My youngest daughter's birthday falls on Day of the Dead so it seemed appropriate to run an art activity inspired by the festival at her birthday celebrations this weekend.

I chose polystyrene printing as it's a great activity for a range of ages, younger children can manage the techniques as there is no need for more difficult (and more injury prone) carving techniques that come with most block printing processes, but older children and adults can enjoy it too. As there were a few children taking part I sourced some A4 polysterene sheets produced specially for the purpose. The polystyrene cartons that are used by takeaways sometimes or underneath store bought pizzas work perfectly well too.

To help everyone get a good result I produced a template of the skull shape. I drew round it and pre-cut the shapes for the younger children and let the older ones draw round it themselves or encouraged them to draw their own. It is designed on US letterhead but make sure you print without scaling. It was designed so it would fit two skulls on one sheet and be a nice size for printing on standard paper.

Once the main shape is cut out (using scissors or a scalpel) impressions can be made in the surface by drawing on it or pressing things into it. We found drawing with a ball point pen but not pressing too hard worked the best. I also made some flower icing cutters available so they could be used to make impressions.

When the design is finished apply ink to the surface using a roller. I used water based block printing ink. Oil based inks are probably the most reliable (the adhere better to the polystyrene surface) but I prefer to used water based when working with children (especially when they are using it in my living room!). You can experiment with using an ordinary paint but it may not print so well. Apparently adding a drop of washing up liquid to a water-based paint will improve its printing quality and help slow the drying out process. I've found that rolling the ink out on a flat surface before applying to the printing block gets the best results. I used a scrap of perspex but an unused tile or baking sheet will work well too. Roller the ink in both directions on the flat surface to get an even coverage and then apply evenly over the entire polystyrene block.

After the block is inked evenly move it onto a clean surface (this is especially important if young children have rollered the ink on as it is more likely to have spread onto the surface around the block too), lay a piece of paper over the block a rub the back of the paper using the flat of your hand taking care not to move the paper during the process.

Finally peel the paper off the block to reveal the print. Here are some of the weekend's results...

If you would like details of other Day of the Dead inspired crafts there are some paper mache masks...

and mini diorama projects over on my blog too.

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