Mixed Media Nature Collage Prints

SUMMARY: We began this lesson by creating a series of oil pastel-patterned papers. Working with distinct warm or cool color schemes, the students created a total of four patterned rectangles with different mark-making techniques. We then tore each paper in half and glued it onto a solid piece of colored paper, creating a total of eight collaged papers on which to print. For this portion of the lesson, students had to stick to either a cool or warm color scheme. Next, we created nature-inspired printing plates on thin Styrofoam, which we rolled with various colors of ink and printed repeatedly on the collaged papers.  (The kids were allowed to break free of their warm/cool color scheme at this point!) After several classes of printing, students selected their favorite three or four prints and embellished them with metallic pens, color pencil, and/or glitter glue with the intent of visually tying together their best prints. Students mounted their own prints on black paper, again focusing on how the individual prints could be displayed together to suggest balance and unity.


First students worked on their 6″ by 9″ colored papers, working with warm or cool colors to make a series of four patterned papers.

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Here are the samples and instructions I have posted during this step!


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Next, students tear and collage their patterned papers on to other 6″ by 9″ solid color papers. (They still are sticking to their chosen warm or cool color scheme).

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When this step is done, they have eight beautiful  patterned, collaged papers!


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Next we spend about 4 classes printing. The printing plates are made with Scratch Art brand scratch foam. This thin foam is easily incised with a pencil or ballpoint pen. Students worked out their design on copy paper first, and then taped their drawing to the foam. When they trace over the image with a ballpoint pen, the pressure of the pen creates a faint impression in the foam which can then be deepened to ensure a good printed image. We reinforced the back of the foam with overlapping strips of masking tape for strength—especially important for thin-stemmed flowers and leaves— and then cut the foam out with scissors. This material is a great alternative to linoleum, and is much easier to use for making relief prints! Here are some examples of the finished foam plates, which can be easily washed with warm water and re-used from day to day:


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Here you can see students using Speedball brand water-based block printing ink rolled on to their foam plates to print on their collaged papers.


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Printmaking with Middle Schoolers can be CRAZY! Here’s a video explaining how I manage and set up my classroom on printing days: PRINTMAKING WITH MIDDLE SCHOOLERS!

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90+ kids printing per day makes for a loooooot of work to unload from the drying rack each morning!!!

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After several class periods of printing, the kids have quite a collection of prints. Note: I let them break out of their cool/warm color scheme when it comes time to print!


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Students then select their best three or prints to embellish with their choice of metallic pen, colored pencil, and/or glitter glue. The goal is to visually unify their prints into a pleasant grouping. (This student decided to embellish ALL of her prints!)


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I precut black paper for both 3 and 4-print arrangements, and the students make the ultimate decision of how to mount their best prints. Neat gluing and craftsmanship factor in to their final grade!


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This lesson took a total of about twelve 47 minute classes, which included the nature drawing, making the printing plate, creating the oil pastel patterned papers, printing, embellishing and mounting! Students generally had enough prints to submit one mounted grouping of 3 or 4 prints, as well as one “stand alone” print for extra credit.

BONUS IDEA! Another option for display is to make a simple accordion-style book! The books pictured below require three pieces of 10″ by 14″ paper, folded in half. We glued them together, overlapping two flaps at a time, to make a “W” shaped booklet. This option also requires one print for the cover, (not seen in these pictures,) for a total of five quality prints. If your prints are a different size than 6″ by 9″, you can adjust the sizing of your book pages— I allowed for a half inch of paper to be shown around each print.

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Guess what? Fellow Middle School Art Teacher extraordinaire Bethany Thiele made A GREAT VIDEO featuring this lesson. This would be a great way to introduce this lesson to your students as an overview of the project!

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21 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rowan
    Dec 15, 2020 @ 09:15:23

    Thank you so much for all this wonderful information! Question: in the printing unit, did you have them print with water based ink over oil pastel designs? Did the water based ink stick ok to the oil based medium? CHEERS and THANKS


  2. Jennifer Stewart
    Jul 23, 2021 @ 19:05:48

    Love it! These are BEAUTIFUL! I love print making with my students and can’t wait to try this with my middle schoolers! Do you have issues with kids ruining your metallic markers on the oil pastel portions of the art piece?


  3. Elizabeth Garat
    Oct 14, 2021 @ 18:20:43

    Just finishing this lesson with my 6th grade. I was worried in the beginning about them being able to pull it off, but they have done a great job. I am very appreciative of your sharing of this lesson. I managed to guide my students to find unity just through the collage and printing without further embellishment -though I like your students’ embellishments. My students would have taken too long with another stage….
    I was ready for a new printmaking project and this is striking. Thank you.


  4. Jennifer Ruth Jones
    Nov 10, 2021 @ 10:04:50

    This is BRILLIANT! You have some BEAUTIFUL images showing a even more beautiful process! Thanks for the inspiration!


  5. Beverly Capps Summitt
    Nov 10, 2021 @ 23:51:19

    These are pretty awesome! The students should be proud of these, and you should be proud as their instructor! I have printmaking on my schedule for spring. I’m trying to decide, but this could be good during April testing since it can be split into several lesson. I have 7th AND 8th graders in every class, so I would have smaller groups on testing days. Since you’re a pro at this lesson, do you think that’s a good idea?


  6. uamsler
    Nov 11, 2021 @ 02:40:36

    I’ve done it as two lessons as well: The oil pastel and collage work can be done and those papers submitted and evaluated as a first grade. Then, a couple of days of observational drawing, making the foam plate, and finally, devote 4-5 classes to print. Embellishing and mounting usually takes another two classes.


  7. Elizabeth
    Nov 11, 2021 @ 03:13:40

    I think this is an amazing and beautiful lesson. I tried the project with my 6th graders for the first time this Fall. It took us quite a long time, but I was fine with that. One thing I learned was that there are drawings that work better than others for the stamps. Delicate stems didn’t work well- for us- even when I reinforced the styrofoam. I now see that Ms. Amsler’s student stamps with acorns, mushrooms, big flowers etc…. work really well. Something for me to think about for next time. Also, I knew it was a gamble trying it with my 6th grade students, they managed it, but I think it would be a better experience with 7th and older. Thank you, Ursula for sharing your inspiring and beautiful projects. Grateful.


  8. uamsler
    Nov 11, 2021 @ 20:30:58

    Thin stems are an issue! I usually have my kids make them a bit thicker than normal, and when they cut out the foam, they cut a border around the image, which adds some extra heft. The masking tape reinforcement on the back (before cutting out,) is also very helpful!


  9. Maude Ruesch
    Nov 11, 2021 @ 23:40:33

    I have been looking for a different kind of print. My students have already done two sets of Styrofoam prints but I wanted a new approach. I love these and will do them next with my eighth graders. What kind of colored paper did you use?


  10. Elizabeth Garat
    Nov 12, 2021 @ 03:19:49

    I used construction paper.


  11. Jordan
    Nov 15, 2021 @ 03:43:36

    what metallic pens did you use?


  12. Laura
    Jan 14, 2022 @ 20:55:27

    What size foam did you give students?


  13. Laura
    Jan 17, 2022 @ 03:14:16

    Thanks so much – these are amazing!


  14. nadiakmet
    Mar 06, 2022 @ 17:02:49

    How large are the styrofoam flowers? Students added so many details.


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