If you've been to West Linn-Wilsonville's Arts and Technology High School lately you might have noticed students walking around school wearing the same T-shirts and sweatshirts. You might even see staff with similar attire, and even a few members of the community around town if you look hard enough.
This growing trend is thanks in large part to teacher Ben Whitcomb's printmaking class, which has developed into its own business over the course of the year, culminating in a new school logo and custom-made clothing for the whole school.
"The whole goal of this thing was to give students real-world experience and even business experience," Whitcomb says. "I wanted to show them one example of a business that they can participate and thrive in, right now as high schoolers, if they put in the time and energy. We're committed in this class to working together and making some really cool stuff."
Students started earlier in the year with an intro to printmaking class, learning the basics of the craft and eventually creating their own prints. They learned about the history of the printmaking process and techniques, allowing them to distinguish different eras depending on the technology and quality of printmaking they're looking at. Whitcomb designed the class to be project-based, ensuring that students get a variety of hands-on experiences. They even toured local professional printmaking businesses to show students what can become of the craft.
"Everyone has been assigned a particular task or role that they thrive at, but I also made sure that everyone had a chance to participate in every part of the process to gain those experiences," Whitcomb says. "We kind of have a creative side and a business side to the class, but everyone has a hand in everything. We're really focusing on vocational, real-world skills."
Using equipment that Whitcomb obtained through donations and a number of grants, students have spent the last term creating their own designs and transferring them onto materials such as clothing and canvas. It's taken some trial and error, but students say they've improved at the craft dramatically over the past few months.
"This is one of my favorite classes. I've learned so much in this class," says junior Jonah Brock. "This is actually something I might want to do for a career someday, so I've gained a lot of good experiences learning all these skills.
"Working with the equipment and the materials, they can be temperamental, so you really need to pay attention and be detailed. If you miss one step or do one little thing just a bit off it will ruin the whole thing."
Students have created a makeshift darkroom where they use exposure technology for more artistic prints, but they also use a traditional screen-printing press for clothing. Before the end of the year, students will have experience with collagraph, monoprint, Styrofoam printing, linoleum block, soft Speedy-cut blocks and traditional screen-printing. Students will also create their own portfolios, proof of another skill they can add to their resumes.
"When we first started we were more focused on designing what we wanted to print but this term we've actually gotten more chances to make our creations. I would say the biggest thing this class has taught me is that failure is learning, and that it's OK to make mistakes if you learn from them," Brock says.
Earlier in the year, each student was tasked with creating a school logo, which the rest of Art Tech voted on — settling on a variation of the current school logo that students say resembles the culture and spirit of Art Tech. Now, the printmaking class is creating sweatshirts for the senior class while selling the custom-made clothes, including T-shirts and tote bags, to the rest of the school and staff. Students handle the ordering of materials online and track customer orders from staff. Any profits will go back into the program, and allow sweatshirts to be made for students who can't afford the $25 items.
"Our goal is for everyone in the school to have something with the logo on it," says senior Kaya Williams, who is one of the class' lead organizers. "We keep track of orders, sizes and colors, so it really is real job experience for us. The sweatshirts are really great so we're starting to get a few more orders and might even expand further into Wilsonville at some point."
Whitcomb's goal is to continue to grow the class and add better equipment. Through grants and by selling clothing to staff and a few members of the community he says the materials can more or less pay for themselves, but that he would like to fund a proper dark room and newer printmaking machines at some point. Until then, students will continue to hone their skills.
"If you know what you're doing then this is something you can do well out of your own garage even," Brock says. "And it doesn't have to be screen-printing or printmaking. If you put in the time and really connect with customers well you can be successful."