Tag Archives: nature’s art

The Real Key to Ecoprinting

The Real Key to Ecoprinting

It is interesting to listen to my customers at a show when I briefly explain the basics of ecoprinting.
“Oh so these are real leaves and you just lay them down to get the imprint?” is a common reply!
Or maybe you have seen a few images on blogs or Pinterest of a few lightly wrapped “bundles” tied loosely with a beautiful ribbon? Well, let’s talk about what the key is to the best prints with ecoprinting!

Ecoprinting or Botanical Printing seems to have popped up everywhere and for good reason-it’s fun! It’s not a new art form-it’s been around a long time and I enjoyed using leaves to imprint paper way back in my University days. 🙂

The world of art has changed dramatically of course since those days! The Internet changed everything. Methods and techniques I learned in my major course studies of Commercial Art and Printmaking have undergone some of the biggest changes. Little is hand drawn now and certainly lithographs and etchings are no longer commercially viable! But what has not changed in printmaking are the basics. ALL Successful (non-inkjet) printing requires contact and pressure! Block printing, lithographs, etchings, woodblocks, screen printing, typewriters and ecoprinting to name a few, all require contact with the surface plus pressure to create an imprint.

So the key to successful ecoprinting is not the leaves or the mordants or even the heat. All that is of little or no value unless PRESSURE is applied to create sufficient contact.  That is what printing is all about.

So, how do we achieve the required pressure? Humor me while my art history kicks in 😉

Take a look at this image of the 1440 Gutenberg press if you want an idea of pressure!


So basically, in traditional printmaking, you “ink” your metal, plastic, rubber or wood template, lay the paper or fabric onto the “printing plate” surface, apply pressure…. and you have an imprint!
The popularity of stamping designs onto paper and fabric may seem recent but it’s not. India had been using wood blocks to imprint designs on their fabrics for centuries. I have a number of these beautiful wood blocks and they all require pressure to succeed.
Applying pressure to imprint a design onto cotton in India

Most people don’t realize that the photos of the American Civil War that were put into papers and most famously Harper’s Weekly were created by having woodcarvers, each with a section of the drawn out photos, carve his portion to combine under the printing press. Again-pressure  🙂

A sectioned wood block used to imprint into Harper’s Weekly during the Civil War

The old linoleum blocks we used in art classes have given way to a softer, easier to carve “soft cut” linoleum block that make it easy for any artist to make their own designs in a fraction of the time. Below are a few that I have carved for use on both my wool and silk fabrics.

So pressure plays the key role. When ecoprinters use words like “Bundling tightly” or tight Bundles, we can get an idea of the pressure involved when we understand that printing in its original context, means pressure!


You can imprint a leaf  or flower on fabric simply by subjecting both to enormous pressure (see first image!) But by far the easiest method to achieve as uniform contact as possible involved laying leaves onto the designated fabric and rolling the pieces into tight bundles using pipes of copper or wood as the central pivot. The final wrapping of the rolled piece with string adds to the tightness of the bundle.
People who are unaware of ecoprinting or beginners to this art form often envision this and little more. It is accurate but just the first step. Rolling this piece tightly on a wood dowel and finally tying with twine will result in a “bundle” like the one below.


This bundle is larger than usual as it just happens to be 3 yards of 45″ raw silk. It was folded, leaves inside, rolled and tied into this small missile like size and ready for the steaming pot! If I had kept it spread onto a table, exposing the leaves to the heat of the sun, very little would have happened. I tried once in an experiment. I had a piece of silk, topped with leaves and clear glass. I had contact, but no pressure. I did not even get stains :-).

The result of one large piece of properly bundled silk noil.

I’ve seen the use of shrink wrap rather than twine but I prefer not to use much plastic if I can help it. And besides I don’t mind the resulting “string marks” from the twine. And if you do not like those marks? Well use fabric strips instead of twine!

Learn to wrap tight bundles to ensure full contact with your plants to the surface and you will have mastered the real key to successful ecoprinting! It is simply another form of printmaking.

 

The Roots of Ecoprinting

How deep do the roots go into the personal Psyche of those people captivated by “Ecoprinting?”  What nourishes their interest and fascination? On what level do they embrace it?

The Roots of Ecoprinting

There is nothing quite like Nature’s artistry in her plant Kingdom.  Our own personal journey in Nature determines how deeply our roots are connected to our appreciation of such beauty. There are so many ways to embrace this love of Nature.

The Blue Ridge Parkway, NC

Who has not enjoyed spectacular scenic views while driving camping or hiking? Part of what motivates the artist in me are views that take in the distance.

 

Sunflower Field
Monet’s 1875 Woman with a Parasol in the Garden at Argenteuil

The play of light and shadow on acres of sunflowers captivated me off a dirt road in Virginia.

Gardens and vistas, both cultivated and wild have been celebrated and admired by people from all walks of life.  Artists, poets, writers, outdoor enthusiasts and musicians have taken inspiration from Nature.

With cultivated gardens, I think initially for many it is the colors that capture their attention. And colors aren’t limited to planted gardens! I know in my long hikes through forests, it’s the wildflowers -some bright and showy and some very tiny peeking up in early spring walks.

For some it may be the significance of a particular plant discovery. My sister’s annual joy when discovering the purple crocuses  pushing their way through the snow is one such vivid memory for me. Even for those of us embracing the  winters in upstate New York,  crocuses signaled that Spring was truly coming!

Crocus flowers blooming through the melting snow.
Maple trees

 

And with that knowledge came the certainty that soon it would be time to tap the sugar maple trees , carrying the frozen cans into the house for my mother to add to the sugaring pot on the stove before we caught the school bus.

 

 

 

In Ecoprinting, I have found delight in imprinting not just plant designs, but memories. The results are tactile, visually beautiful and a delight! Not all maple trees are the same. The ones of my childhood are not as common in the North Carolina Piedmont area. Even the ones on my own mini farm are not what I look for in my art. But I have located a few special sugar maples that take me back to my roots. And I delight in what they share with me!

 

 

ecoprinted maple leaves on Silk
ecoprinted maple leaves on Silk

In an en earlier blog I wrote about roses….and shared images of abandoned homesteads, heirloom roses and the resulting beautiful images from fallen rose leaves. More memories  captured through the art of ecoprinting.  But perhaps this final image says it best! And if you want to connect in my NEW Facebook group “Personal Journeys in Ecoprinting” where you can share your inspiration, happy thoughts and  positive energy, join us!     https://www.facebook.com/groups/532432183800670

Wearing Nature’s Colors

There's nothing like silk!
There’s nothing like silk!

Truly-there is nothing like the look and feel of silk! Soft and luxurious or earthy and light, nothing compares to this all natural, sustainable fabric against the skin.

And nothing speaks to the soul as eloquently as wearing Mother Nature’s colors imprinted naturally onto silk fabrics. For me,  wearing creations that come from Nature and to experience both the natural colors the leaves give up during my process or the results of natural dye additions is the journey I enjoy most!

The wide variety of natural colors from the leaves on silk
The wide variety of natural colors from the leaves on silk

Let the look of my handcrafted garments tell their own story!

Custom made silk noil tunic
Custom made silk noil tunic
Handcrafted silk noil dress imprinted with leaves.
Handcrafted silk noil dress imprinted with leaves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Handcrafted poncho dyed with cochineal
Handcrafted poncho dyed with cochineal
Handcrafted poncho of silk noil
Handcrafted poncho of silk noil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A stylish fit
A stylish fit
Ecoprinted long silk scarf.
Ecoprinted long silk scarf.

 

Indigo dyed Silk dress
Indigo dyed Silk dress

Beautiful Art from Rescued Roses

Seven SIsters old roses
Seven Sisters old roses

Beautiful Art from rescued Roses

Roses in history, in quotes, in art and poetry. Perhaps no other flower has been written, photographed, cultured and painted in all of history.

“What a lovely thing a rose is!” -Arthur Conan Doyle (The Naval Treaty)

“I feel as if I had opened a book and found roses of yesterday sweet and fragrant, between its leaves.” -L.M. Montgomery (Anne of the Island)

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” William Shakespeare

 As artists, my husband and I regroup by exploring back roads, both paved and unpaved. In our many travels we began to bring not just camera and sketchpads, but shovels, buckets, water and pruning shears. And we began rescuing flowers and taking cuttings from abandoned homesteads.

This was once someone's home
This was once someone’s home
A road less traveled
A road less traveled

Sometimes we only discovered totally overgrown homes hidden off dirt roads by noticing a burst of pink, red or white flowers through the growth. On closer inspection we would discover huge rose bushes, or old varieties of Sweet William or daffodils, continuing to grow and bloom with happy abandon, unaware that no one was on the crumbling front porches enjoying their beauty and fragrance any longer.  So we began to take cuttings, dig a few bulbs or flowers in hopes of transplanting them to our mini-farm for them to be seen and enjoyed.

Before long we had our own bushes of Seven Sisters, Old Dawn (climbing) Red Blaze, wild white roses, Lady Banks, Old Glory, tiny leaved Scottish Roses…..and some nameless ones.  My heirloom rose garden includes a red variety of Seven Sisters that my mother collected from her old family homestead (long abandoned) in Mississippi while researching her roots.

 

Seven SIsters old roses
Seven Sisters old roses-pink
Another view of Seven Sisters roses on garden fence
Another view of Seven Sisters roses on garden fence

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Collected from our own family homestead in Mississippi
Climbing Old Dawn
Climbing Old Dawn

As a painting artist, I have painted and photographed my share of beautiful roses over the years. But no art form has excited my creativity as much as collecting and imprinting designs and colors from those roses I have rescued!

In the world of Eco or Botanical printing on fiber, more often than not it is the leaves that leave the best impression, not the actual rose. And it seems fitting as no one immortalizes the rose leaf in poetry and quotes. Even the thorn has numerous symbolic mentions…but the leaves?  Yet without the leaves there would be no rose! I don’t think botanists will ever cultivate a bronze, green  or copper colored rose. But in my work with the rose leaves on Silk, I regularly re-create these colors!

So much, I have learned, depends on what  day, what month and what rose leaves I use…from the tiniest to the largest.  The colors vary, the shapes vary…but the sentiment stays the same for the leaves as it does the beautiful petals. A wondrous surprise every time I work with my rose leaves and silk.

I like to think that the women or men who once planted and loved these roses, would be pleased to see their simple pleasures re-created as beautiful imprints on silk. And that someone cared enough to stop by their once active homes, lost to time and encroaching developments and rescued their roses and flowers to treasure as much as they once did.

Rose leaves on silk
Rose leaves on silk
The wide variety of natural colors from the leaves on silk
The wide variety of natural colors from the leaves on silk
The wide variety of natural colors from the leaves on silk
The wide variety of natural colors from the leaves on silk
Natural leaf colors of roses enhanced by indigo
Natural leaf colors of roses enhanced by indigo

When I discovered  that Floridian Kathy Hays, an expert  in all things related to contact (or eco) printing,  was going to be in my NC area, I jumped on the chance to have a one-on-one workshop with her. I could not make her 3 day workshop in Florida so she put together a jam packed session!  We started early at my studio stirring the vat like a witches brew!

The day was perfect for working outdoors! I had previously washed all the silk to be used as that was my main focus. But indigo works beautifully on all fabrics.     The photos below will take you through the basics of our process 🙂

Kathy Hays stirring the Indigo vat
Kathy Hays stirring the Indigo vat
Testing the color of the indigo vat
Testing the color of the indigo vat

Perhaps the most amazing thing to observe is the Green of the initial Indigo turn to blue as it is exposed to the air-oxygen. I think that if we find it magical today, think how the ancients must have felt watching it turn from green to blue in front of their eyes!

Indigo exposed to Oxygen
Indigo exposed to Oxygen

There is no doubt we were having fun!

Checking the results
Checking the results

During and after the workshop I continued to work with my silk, enjoying that feel of working outdoors, creating something beautiful and improving my skills in yet another area of my new favorite medium! Seems my printmaking skills from college have come in handy after all!

Enjoy the collage of a few of the results!   Up close and personal:  see my site!

Four silk scarves, eco printed and indigo dyed.
Four silk scarves, eco printed and indigo dyed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eco printing on silk and paper

I love this time of year. The trees and pastures are coming alive again as the nights have warmed. And with that new growth come the many shades of green seen only for a short period before settling into their summer look. They were preceded by that southern staple, the dogwood tree, which grows wild, looking like popcorn in the foliage free woods. Red buds, weigelia, confederate jasmine ….all follow, coloring the landscape and promising an end to winter!

The dogwood near the studio
The wild dogwood near the studio

Our mini farm is home to an assortment of roses. Not the landscape teas of the cultivated garden, but the hardy farmhouse roses, the heirlooms, that we have rescued from abandoned homesteads in our region. Soon, usually around Mother’s Day, they will virtually all erupt into one spectacular, aromatic display before their blooms fade by the end of May. Until then, they are supplying me with an abundance of rose leaves in every size and shape!

A few unexpected freezes had us out in frigid weather collecting the tiny oaks leaves and catkins blown down by a freak storm (Nature is known for surprises) My artist hubby, Stephen Filarsky has gotten into the whole “eco-thing” as he calls it. We have always hiked and traveled the back roads with cameras and sketchbooks. We know every abandoned house within 100 miles of here. So it is meaningful to return and collect leaves from long forgotten flowers and shrubs and bring them back to life in a new and beautiful way!

Searching for catkins
Searching for catkins

 

Crab apple tree at the studio

My studio deck  overlooks my small pasture and for another week or so, it is awash with yellow wildflowers.  The deck is where I do most of my laying out of the plants, bundling, and where my steam pot sits. I only move inside when it is too cold or too windy (a real challenge!) to work outside. I also use my bargain picnic table if I need even more room!

Working on the picnic table
Working on the picnic table

The last few times I have spent in ecodyeing, I have also pulled out some watercolor paper-we have SO much paper in our other art studio-and added a bundle to the dye pot.

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing elaborate but oh my, what amazing, and different  results!  So before I head outside to feed animals and then to the studio to photograph yesterday’s results, I’ll share one result of using the same japanese maple leaves on both silk and watercolor paper, and another of just the watercolor paper. The surprises are what makes this an invigorating art form!

watercolor paper vs silk!
watercolor paper vs silk!

 

11x14 watercolor ecoprint
11×14 watercolor ecoprint