Jan 11th, 2015

Getting Creative with Plants & Printing

by Phyllis Laslett, Adult Education Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden 

Hot pink botanical print

This is a linoblock piece printed on fabric — wouldn’t it make a great t-shirt? In linoleum block printing, the block you carve has a sheet of linoleum glued to the top.  This can be easier to carve, and it’s certainly easier to make curved lines!  Again, you’ll find that the shapes of the plants you are drawing will suggest playful patterns. In the print below, Johnston created a negative image so that the design is created by the removed parts.

Back in the mists of time, I was an art major in college and rummaged around in a number of different techniques.  So I was delighted when long time instructor Celeste Johnston proposed a series of workshops using simple print-making techniques that don’t require lots of equipment or a big press, remembering how much fun it was to try out different media.   I remember the techniques Johnston proposed as fairly quick and easy to execute, with a lot of leeway for creativity.  Two of the techniques, wood and linoleum block printing, result in carved images that you can use over and over again, varying the medium you print on (cloth, paper, or even leaves!) and the color.  The other two, mono and solar printing, create one-of-a-kind images with a unique look and texture.

Wood block printing is an old technique:  illustrations in the earliest printed books were wood blocks, including the elaborate Gerard’s Herbal, an elaborate Renaissance-era medicinal plant compendium.  In wood block printing, you (carefully) carve a design into the wood block surface using a sharp wooden-handled tool.  I recall that the wood gives you a lot of texture on its own, before you start carving.  The tricky part is that you’re removing the parts you don’t want to print–a little like drawing in a mirror.  Too, the grain of the wood becomes part of your image, with great results!  You roll ink over the raised parts that remain, and press onto a sheet of paper, or fabric, or whatever you like.  The blocks can be wiped and reused over and over again.  Johnston used an ear of corn as her subject for the print below — I love how the silhouette of the ear and husks forms an interesting pattern.

Celeste Johnston made these prints from the same wood block.

Celeste Johnston made these prints from the same wood block.



In another direction, mono prints are created by arranging different elements on a surface that may or may not have permanent elements, such as a wood block.  These result in one-of-a-kind images and lend themselves to all kinds of creative variations.

Mono print uses a block print image with free-drawn additions of ink

Johnston’s mono print uses a block print image with free-drawn additions of ink


Finally — and appropriately, considering plants use the sun for photosynthesis — solar printing  uses what is essentially a blueprint process to create one-of-a-kind monochromatic prints.  Plants and other materials are arranged on treated paper, and exposed to sunlight to create a new image.  You can vary the exposure times to get layers of color.  No tools, except sunlight, are required!

plants and a butterfly form to create this image.

Johnston arranged plants and a butterfly form to create this image. She could have rearranged the elements and made a completely different print on another sheet.

For those who enjoy botanical art but talent lies more toward crafting, or who moan that they “can’t draw a straight line,” these fun, easy, and creative techniques can unleash your inner artist. Spaces are still available in the Garden’s  Printing from Plants  series, on January 24, 2015. We hope you can join us!

Phyllis Laslett is Adult Education Coordinator at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where she plans and administers a year-round schedule of workshops, courses, and symposia in nine interest areas, and edits the Education and Events catalog three times a year.  Every year, she continues to be surprised by pink daffodils, yellow African violets, green roses, and red daylilies in the plant shows.

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