Child's Play: Training the Next Generation of Makers

A fun, interactive workshop could be just what it takes to inspire the next wave of screen printers.

The words “age appropriate” get thrown around a lot about what young people watch on TV, what websites they visit, and how topics like sex and drugs should be introduced at the dinner table or in the classroom. The term is also relevant in screen printing. The pages of this magazine usually address adults already in the industry. Consultants and trainers deal with the same demographic. SGIA Education Connection’s scholarship awards are aimed at college students. Many of the student competitors in the annual Golden Image Awards at the SGIA Expo come from high schools with amazing screen printing programs. Let’s not forget the Skills USA competitions for high schools with categories from our mishmash of an industry: Screen Printing Technology, along with Graphic Communications, Graphic Imaging Sublimation, T-Shirt Design, and Advertising Design.

But what about the little kids? Is it possible to deliver an age-appropriate art program introducing them to screen printing? And why would you want to participate in one, as I recently did?

Because it’s fun. Fun for the kids, and fun for the staff.

Because it’s creative. With the right approach, you can teach them a lot more than pushing ink through a screen. You can help them create something they end up printing on a shirt they can wear.

Because many kids and a surprising number of adults don’t understand things are “made.” They only know how to buy a product from Walmart or Amazon. Teach them about being makers, not order takers.

Because analog matters. As kids become more attached to a digital universe and addicted to their screens, many don’t get the opportunity to create with their hands. They rarely feel the pride of crafting a useful object.

Most important to this industry, unless dad or mom works in a print or design shop, today’s youth have no idea we exist as a place they may want to work one day. How’s a kid going to dream about being a screen printer when they grow up?

Liz Murdoch and Daryle Mills, who run the Bears after school youth group at the Wachiay Friendship Centre on Vancouver Island, asked me about developing a program utilizing screen printing for their kids aged 7 to 12 years old. In four sessions, they wanted to familiarize the kids with the process, have them create some art, give them a chance to print their shirts, and in the end, leave them with a positive experience where they all felt good about what they made and left with a desire to do more.

The first session was familiarizing them with the actual print process. We set up two print stations, each with a cute bear image – one to print on paper, the other on cloth. The explanation about art, film, and exposing and washing the screen went over their heads, but they were all eager to try once we pulled the first print and they saw the image appear. They started on paper, and once they mastered a print and flood stroke and got a nice print, they went to the second station to print on a fabric square.

The second and third sessions had to do with the creation of the art. Daryle is of Cree descent, a huge man with a big heart and a pocketful of stories, so the kids made a story circle and listened to his tale of a little mouse who went on a journey through the forest to the mountains, and along the way met various creatures including a frog who taught him to hop, a family of raccoons, a bunch of fat mice who watched video games, and an eagle who ate the mouse, but magically transformed into an eagle-like flying mouse. The kids were given the challenge of drawing characters from the story on half sheets of paper with black markers we provided. Our artist, Rowan Helliwell, showed the kids how to sketch their character first with pencil, and then ink it in with the markers. We used medium-weight markers in order to ensure decent line width – more on that in a bit.

We asked the kids to write their names on another sheet of paper. During the third session, the story was repeated to the kids, but this time they were much more involved, elaborating on sections of the story with their own versions of what the individual characters did. What amazed us was how without prompting or suggestions, the group managed to independently draw all the characters from the story. (We also needed trees.) By the end of the third class, we had all the characters and trees we would need to create an image about the story.

Before the last class, we ordered white shirts. Rowan scanned all the drawings, created a storyboard, and started populating the image with the characters and the trees. We knew each image would shrink considerably, so using the thicker markers when the kids drew the images ensured the line widths remained printable. The design for the back of the shirt included all their signatures.

The kids were pretty excited when they saw the final design illustrating the story on the screen. They picked up their shirts and stood in line to print. With a little help (extra squeegee pressure for some, and a stepstool for others), every kid was able to print their own shirt. Once they came out of the dryer, the kids grabbed a set of fabric markers and went to work coloring in their shirts. The kids loved seeing their individual drawings come to life as part of a bigger picture, on a shirt they could proudly wear and tell their friends and family, “I made that!”

And this is why you take the time to get involved. This is where young screen printers and graphic designers come from.

Read more Andy MacDougall's Shop Talk or check out the Screen Printing February/March 2018 digital ediiton.

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