Most of my students are super familiar with Pokemon cards and baseball cards, but hardly any of them have heard of Artist Trading Cards! With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, I decided to have the kids make a Valentine-size design to share with their friends.
Artist trading cards are 3 1/2″ X 2 1/2″ mini artworks that are made in multiples and traded with other artist friends.
Rather than coming up with lots of different ideas, I had them choose one inspiring image and taught them how to do block-printing to create multiples of their design.
Print-making is SO much fun and can be done with any age group. If you’ve never done it before, let me break it down for you!
You will need to purchase some supplies, but once you make the initial investment you will be able to do tons of future printmaking projects; so it’s completely worth it!
The main things you will need to buy are block printing ink, a brayer (to roll out the ink), and some Scratch-Foam. I do feel the proper supplies make all the difference, but that being said, I’m all about improvising when in a pinch, so if you’re dying to try this project right away, I’ll give you some “cheat” options below. And if you would rather skip buying anything at all, check out this other printmaking project you can try just using stuff from around your house.
The Artist Trading Card project is more fun if there are several other people to trade with at the end, so I recommend it for a sibling group, a homeschool group, a family project where each member of the family participates, or just a group of friends.
Here’s how you can make this Project Artwork at home:
- block printing ink– I use water-soluble, Speedball for easy clean-up. Dick Blick sells a nice starter set, or you can choose individual colors. The 1.25-ounce or 2.5-ounce size is all you would need. (As an alternative, you could use tempera or acrylic paint-it doesn’t work as well as the ink, though, because it’s hard to keep the paint from being either too thick or too thin.)
- a brayer – I like the Speedball hard rubber brayer with the metal frame, which holds up to years of abuse! ( As an alternative you could try a foam brush or a foam roller if you have one of those on hand. Again, your results won’t be quite as good.)
- Scratch-Foam – you really only need a small piece of this, but it’s so much fun to work with, you might want to go ahead and buy the pack of twelve, 9 X 12 sheets. If not, you can cut up a leftover foam vegetable tray.
- a piece of printer paper cut to 3 1/2″ X 2 1/2″
- a piece of white cardstock, or other heavyweight white paper
- a pencil with a dull point
- extra foam vegetable trays or foam paper plates to roll out the ink. (You could also use a piece of plexiglass or a sheet of freezer paper)
- baby wipes and/or damp sponge
- assorted markers
- optional: key ring (also called a jump ring or binder clip) I like the kind that open with a clasp. OR you can use a small piece of cut ribbon to hold all of the cards.
Cover your work table with newspaper or old party tablecloth.
Make sure both your paper and Scratch-Foam are cut to the correct Artist Trading Card size : 3 1/2″ X 2 1/2″
Squeeze a nickel-size blob of block printing ink on your foam tray or plate. You will need a separate tray/plate for each color of ink. ( DO NOT ROLL UNTIL YOU ARE READY TO PRINT!)
Wet and wring out your sponge and place near your ink tray
Set out wipes and paper towels.
Step 1: Draw Your Design- Wide Lines Work Best!
You will draw your design on PAPER first. A single object that fills the entire space is best. Stay away from scenes, lots of little random objects, or intricate details. Also stay away from words, which will print backwards.
You MUST take some time to thicken up your lines. Single, skinny lines do not print well. Go back and forth over each line of your design to make the lines wider, or “fatter.”
Next, place your paper design on top of the piece of Scratch-Foam. Keep your Scratch-Foam flat and don’t bend it or it will break. While holding the paper on top, trace over your design, pressing down firmly so as to make an impression in the Scratch-Foam. When you lift off the paper, you should be able to see your design pressed into the Scratch-Foam. This is your printing plate. You can discard the paper design.
Parent Note: Before Moving on to Step 2, make sure your child’s design is carved into the Scratch-Foam with nice wide lines. Touch up any areas that don’t show up or are too skinny.
Step 2: Print Your Design!
Now you are ready to use your newly created printing plate! Make SURE your work area is covered with newspaper or butcher paper or an old party tablecloth. Things can get a LITTLE messy-LOL!
Use the brayer to roll out your nickel-size blob of printing ink. Roll in multiple directions until you hear a “sticky” sound. You are trying to achieve a thin, uniform layer of ink on the tray and brayer. A thin layer keeps the ink from settling into the cracks of your printing plate, allowing them to print as white lines.
Roll the inked brayer on top of your Scratch-Foam printing plate while it is set flat on your table.
Carefully pick up your inked printing plate and press it ink-side-down onto your cardstock or heavyweight paper.
You’ve just printed your first design!
You can either print a second one right away with the same color for a lighter, more faded look, or you can use your sponge or baby wipe to clean off your printing plate so it’s ready for the next inking. You will also want to wipe your brayer clean if you are switching to a new color. If you have multiple brayers, just use a separate brayer for each color.
I actually drew a bunch of Artist Trading Card-size rectangles on my cardstock so my children could fit as many as possible on the same page. As you can see, I could fit about nine on one sheet of paper. This is purely optional, you could just let your kids print wherever they want, but keeping it organized this way helps make it easier when it is time to cut out the Trading Cards.
As you go along, you can try different techniques. You can print in one color and then ink your printing plate with a second color and press it on top of the first design to get an overlap of colors. In the picture below, the purple anchor was printed on top of a pink anchor.
You can also roll sections of your printing plate in separate colors before printing to get stripes or blocks of colors.
It’s fun to experiment with lots of color combinations!
Once your page is full and you’ve printed as many as you want, you need to let them dry! Block printing ink can take a while to dry, so go ahead and clean-up all your trays and rollers and move on to another activity for a little while.
Step 3: Add Details– They Take it from “meh” to MARVELOUS!
Once everything is dry, use markers to add patterns, lines, designs, words, or areas of color to each of your Artist Trading Cards.
Parent Note: At this point I laminated the page of trading cards.
I happen to have a small laminating machine at home that I purchased from Office Depot. I’m kind of obsessed with it! This is totally optional, but if you have access to a laminator and want to do this, laminate everything BEFORE Step 3!
Step 3: Cut Out Your Cards.
Cut out your cards and hole punch if you desire to put them on a key ring or ribbon.
Have your child sign the back of each Trading Card.
Step 4: Trade!!
Now you have lots of fun cards to trade with friends! You can place all of the cards on a key ring or ribbon.
I always enjoy adding different designs from my young artist friends to my collection!