Cardboard Collagraphs (Day 1 of Printmaking Camp)

Last week, I taught a printmaking camp. I was subbing in for another teacher, and even though I had her lesson plan, I ended up changing a lot of things to account for the materials already available. For the first day, I wanted campers to make something really large using recycled materials. I remembered making collagraphs in my college printmaking class and it was really fun, so I went with it. I also love the textural aspect of collagraphs.

Image above: my art teaching sketchbook where I keep track of my ideas and lessons I’ve taught

Collagraphs – On the first day of camp, campers learned about collagraphs and made BIG printing plates. I cut out cardboard that is about 22 x 16″ to fit on 24 x 18″ paper.

Before creating their plates, I gave campers the theme of animals and had them sketch out and brainstorm at least 4 different ideas. They all came up with different animals which was awesome!

Once their ideas were set, they began assembling their collagraphs. I had different sizes of scrap cardboard laid out for campers to use as well as foam, felt, pipe-cleaners, and other crafty materials to attach to their cardboard plate. One camper even decided to remove the top layer of the cardboard to reveal the corrugation underneath to create texture. We also discussed how different materials will create different textures (fabric creates a fuzzy texture, cardboard appears rough).

Once everything had been glued down to the plate, I handed out cups of mod podge and brushes and campers applied mod podge all over the top surface of their plates so everything was sealed and ready for printing.

Some of the collagraph plates from campers:

Once the plates were ready, we started printing! I showed the campers how to roll a gradient ink using two colors which they really enjoyed. A lot of them experimented with combining even more colors (some even did 10+ colors at once!). Then comes the fun part – the campers placed their plates face up on the floor with their papers on top and jumped on top to create a strong print. Once they printed, I showed them how to sign the print with the edition, title, and their name.

Some prints made by campers:

Once we were done printing, I set out tempera paint for campers to create a more finished, detailed collagraph plate. Only a few campers decided to add paint because many of them really liked all the ink colors from printing and did not want to cover it up.

I had so much fun teaching this printmaking camp and I am excited to bring some of the ideas/projects into my art classroom next school year!

Art and Science: Cell Sculptures and Printmaking

These three lesson ideas are related to looking at cells and microbes up close and under microscopes.

Low-Relief Cell Models

Students will observe images of cells and create a three-dimensional model of the image of their choice. Students will construct their model on a cardboard base, but the materials for the actual cell are left open to interpretation.

Vocabulary: low-relief sculpture, cells/microbes, photomicrograph

Research – First, have students look up images of cells/ microbes using these websites:

Students should pick out 4-6 images and make thumbnail sketches of each image and jot down ideas about possible materials that could be used for each part of the cell/microbe. A sample sketch is below, but allow students to sketch out their ideas in the way that works best for them.

Once students have completed their thumbnail sketches, they should pick one sketch that they want to do the most, and then they can make one more sketch of their final idea, colors, and material choices.


  • cardboard
  • pipecleaners
  • glue
  • thread/yarn/string
  • fabric
  • toothpicks
  • cotton balls
  • sequins
  • beads
  • glitter
  • pom poms
  • feathers
  • buttons
  • popsicle sticks
  • tissue paper
  • aluminum foil
  • wire
  • clay
  • felt
  • paint

Next, students can begin to assemble their cell models. First, they need to create a circular base out of cardboard for their relief sculpture. Students can paint the base if they would like to (helpful hint – spray water on the back of the cardboard after painting to reduce warping). Next, students can choose whatever materials they want to construct the cell/microbe. Let students experiment with the materials and figure out what works best to create their cell model. Have a table with all the materials laid out so that students can visualize the possibilities for all the materials. Allow ample time for students to construct their models and add paint/ finishing touches.

Cell Models Sculpture

In this variation, students create an in the round sculpture of a cell. This project is similar to the previous project, yet it is not a relief sculpture. Depending on the materials you have on hand, pick one of the projects to best fit what you have. First, have students create a base/cell body using either clay, newspaper/ paper mache, plaster, wires to create an armature, or aluminum foil. Next, students can paint the base, adding designs and surface texture with different materials (glitter, sequins, beads, etc.). To create raised areas of lines, hot glue, elmer’s glue, or fabric paint can be applied to the surface as well. Once the paint is dry, students can attach pipecleaners, toothpicks, pompoms, and other materials to form the areas that come off of the body of the cell. 

Cell Collagraphs

  1. Video – At the beginning of class,  show the students this video:
  2. Picture Guessing Game – Show students close up images/ macro photography and have students guess what the images are. 
  3. Making a sketchbook to record observations – Show students how to fold and create their own sketchbook from one sheet of paper. Use an 18 x 24″ piece of paper if possible, or the largest paper that you have. Here is a video about how to create the sketchbook:
  4. Cell Observation Stations
    • Set up 3 stations – one with a microscope, one with cell books, and one with a video of cells under a microscope. Give students about 5 minutes at each station to make observations and make sketches/take notes in their sketchbooks of what they see. Once each group of students has gone to each station, regroup as a class and discuss what the students saw and the drawings they made at each station.
  5. The Project: Students will create their collagraph plate using a variety of materials, such as: glue, found objects, tape, rubber bands, string, foam shapes, felt/fabric. First, students glue the materials onto their cardboard plate in a design inspired by their observations of cells. While the plates are drying, students can prepare their paper for printing. Students can cut out the papers to the right size, write their names on the back of each, and apply a wash of watercolor to each paper. If there is still extra time, students can decorate the cover of their observation sketchbook.
  6. The next class, once the plate is dried, students can begin the printmaking process. Before students begin the process, do a demonstration of how to make prints. Then, at one table (where no students are sitting), set up brayers and plates of ink. Set up an assembly line process where students ink up their plates, then print the plates, and then place their print on the drying rack. After students make a print, have them label the print with their name, the number of the print, and the date.