Spud-tacular Saturday Studio

Natalie McKibben, Education Intern

Rockwell Kent was an American artist born in 1882. Kent graduated from Horace Mann School in New York City and then later studied architecture at Columbia University. Throughout his life he worked many jobs: an architect, a carpenter, a farmer, and, of course, an artist.

A woodcut of two trains chugging down a track with smoke plumes.
Rockwell Kent, American, 1882-1971. Two Locomotives. Woodcut on paper, 1930. Gift of the children of J.J. Lankes. Image courtesy of FWMoA.

In his early art career, Kent primarily used paint as his medium of choice. He often drew inspiration from nature and explored a Realist landscape style in his paintings. In the 1920’s, however, he started to explore printmaking, quickly becoming an established graphic artist. An example of his well-known engraving work can be seen in his illustrations for two editions of Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Towards the beginning of World War II Kent’s work started to shift towards a focus on Labor, or workers, rights.

Kent used a printing process called wood engraving. First, he would take a slice of wood and carve out everything but what he would want to show up on paper. Then, he would evenly apply the ink to the wood and press a paper to its surface to transfer the image. This process allowed Kent to create textured, detailed line work. Wood can be difficult to cut, so for this activity we will be using a potato!

A woodcut of a steel plant, smoke escaping in plumes and men mill around.
Rockwell Kent, American, 1882-1971. Steel Plant. Woodcut on paper, 1929. Gift of the children of J.J. Lankes. Image courtesy of FWMoA.

For this activity you will need:

  • A large potato
  • A pen
  • Something to cut with (a knife, box cutter, or x-acto knife)
  • Paper
  • Paint
  • Paintbrush or sponge

The first step to this project is to cut your potato in half.

Next, pat down the inside of the potato with a paper towel or cloth to get some of the moisture out.

With your pen or marker draw out the design you want to print. Keep in mind that the image will be reversed when you print, so if you want any writing you’ll have to draw it mirrored.

Next, take your cutting tool and cut out everything around your drawing, going a few centimeters deep into the potato. Keep in mind that anything left raised will show up in your print.

Next, we are going to pat the potato dry again and let it sit and fully dry. This should take about an hour.

Once your potato has dried a bit, it’s time to start printing! With a paint brush or sponge apply a thin layer of paint to the carved side of the potato. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different colors!

Flip the potato over onto your paper and press down. When you lift your potato you’ll have your very own print! If you notice some details are lost in your print, you can always re-visit it and carve a little bit deeper around your drawing or use a thinner layer of paint when you print next. With this process you can reuse the potato and make multiple prints; just be sure to throw out the potato before it starts to get old and stinky!  

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