MLK Day Shalanah Backus High School Art Project

For MLK Day, I had my classes design a printed mural to commemorate MLK Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Students were responsible for creating single letters or blocks with designs on them. We then assembled those blocks into excerpts from Dr. King’s famous speech.

Despite some minor hiccups, I love the way it turned out. Each letter in the image above was made from a 3.5″ x 3.5″ MDF block. Students then carved letters into blocks (remember to have them reverse them!). We then inked and printed them. If you’d like to give it a go sometime, I am supplying my letter sign-up sheet, actual text and a brainstorming sheet in a Word document.

I Have a Dream Woodcut WKSTs (.docx)

Give this a try next year, or use the idea to create a mural of your own!

-Shalanah Backus

Story-Dream Tile Lesson


I start Ceramics at Waconia High School with this project “Story-Dream Tile” to teach students how to throw slabs, foreground, middleground, background, patterning, relief (subtractive + additive methods), and how to carve in the leatherhard stage. If you wish to see more story-dream tiles please click on the image above.

  1. I first have students write down a story from the summer or in the last couple years (or a dream).
  2. They then brainstorm on objects they may need to look at in order to draw these tiles.
  3. I allow them to go to the computers and print off images if needed.
  4. They draw two thumbnail images (get checked off) and are then allowed to go onto a final design.
  5. I show students how to create a slab, punching holes through design to transfer image onto slab, and add a slab by slipping and scoring.
  6. I also show how to carve in the leather hard stage. A main goal is to have students add as much as they take away – TIP – no needle point carvings (unless texture) but carve away SHAPES or thick lines
  7. Another TIP – Student will want to do beach scenes – they may but they cannot be typical! Encourage them to do a story from the last year to cut down on this or to have them active in the image.

Below are some files that I use to guide the project feel free to use them!

-Shalanah Backus

Reduction Cuts


Above is an image created by a student at Waconia High School 4″ x 6″ on soft-cut. Click on it to see other students’ work from the same assignment!

First, we used a rubbery stamp-like plate, soft-cut, which can be purchased at most art stores. Some TC local stores would be Wet Paint and Dick Blick. Soft-cut or sometimes called “easy-cut” is lots easier to cut than wood or linoleum, but you do sacrifice some detail as compared to wood or lino cut.

We used the reduction cut method. Reduction cuts destroy the “plate”, surface you print off of, in the process. Instead of each color being a different plate, you print your lightest color first then carve the next color and print that. For instance, above, the student cut away everything that was white on the plate and then printed a green layer. Next the student cut away everything that was suppose to be green and inked it with blue ink and print that. And lastly, she cut away everything that was suppose to be blue and printed it brown. In this process you are left with only the brown layer left. This also means you need to print many of your first color so that you have enough good prints in the end because you cannot do it again – the plate is destroyed in the process.

One of the advantages of using reduction cut over multi-plate prints is that you do not need to cut several plates to the exact same size. However, you still need to make sure you have a good registration system in place to make sure your prints line up well with every pass through the press and for each color. This could be as simple as a piece of paper or plastic with marks for the block and the paper or as complex as making a wooden “L” to place the block in one corner and paper on the top edges of the wooden “L”. Just make sure it is consistent!

Examples of reduction cuts:
Linoleum Prints – Some great examples of reduction cuts
Cricket Press – Shows process and different states of their work
Prunella – Shows process, linocuts, and different states of work

Links that explain the process and define reduction cuts:
1000 Woodcuts
– Has a step-by-step example of each state of the plate in a reduction cut process
How to do a Lino Reduction Cut – Movie is a great step-by-step demo and quite thorough. I would only recommend showing small parts for a classroom or just demonstrating yourself. But excellent for adults viewing reduction cut for the first time.

Links about woodcuts and printmaking:
MOMA Printmaking – awesome interactive site about 3 different types of printmaking

-Shalanah Backus