After a class discussion about events or social problems that the students find disturbing, each student chooses an issue to research and use as the theme for a high contrast, mostly black and white poster. Appropriating images from magazines and newspapers generates the imagery for the posters.

An important aesthetic aspect of this project is that students are not asked to laboriously re-draw found images. Utilizing a familiar strategy of contemporary postmodern artworks, the selected images are juxtaposed and layered onto the final artwork. Using this method, dynamic and thought-provoking posters can be created in one to two weeks.

Much better than the all-to-typical initial rush of enthusiasm for a new project turning into a depressing struggle to get students to finish up their artwork after the creative fun has gone out of it for them
• The students search for proactive responses to an issue or problem.
• The students juxtapose, overlap, and layer images.
• The students experiment with creating clear, dynamic compositions.
• The students learn that laborious representational drawing and painting is not necessarily the best method to create an artwork.
Watercolor paper
Overhead projectors (The more, the better. Borrow from your fellow teachers.)
Masking tape
Red acrylic paint
Xerox machine (optional)

Gather samples of effective posters that address social issues. Northland Poster Collective, the Guerilla Girls, and the Syracuse Cultural Workers are good sources for posters.

A visit to a Museum of Contemporary Art followed by a discussion of why so many contemporary artists are creating artworks that address social issues would be a great introduction to the project. Artists Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer are interesting to consider because their text-based work is so visually stark and conceptually clear. An interesting beginning point for a discussion is to ask students what issues dealt with by artists at the museum are issues about which they also feel concern. Follow up by asking students if they are aware of important issues that they don't see represented.

Ask each student to choose an issue or problem as the focus for his or her poster. Have students write a statement explaining why this problem is of importance to them.

Break students into small groups of 5 or 6. Within each group, each student presents his issue and statement. Together the students brainstorm pro-active responses to the problem. The student whose issue is being discussed takes notes in order to gather more ideas for his or her project. Encourage students to think of responses on several levels. What could be done personally, by a family, an organization or group, local government, or national government?

Students conduct library and/or Internet research about the topic. They begin to gather images. These can be torn or xeroxed from magazines or newspapers, as well as downloaded from the Internet.

Remind students that they are not looking for images that simply illustrate the problem. Encourage students to think about creating meaning by juxtaposing images that typically might not seem to be related to the issue or idea.

Alternate class time between gathering images and writing rough drafts for the verbal commentary that will accompany the posters. Students work with more creativity and focus if they switch back and forth between text-based and visual work related to the project.

Photocopy images on overhead transparencies or trace images with a permanent pen onto clear acetate. It is best to develop the composition more spontaneously by experimenting with bringing together various combinations of projected images. Encourage students to be open to unexpected effects. Encourage juxtaposition, overlapping, deconstructing, and reconstructing of the images. Use a soft pencil to trace images onto the watercolor paper. Bolder students may wish to trace directly with black marker.

Have students return to their original small groups. Discuss each poster. What's working? What isn't? How could the image be made more dramatic?

Alternating discussion groups with using the available projectors will help to ensure that all students are focused on a productive task.

After images are transferred, begin inking. Have students consider how to create an effective dark/light balance.

Show examples of strongly alternating black and white compositions. Two favorites:

Love and Rockets is a really interesting comic book that is printed in black and white. Its panels have wonderful dark/light contrast.

Elizabeth Catlett is a renowned African American artist (though she has resided for many years in Mexico) who creates visually dramatic linocuts that skillfully play dark against light and create midtones through the use of patterned marks. See an example of her work, Bread for All from 1954 at the Datyton Art Institute at

The text can be a quote or the artist's own response to the issue. Alternate large scale and smaller scale text. Remind students that the text does not have to be oriented at right angles to the poster edges. Don’t waste time laboriously hand drawing text. Using found text or text generated on a computer, xerox the text onto a transparency, project, and trace.

Ask each student to find a fact that creates a "Wow!" response in readers. Have students test the effectiveness of their facts by sharing them with their response groups.

Letter the fact in red paint over the black and white images.

Have each student write a description of the process and final product.
Create a whole-school or community showing of the posters.
Encourage community or school newspapers to cover the story that today's youth are not thoughtless slackers, but rather are deeply concerned about the state of the world.

Click here to print out Process Plans for I Can Change the World.