lego plate in it and align their paper with the edges of the guide, ensuring a 1" border all around.
  • one billion hand wipes for cleaning Legos, plates, and hands. You might be able to skip this if you've got a good sink set up. We didn't.

Overall, much success. Each print turned out differently, and the kids looooved touching Legos (seriously, their eyes LIT when they walked into the room), and I think they made the connection with the art we saw in the collection, which is super.

*and now a disclaimer about this book:

I don't really care for the story.
I find the phrasing and dialog strange, and the story (of looking for the future) too abstract, but kids still seem to like it and the illustrations are ON POINT. So it's an okay companion for this project.