Help Me Hokusai!

I want to share an exciting and engaging art project I recently conducted with my two sections of 5th grade. We delved into the world of E-Z-Cut block printing, drawing inspiration from the renowned Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai and his iconic print, “The Wave.” We used teacher demos and peer learning a lot and the collaborative learning experience made this project truly memorable.

To kickstart our project, we began by immersing ourselves in Hokusai’s masterpiece, “The Wave.” We discussed the elements of the artwork, including its composition, use of line and form, and the powerful emotions it evoked. This exercise served as inspiration for the students’ own creations.

Next, the students sketched their own designs on paper, channeling their imagination while incorporating elements from Hokusai’s print. Once satisfied with their drawings, they transferred the designs onto E-Z-Cut blocks by flipping their image onto the block and rubbing. This step allowed them to envision their final prints and understand the importance of negative space.

Equipped with Speedball lino cutters, the students carefully carved their designs into the E-Z-Cut blocks. They learned about different carving techniques, such as creating varying line widths and using different levels of depth to achieve texture and visual interest. During this stage, I provided individual demonstrations and encouraged peer learning, where students shared insights and tips with one another.

To ensure a smooth workflow, I set up only four printing stations. Students took turns operating the stations, promoting collaboration and teamwork. Visual instructions were available for reference, and I also conducted live demos at each step to address any queries. Printing occurred in two colors only: black and blue. This simplified our process and was also reminiscent of Hokusai’s work.

To foster a sense of community and enhance the learning experience, I implemented a peer learning system. While one student was printing, they were paired with another student, assisting them through their first print. This arrangement encouraged cooperation, and communication, and provided an opportunity for students to offer constructive feedback on each other’s work.

Each student printed a minimum of four to eight prints, allowing them to experiment and refine their technique. By printing multiple times, they could explore different ink application methods, adjust pressure, and make iterative improvements. Throughout the process, I encouraged students to reflect on their work, identify areas of growth, and celebrate their achievements.

Engaging in E-Z-Cut block printing inspired by Hokusai’s “The Wave” proved to be an enriching experience for my 5th grade students. By studying a renowned print, transferring their designs, carving blocks, and printing in limited colors, they not only learned valuable artistic techniques but also gained insights into Japanese art and culture. The incorporation of peer learning, collaborative workstations, and individual demonstrations fostered a positive and supportive learning environment. I am immensely proud of the students’ dedication and the stunning prints they created. The art classroom at Washington Episcopal School continues to be a place where creativity flourishes, and I can’t wait to embark on our next artistic adventure.

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