Art Lesson Plan: Expressionistic Relief Printing - by Arlene Martin

Expressionistic Relief Printing

Submitted by: Arlene Martin, Great Bridge HS, teacher of AP Studio and AP Art History
UNIT: Printmaking - Social Comment - Relief Prints
Lesson: Political / Social Statements - Relief Printmaking with Styrofoam insulation
Grade Level: High School (adaptable to middle school)


Lesson Motivation:

Discuss and show examples of artists (below) who have made political and social statements such as Daumier, Goya, Gericault, and Delacroix. View German Expressionism relief prints. Have one student make a running list on large paper of the ideas suggested by students during discussion. As each surfaces there is discussion about the issue and brainstorming of ways to portray the issue as an image/composition. Relief as a process is discussed and artist examples are shown. The technical sequence is discussed and demonstrated.


Click images for larger views- These are about fine art monies/programs being short-changed.
Left: actual printing plate      Right: hand colored print

1      1


  • Create a political or social statement about today's society - (Appreciation: Expressionism).

  • Create a technically successful relief composition, plate, and numbered series of prints - Utilize elements and principles of design - develop contrast.

  • Write an essay describing the issue, your stand on the issue, and how your artwork reflects your opinion.


Pink or blue (usually) industrial Foamboard.. (Comes in different thickness-the thicker you can afford, the better) Mat / Utility Knife, X-acto Knives., Sharpie Fine Point Markers., Block Printing Inks. (experiment- Arlene used water base block printing ink)
Optional: Dremel tool and bits, Chalk., Oil Pastels. or Colored Pencils..



One week in advance student are to read the newspapers and select an issue. They are to bring relevant editorials, political cartoons, articles.


Examples (Prints)

Lesson Procedures:

  1. Draw thumbnails- Work may be realistic, stylized, but remember the limitation of the process (work on strong contrasts). Shade areas to cut.

  2. Cut size of Foamboard. with mat knife (larger is better otherwise hard to get detail)

  3. Draw on Styrofoam with Sharpie so no lines are incised. You may want to shade or label areas to cut.

  4. Cut with X-acto, at times outlining and at times gouging at an angle. Can use other instruments as well to incise lines for crosshatching and texture.

  5. Ink is applied with Brayers., set up registration, and print, using hands to burnish. (Note: oil base inks may dissolve the Styrofoam - use water based inks)

  6. Sign and number proof and prints properly.

  7. Hand color print (if desired). Example above shows oil pastels. Colored pencils or chalk could be used.

  8. Write an essay on the issue in society, your opinion about it, and how your art reflects this issue.

Note from Judy: Woodburners could also be used to incise the foam, provided students worked outside. Styrofoam fumes are dangerous.



  1. A rubric for the finished series

  2. The reflective essay

  3. Participation in critique

Lesson Extension:

From Judy: Try making a relief paper cast (prior to inking). Scrub Dow board to remove any dirt that might transfer to cast paper. Cast several sheets of paper and over lap onto board (assuming you do not have a large mold and deckle - 8 ½ x 11 (21.5 x 28 cm) size does work). Press down paper pulp with sponges forcing into textures of board - Squeeze out as much water as possible with small sponges. Let cast paper dry on board. Pop off when dry. Setting in front of fan - or out in sun will speed drying time as the thick paper will take some time to dry.


I got damaged Dow Styrofoam boards from lumber companies for many projects for FREE. You can also get left over Dow board from contractors in your area. I had a local lumber company on board that would cut the Dow board down to size for me for free. Check your area to see if there is a business that will support your program. It is worth a try. I gave that local company a lot of business over the years. The same company also saved Plexiglas scraps for me for printmaking (dry point engravings).



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