Getting Creative with Plants & Printing
by Phyllis Laslett, Adult Education Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
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.
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.
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!
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!