Stay Home Art Challenge: Elizabeth Catlett Styrofoam Print

Today's Challenge come from from the beautiful prints of Elizabeth Catlett. Elizabeth Catlett was born in 1915 and spent her early years in Washington DC. Both of her grandparents were freed slaves and this narrative would come to play a very central role to her prints and sculptures. Her printmaking usually depicted what she called “ordinary people.” She has said that she wanted to make art for ordinary people to enjoy and discover. All of her artwork had a deeper message of justice, activism, and empowerment for these same ordinary people. In 1946, Catlett had the opportunity to study in Mexico. This influence is recognizable in her work, both in the style and in the focus on political and social themes. Exploring the work of Elizabeth Catlett gives you a chance to learn about the process of print making. Catlett made prints using the linoleum block method, in which a sheet of linoleum is fixed to a block of wood and then a design it etched in the surface. See the video below to learn more about Catlett's art.

In today's activity we will use Styrofoam instead of linoleum to make prints. You will need paper, Styrofoam, a pencil, scissors, washable markers, water and a wooden spoon. (Below there is a video with this technique from Education Coordinator Krystal Lyon.) First, you will want to draw your design on a piece of paper. Look through Catlett's work and notice how she focused on people and told their stories. Maybe you would like to draw your mother, father or a friend. Second, cut out a piece of Styrofoam the same size as your drawing. Third, place the drawing on top of the Styrofoam and using your pencil trace the drawing again, when you pick up the paper you will see the outline of your drawing in the Styrofoam. Fourth, using your pencil, go over the outline again on the Styrofoam to make sure you have deep lines for your print. Fifth, you will want to color your Styrofoam with your washable markers. Sixth, you will want to get a new piece of paper and dampen it with water. You can use a spray bottle or lay it in a container of water. Seventh, lay the damp piece of paper on the Styrofoam and carefully flip it over so that the Styrofoam is on top. Eighth, use your wooden spoon to gently rub the Styrofoam, this will help transfer the ink from the marker to the wet paper. Be careful not to let it move around on the paper or the image will appear blurry. And when you separate your Styrofoam from your paper you will have a mirror image of the drawing you created on the Styrofoam.

We would love to see your work! Please send us a photograph of your print by Saturday, June 27th by 7:00pm to our email at and we will share your work with our MCAC community. 

1 photo(s) Updated on: June 27, 2020
  • Print from Deb Helgeson
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