Art-Making Activity: Soap Block Prints

Elizabeth Catlett (American and Mexican, 1915 – 2012) Sharecropper, 1970, color linocut, edition 21/60, Gift of Murial Bultman Francis, 78.98

Elizabeth Catlett is celebrated for her prints and sculptures that provide commentary on social issues. Catlett worked in sculpture, printmaking, and paint. She focused especially on the experience of the Black woman. Her sculpture Mother and Child is currently on view in NOMA’s Great Hall.

To create this print, the artist created a relief by digging into her material and taking away the “empty space” in the image, or the parts that would not print ink on the page. This type of relief printing is one of the oldest printmaking processes used to print images or words onto paper.



  • Soap bars (Square bars like Ivory works well)
  • Pencils 
  • Veggie Peeler
  • Masking tape
  • Sponge
  • Paint — tempera or acrylic 
  • Paper 



1. Draw a design on a piece of paper that will fit on the bar of soap. This will be your template.

2. Place the drawing on top of the soap and trace over it with a pencil, making sure to push down so that the outline transfers to the soap.

3. Wrap the sharp edges of the veggie peeler with tape, then use the top of the peeler to carve away the soap, using your drawing to guide you. This will create a relief with non-carved parts of your design protruding from the block.

4. Prepare to print by coating the block with paint. Use the sponge, a finger or a paint brush to apply paint. 

5. Take a clean piece of paper and lay it on top of the prepared block. Use  your finger to gently apply pressure. The print will transfer to the paper. 



  • You may be able to print 2 – 4 times with one coating of paint!
  • By laying the paper on top of the soap block, rather than stamping the block onto the paper, you will have more control over the amount of pressure applied to the block.
  • Keep the design simple! Details do not transfer as well. 



Add another color! Use your original drawing for scale, and add a frame or another component to your design. On a second bar of soap, trace your addition (but not the original drawing). Carve away the soap from the new drawing, following the steps above. Print your second block in a different color onto your first set of prints (once they’re dry). Now you have a two tone block print!