This Art!Facts activity is based on the study of Inuit history and culture in Canada of the second half of the twentieth century. The following text will provide the students with a brief introduction to Inuit art-making (with an emphasis on printmaking) of the last fifty years as well as general background of the preceding historical periods of the Inuit past that have been recorded by Western research. (It is important to note that the presentation, organization, and study of Inuit history are based on Western perspectives.)

Historical Periods

Thule Period

Inuit art has a long and storied history. The Canadian Arctic, Greenland, Siberia, and Alaska have been home for several different Inuit cultures including Paleo-Eskimo, Punuk, Birnik, Dorset, Norse, and Thule. Art from these earlier cultures dating as far back as 5000 years ago tends to be rare. Tools and various household items from the Thule culture, which became most dominant among Inuit cultures between 1000-1600AD reveal artistic practices. Snow knives, snow goggles, decorated combs, pendants, and female figurines among other items were often decorated with e Read More

This Art!Facts activity is based on the study of Inuit history and culture in Canada of the second half of the twentieth century. The following text will provide the students with a brief introduction to Inuit art-making (with an emphasis on printmaking) of the last fifty years as well as general background of the preceding historical periods of the Inuit past that have been recorded by Western research. (It is important to note that the presentation, organization, and study of Inuit history are based on Western perspectives.)

Historical Periods

Thule Period

Inuit art has a long and storied history. The Canadian Arctic, Greenland, Siberia, and Alaska have been home for several different Inuit cultures including Paleo-Eskimo, Punuk, Birnik, Dorset, Norse, and Thule. Art from these earlier cultures dating as far back as 5000 years ago tends to be rare. Tools and various household items from the Thule culture, which became most dominant among Inuit cultures between 1000-1600AD reveal artistic practices. Snow knives, snow goggles, decorated combs, pendants, and female figurines among other items were often decorated with engravings.

Historic Period

Changes in climate and the arrival of European explorers in the seventeenth century affected and altered Inuit way of life. Historians refer to the time of changes as the Historic Period (1600-late1940s). During the Historic Period, the Inuit began to produce art for trade. Sculptures of arctic animals, camp life, and hunting that were carved from ivory became popular with explorers, whalers, fur-traders, and missionaries. The art of this period tends to be small and portable.

Contemporary Period

The Contemporary Period is usually dated from the late 1940s or early 1950s and continues to the present day. Inuit art from this period is produced in many forms – sculpture, print, painting, drawing, weaving and sewing – and among different Inuit groups. Increased contact with Southern (Western, non-Inuit) artists from Canada, led by artist and writer helped change the way that the Inuit people organized their communities and produced their art. Receptive to foreign influences, experimentation, and adaptation to different media, Inuit artists found new ways to present their stories, legends, and belief system while adhering to their own imagery and stylistic expressions. The Contemporary Period brought widespread awareness of the Inuit as artists; and the popularity of their work continues to grow.

I. Research

Kenojuak Ashevak is an important figure in Canadian art history for different reasons: she is a female artist, an Inuit, and has contributed to the development of print production in Canada. Reflecting Inuit themes and artistic styles, her work has helped to promote Inuit art and culture within the broader collection of Canadian art history.

To gain a better understanding of Kenojuak Ashevak’s work and Inuit art in general, students will study one of the following topics and prepare an oral presentation followed by a research paper: (Paper length will be determined by the educator)

The artistic production of Kenojuak Ashevak. Students may focus solely on her print production. What kind of themes and imagery – animals – has the artist explored in her work and how would you describe her style (the manner in which the artist presents her themes)?

Inuit prints. What are prints? Look at the following four types of printmaking techniques: lithography, intaglio (etching, engraving, drypoint, aquatint, mezzotint), relief printing (woodcut, wood engraving, linocut), and stencil or screen printing, and provide definitions for them. How are they produced? How have Inuit artists used prints in their careers? Look at two or three Inuit artists as examples. See list below for Inuit artists. Students can narrow their focus by investigating one printing technique and one Inuit artist who practices the chosen printing technique.

Choose one Inuit artist and discuss his/her art. Students may choose to look at other artistic media: drawing, painting, sculpture, and sewing and weaving. How have Inuit artists used their chosen media to depict their subject matter? How do they present their images and what kind of style/technique have they employed?

Inuit Artists

Cape Dorset (regional) artists:

  • Kenojuak Ashevak
  • Pudlo Pudlat
  • Pitseolak Ashoona
  • Parr


Baker Lake (regional) artists:

  • Jessie Oonark
  • Ruth Annaqtuusi Tulurialik
  • Irene Avaalaqiaq
  • Simon Tookoome
  • Luke Anguhadluq

 

II. Art-Making Studio


Relief Printmaking – Linocut

Relief printing is one type of printmaking. Relief printing plates are made of several materials such as wood, metal, and linoleum. Through this hands-on activity, students will explore one example of relief printmaking known as linocut.

Warning: Adult supervision is required as sharp tools will be used in this activity.

Materials

For your studio activity, you will need to prepare the following materials:

  • Flat pieces of linoleum;
  • Water-based ink;
  • Soft rubber brayers;
  • Cookie trays (to roll your ink);
  • Linoleum cutters;
  • Tracing paper cut in the size of the linoleum piece;
  • Paper (for drawing);
  • Paper for printing (bond, watercolour, or the more expensive printmaking paper);
  • Vine charcoal or carbon paper;
  • Pencil;
  • Eraser;
  • Masking tape; and
  • Paper towel.

Note: Instruments such as brayers and cutters can be shared by students and as such can be purchased in smaller numbers to avoid costs.

Methodology

Follow these steps to produce your work:

1. On a (tracing) sheet of paper draw an animal of your choice. You may want to attempt to draw in the style of Kenojuak Ashevak or any other Inuit artist of your liking placing emphasis on line and pattern. You can copy, but do not trace, Ashevak’s The Enchanted Owl or a different animal image by another artist. First, research the work of Inuit artists in your textbook or online. This is where you may find an image that you may wish to explore in your own art. By mimicking the style of the Inuit you will gain a better understanding of their techniques and creative process.

2. Once you have completed your drawing copy your image onto the linoleum plate. You can use carbon paper to transfer the image. Alternatively, if you used a tracing paper flip it over. Use your charcoal to redraw over the lines in your drawing. Press hard. Then place the tracing paper with the charcoal facing down on top of the linoleum plate. Tape corners in place. Using a pencil retrace the lines. The charcoal lines will transfer to the plate’s surface.

3. Begin to carve away the lines in your drawing. Use your carving tool cautiously and be careful not to touch the sharp end.

The cut-away areas will remain colourless once the ink is applied. The raised surface – uncut areas – will receive the ink. The interplay between high and low areas, and negative and positive spaces define the light and dark contrasts of relief printing.

4. Apply the ink on the linoleum plate from the cookie tray using a soft rubber brayer. Apply the ink carefully and evenly. Remember to remove excess ink from the brayer after you roll it in the ink. Ink should be placed only on one side of the tray. The other side should remain clean. This is where you can rub away excess colour.

5. On the inked surface place your paper to produce your first print. Using your hand gently rub the back of the paper to allow for greater absorption of the ink. The way that you rub and apply force to the back of the paper will affect the outcome of your print. As you rub make sure that you are not moving the paper across the surface of the linoleum plate.

6. Remove your paper. Your print is now complete. Notice that the image in your print is made up of white lines. They are colourless or in the colour of the printed paper.

This is the first print of your first edition. You may repeat the process by placing another sheet of paper. How does your second (third and fourth) print(s) differ from your first? Is there a similar and even distribution of ink?

Don’t forget to number your prints at the bottom of the paper. It is customary to record the number of the print above the total number of prints in the edition. For example, your first print in an edition of four should be recorded as ¼.

7. Finally present your work to the class. Look at your edition of prints. How do the prints differ from each other? Why are they not exactly the same? Discuss with the class your thoughts about the process of linocut printmaking. What have you learned about this type of printmaking? What are the advantages and limitations of the technique?


© 2006, McMichael Canadian Art Collection. All Rights Reserved.

Learning Objectives

Kenojuak Ashevak The Enchanted Owl Learning Object Activity is designed for students and educators to meet the following objectives:

  • Learn about the artist and her contribution to Canadian art;
  • Explore themes in Canadian history and cultural heritage;
  • Establish links between art and cultural identity;
  • Learn about a type of Canadian art - Inuit art, and demonstrate knowledge in the art of other cultures, nations, and groups;
  • Identify, research, and describe visual characteristics and themes found in Canadian and other cultures’ art;
  • Demonstrate an understanding that the function of art may vary from culture to culture;
  • Discuss and analyze a work of art using principles of design and other artistic terminology, and classify a work of art by period, style, and subject matter;
  • Use appropriate art vocabulary related to materials, processes, and technologies;
  • Demonstrate an understanding of materials, basic skills, and concepts in drawing, painting, and printmaking;
  • Produce one’s own work of art using traditional and new approaches; 
  • Learn how to apply the techniques and styles of other artists in the creation of one’s own work of art in order to gain a better understanding of the artistic process and of different creative productions; and
  • Identify the skills required in various visual arts and art-related careers.


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