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Saturday, December 17, 2016

Easy Print-Making: great holiday art activity for home or school

Print-making is a fun and versatile art activity that can be easily modified for all levels of language and artistic skill. The method demonstrated in our teaching video (see link below) is simple, allowing you to set up a print "studio" at home or in the classroom without spending a large amount of money.

You will need:
  • styrofoam trays (from meat and produce at the grocery store) - clean these well with soap & water, and make sure they are completely dry before you use them
  • wooden skewers or pencils - these are used to "draw" the designs into the styrofoam trays (making an indentation)
  • paint trays - we used cookie sheets covered with tinfoil (foil secured to the tray with masking tape)
  • water soluble print ink - you will have to purchase this at the art store (we used Speedball block printing ink and Nobel LinoPrinting ink)
  • paint/print rollers - these are also purchased at the art store, they are durable and made for multiple use (ours were Speedball brand, you'll find them with the print supplies)
  • paper - many kinds of paper will work, so feel free to experiment - in the video we used paper that we already had on hand (cartridge paper, rice paper, black art paper)

Basic method:

Draw out design ideas on sketching paper. Adam used markers to do this, but you could also use pencils - the advantage of drawing with markers is that it reduces the urge to constantly erase and "fix" a drawing.

Transfer the drawing ideas you like to the styrofoam trays (cut off raised edges so you are working with a flat piece of foam). This is where you will use a wooden skewer or pencil to press/indent the lines of the drawing down into the foam to create a "relief" drawing. Make sure the lines are indented well so that you get a clear print. The paint will stick to the areas around the lines.

Mix your paint on the paint trays. If you have multiple people using the trays, try to keep each tray to a colour "palette" that includes no more than 2 primary colours (eg. red & yellow, yellow & blue, blue & red) so you don't end up with "muddy" colours as they mix. That being said, have fun mixing your colours and also experiment with adding white and black ink. Print plates can easily be cleaned by running them under a tap. Or you can layer ink colours on the same print plate without cleaning in-between to get a different effect. There's no wrong answer here.

Use a roller to mix and transfer the paint to the styrofoam print "plate". Then you can either place the print plate paint side down on the paper & flip both over so the paper is on top, or you can put the paper on top of the print plate (whatever works out easiest for the person you are working with - the first technique allows better control over where the print is on the paper, but adds the potentially tricky motor step of flipping paper & print plate together without smearing/smudging the print).

Then use a clean roller (not the one you used to apply the paint) and roll on top of the paper to transfer the ink from the print plate to the paper. You can check the print by placing a finger in the middle of the paper and carefully lifting up one edge (to see if enough ink has transferred to make a clear design). Remove the paper carefully so the print doesn't smudge/smear. Then set it aside and let it dry.

Watch the video for more ideas on how to use this basic print technique to get many interesting effects:

if video doesn't play in your browser click this link: Print-making with Adam

Have fun and Happy Holidays from Autism and the Art of Communication!!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Teaching Nonverbal and Less Verbal People - Adam paints a self portrait

"Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever." 
~ Mahatma Gandhi

Adam writes and draws about our portrait painting class

Adam is an intelligent young adult on the autism spectrum who is less verbal and uses drawing and other art forms for communication. I first met Adam when he was just 3 years old and profoundly nonverbal. My job as a speech-language pathologist was to help him learn to connect and communicate with the world around him. What actually happened over the next couple of decades was more interesting - as much as I taught him, he taught me more. So at this point, I'll say that together Adam and I have discovered some effective ways to get around the barrier of imperfect verbal communication and give voice to the intellect and creative soul within. With Adam's permission, we now share some of what we've learned.

In the Art Studio:

Portrait teaching setup (Adam's easel on the left, my instructional model on the right, iPad photo reference and painting materials in the center)

You need a space that is friendly and comfortable for the student. The art studio we are working in is one that Adam's dad set up for Adam and his mom (who is also learning to paint). We have a generous work surface so that materials can be visually set out in an organized way. There is room for Adam (a tall guy) to step back and move around. Also important to consider lighting (need to see clearly, but not aggravate sensory sensitivies), sound environment (reduce background noise) and air quality (allergies, eg. free from mold & mildew).

Below are links to the two instructional videos that we made from our recent portrait painting sessions (posted on our YouTube channel AUTISMartCOMMUNICATE). These videos highlight and demonstrate some effective teaching strategies when working with less verbal individuals, including:

  • use of visual demonstrations
  • working from visual models
  • effective use of the iPad as a visual tool (takes & displays photos, allows zooming in on specific details)
  • verbal language should be clear, slow-paced and match demonstrated actions
  • back up verbal language with visual supports (to improve comprehension)
  • allow time for processing of verbal questions and instructions
  • repetition and rephrasing (of key information) can be helpful
  • resist "chattering" (remind yourself to leave quiet spaces)
  • SHOW more than TELL
  • gentle "hand over hand" can sometimes be useful when teaching a new motor skill
  • simplify language without "talking down"
  • allow the student to work at their own pace (don't rush)
  • student should be mostly calm, relaxed and enjoying the experience
  • okay for students to talk to themselves as they work
  • specific to portrait painting, be aware that autism can affect the individual's ability to process the human face
  • balance direct instruction with developing the student's artistic expression & style
  • art activities are a good context for language learning 
  • assume competence (and that all of your words are received and understood)

Part 1 (from the first hour-long painting session):

(if the video won't play click this link: Adam paints a self portrait - part 1 )

And Part 2 (from our second one-hour portrait painting session):

(if the video won't play click this link: Adam paints a self portrait - part 2 )

We hope you find these videos helpful and that you try out some of the methods in your own classes and studios. There is a lot of untapped artistic potential in the autism population, and many new artists waiting to learn new ways to express themselves. We would love to hear about your experiences.

We'll end this post by sharing Adam's completed self portrait. He has a bold and expressive artistic style that comes through in all of his art work, and is all his own. I love it:

Self Portrait by the artist, Adam V