Printmaking and environmental education might seem like an unlikely combination. After all, printmakers have historically used many toxic chemicals in the name of art. Acid baths, mineral spirits, and screenprinting emulsion are just a few of the chemicals commonly found in print shops. But Highpoint Center for Printmaking in Minneapolis is taking a more environmentally responsible approach to the art form.

Highpoint Center for Printmaking has a striking white facade on bustling Lake Street with broad windows that offer a glimpse into their offices and gallery. This nonprofit is dedicated to advancing the art of printmaking through educational workshops, a cooperative printshop, and a visiting artist program. Highpoint has worked hard to develop nontoxic alternatives to traditional printmaking materials including a soy-based solvent that replaced 95% of the studio’s volatile solvents.

Nestled behind their building, Highpoint has established a small but mighty rain garden that filters approximately 200,000 gallons of rainwater and snowmelt that runs off the building’s roof and parking lot each year. It also plays a surprising role in educational workshops that infuse art-making with an environmental message.

Highpoint’s rain garden was designed by artist Kinji Akagawa with Field Outdoor Spaces in 2009

Every leaf tells a story through plant-inspired printmaking

Under the stewardship of Education Manager Tyler Green, Highpoint’s educational workshops now encourage students to protect our shared ecosystems. In partnership with the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, and Green Partners Environmental Education Program, Highpoint has developed a series of environmental workshops for students of all ages. One such offering, called the Rain Garden Monoprint class, is designed to complement science education about the water cycle.

Tyler Green, Highpoint’s Education & Community Programs Manager, reviews practical tips for water conservation with students

When students ages 8-12 take a field trip to Highpoint, they review the water cycle, and learn about the native plants that grow in Highpoint’s rain garden. Each student is tasked with identifying a certain plant that grows in the garden. A class of 30 students spreads out in the garden, searching for gray dogwood or black eyed susans, occasionally stumbling across a pollinator in the process. “When we see a bee in the garden, I’m usually with a class of 30 students. We all crowd around one little bee,” says Tyler with a laugh.

Once students find their plant, they pick a leaf or two and return to the classroom. Students set-up for printmaking at glass top tables, and each kid mixes their own professional-quality ink, applying it to the leaves with rollers. With Tyler’s help, the students run the leaves through a press to create two prints. Afterward, the prints are set in a drying rack, and students clean up the classroom. All told, about 5,000 young people are taught about printmaking through Highpoint’s workshops and events each year.

Leaves collected from Highpoint’s rain garden provide lovely natural materials for printmaking workshops

Art makes science lessons tangible

Combining his passions for environmental education and printmaking is especially rewarding for Tyler, an artist who also received a minor in environmental studies. He sees the concrete lessons of the Rain Garden Monoprint workshop as a way to share his personal philosophy of living a sustainable life. “It’s immersive,” he says, reflecting on the effectiveness of Highpoint’s hands-on approach. “Students aren’t just learning about something that happens far away.” Tyler underscores water conservation during clean-up by encouraging kids to use only a small amount of water to rinse materials after the printmaking activity is done.

In the future, Tyler hopes to engage more students and artists in Highpoint’s environmental education programs. Professional artists like Willie Cole have collaborated with Highpoint Editions to create artworks out of reclaimed materials, and Tyler sees great potential to connect students with these artists. In the meantime, he’ll continue to encourage a new generation of environmentally aware artists, one student at a time.

 

How to make your own cyanotype print with natural materials

Materials: cyanotype or “sun print” paper (you can find this at your local art shop or online), a bowl of water large enough to fit the paper, and natural materials such as leaves and sticks

  1. Find materials you’d like to use in your print. Tyler recommends leaves rather than flowers to create a crisp image.
  2. Place your leaves on top of the cyanotype paper in direct sun. Act quickly. As soon as the paper is exposed to sunlight, it will begin to develop, so it works best to get your composition ready before heading out into the sun. You can place a sheet of glass or acrylic over the materials to press them down and to prevent them from blowing around in the wind.
  3. Watch the exposure. When the uncovered parts of the paper have turned white in the sun, it’s ready to rinse. The sunnier it is, the quicker the paper will develop. Cyanotype paper can develop in 30 seconds.
  4. Rinse the paper in a water bath for about one minute to stop the paper from developing.
  5. Lay the wet paper somewhere flat to dry. Once dry, you can press the pages under a stack of books to flatten any curled edges. Then you’ll have a beautiful, blue and white image.

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