VINCENNES, Ind. (AP) — The last of Khelia Brink's kindergarten art students are lined up in front of the large, strange-looking machine and, clutching their cut-out designs, patiently waiting their turns.
"Grab this with both hands, there ya go," artist Red Rohall says to encourage the first youngster in line, Jushia Arnold, as she stepped up on the stool.
"Now, pull it back," Rohall says.
As Arnold does bright green and yellow paints are pressed into the machine and onto the plain white paper tucked carefully inside.
When Rohall lifts its top, Arnold, with eyes wide takes out a piece of paper with her design, a simple flower, is vividly displayed in white amid the bright yellow and green colors.
"The beauty of this is that it's so simple," Rohall says as he helps the next student onto the stool. "It's what you do with it that can make it so very special."
Rohall, a watercolor and silk-screen printing artist living in Phoenix, worked with students at Tecumseh-Harrison for the last two weeks as an artist-in-residence. He brought with him his silk-screen printing machine, something many of the student's, and even teachers, had never seen, the Vincennes Sun-Commercial reports (http://bit.ly/VYAKLN).
Originating in ancient China, the machine utilizes a 2,000-year old process of pushing ink through a thin piece of stretched silk to create what often appears to be a traditional watercolor painting.
"The kids love it," he said as he disassembled and cleaned the large machine. "It has a lot of curb appeal as it is, but it's also not something that's included in these kids' regular art courses.
"It's something new, something different, and it offers a really neat result."
The youngsters, kindergarten all the way up to fifth-grade, last week worked on their cut-out designs, which included everything from the state of Indiana to their initials and flowers.
The designs must be drawn onto and then cut out of a piece of white paper, so the older the child, the more challenging the design to be cut out, Brink said.
This week, the kids finally got to see the end result of using those designs to create their silk-screen prints. And many of them turned out so well, moms and dads at home are anxious to frame them and make them permanent fixtures on their walls, Brink said.
In his work, which was featured this week as a part of an exhibit hosted by Indiana Landmarks in Indianapolis, Rohall often uses a series, sometimes hundreds, of cut-out images and colors to create the final product. Much of his work centers around "nostalgic" memories, he said, and include everything from old-time diners to images along Route 66 and even vintage motels.
He spends hours at a time sketching and painting images then dissecting them, literally, to create the hundreds of individual cutouts it will take to create the total image.
"Silk-screen images can be so detailed and realistic," he said. "It just takes patience. You have to train your eye to break it down into its component parts, into its individual colors.
"Then 10, 20, sometimes hundreds of colors and presses later, it looks exactly like the original painting."
But for as complicated and tedious as it can be, silk-screen printing can also be used to teach kids as young as five years old. That, he said, is why he travels back to Indiana, his native state, to teach at least twice a year.
That, and because he says he learns from the children as much as they learn from him.
"Even though I'm considered a professional, I must always be careful that I don't find myself in a rut," he said. "This gets me out of my studio, and the kids can come up with the most clever solutions to problems. They see things I don't, so it's a learning experience for me, too.
"It keeps me fresh, I think."
Melissa Gurchiek, principal at Tecumseh-Harrison, said she once sought grants to pay for such artists to come and spend time with her students. Now she relies on the PTO for the money to continue funding the artist-in-residence program.
In a world where the art and music classes are on the chopping block, Gurchiek is determined to save them.
"Research shows that if a child feels successful in any area of the arts, that transfers over into their regular academic life," she explained. "So if they feel successful doing this silk-screen printing, then they'll be confident in their other classrooms.
"We still believe that the arts are important to making our children successful."
Information from: Vincennes Sun-Commercial, http://www.vincennes.com