Nature printing with summer plants

wildflowers in field corner

My daily walk usually takes me down the track that runs through the middle of the farm through Little Forest field and Great Forest field into Grove Field and down to The Ley. The hedgerow next to the track is filled with many different species as well as trees such as oak, ash and field maple. A ditch runs beside the hedge and a margin of native wildflowers and grasses separate it from the crop. This green corridor links up with others, providing a network through the fields for insects and animals and also acts as a wildlife larder with nectar supporting butterflies and other insects while berries and seeds providing food for birds and small mammals.

This green space is also a great resource for humans too. Throughout the year, I look for flowers and berries that we can eat from the early spring violets to the sloes picked in the winter, there’s usually something I have my eye on. We make wreaths from the willow trees that line the ditch and use some of the plants for natural dyeing.

My attempts at natural dyeing have been mixed, with rather too much beige, but as I like the idea of extracting colour from plants, I decided to see if it was possible to get any colour from them onto paper by trying some nature printing.

Mayweed leaves printed with no ink, just natural colour from the plant
Mayweed leaves printed with no ink, just natural colour from the plant

We started by laying our leaves and flowers on an old drypoint plastic plate over which we laid a piece of damp paper and then ran them through the press. There were some successes but several were a bit disappointing and you may not be surprised to learn that there was quite a lot of beige. Lavender heads, marjoram leaves, ladies’ bedstraw and mayweed flowers all printed a dingy brown.

fat hen leaves nature print
Fat hen leaves printed with no ink, just natural colour from plant

Soft leaves like fat hen squished out colour in all directions though walnut and sweet chestnut leaves yielded no colour but left a beautiful imprint. Flag iris flowers and buttercups printed yellow while rose petals and red poppies printed purple. Raspberries, even in miniscule quantities, squirted juice in all directions and the pips made deep imprints in the paper.

Mayweed leaves nature print
Mayweed leaves printed with ink, though the natural colour still comes through

It was all a bit hit and miss, so we decided to ink the leaves to see what effects we could get. I tried inking with a roller and dabbing on with a sponge but didn’t find it very satisfactory so resorted to my good old jelly plate. I found the easiest way was to roll out the ink on the jelly plate, lay the plant material on top and then smooth over a piece of newsprint. The inked plant could then be lifted from the jelly plate and laid ink side up on the plastic plate before running through the press using dry paper.  It turns out that if you put it ink side down then you don’t get much of a print. But at least I only did that once.

vetch leaf nature print
Vetch leaf printed with ink with a little natural colour showing

Inking the leaves is far more reliable and of course you can use a variety of vibrant colours (no beige). Using  fresh leaves means the plants still release a little colour when they go through the press and anything too delicate can’t be re-inked because it just falls to pieces.

Inked vetch leaf printed on old book page
Inked vetch leaf printed on old book page

It was good to play around with the leaves but the uninked prints are a little insipid and the press rather flattens the plants, even if does add depth when the stems and veins leave an imprint so I think I shall probably carry on making my nature prints with my jelly plate.

Whichever technique you use, the good thing about nature printing is that you don’t need any great skills. There’s no drawing or painting, you don’t need to cut out lino or a stencil. At its most basic, you just need to grab a leaf, add some ink with a bit of sponge or press it into a stamping ink pad and then lay it on a piece of paper and apply pressure. At this time of year, there’s so many leaves around that it seems a shame not to give it a go.

18 thoughts on “Nature printing with summer plants

  1. I like these, and the idea of a plant called fat hen. The leaves look a bit like what we call lamb’s quarters. It can be eaten if you want to forage some greens…

    1. I like the name too 🙂 I presume it was used to fatten hens but who knows. I do put it into salads every now and then but considering how much grows around here, I don’t use it enough.

  2. Just looked it up. Fat hen is indeed lamb’s quarters, also goosefoot and something else. Used in French low country cuisine and among foragers everywhere…

  3. What great experiments! There is a lot you can do with these. I especially like the uninked Mayweed and the vetch, such a graceful shape. Printing on the old book page adds to it, and the words seem to be appropriate too! On another point, it is interesting to hear the field names – every field in the farm I grew up on had a name, some more unusual than others, such as Upper Sales and Lower Sales, the Horsepit Ground, The Piece. All with a long forgotten story behind no doubt.

    1. I suspect you would do a lot more with them than I will!
      Field names are fascinating – I wonder how Upper Sales got its name. Our field names reflect the fact that much of Essex was forested (in a trees with clearings sort of way rather than dense woodland) and hunting parks.

  4. I love the shapes and textures in these prints Anne. This would be a fun/easy activities to do with my children. How about the text in that old book, isn’t it lovely?

    1. It would be a very easy activity to do with children of any age and a good way to record what’s growing. Printing on the pages of old books is the first time I’ve appreciated the writing of Charles Dickens!

  5. OOh – these are lovely! Thanks for sharing – this is something I’ve never thought of doing …. but I have an unexciting plain green dress that would suit some leafy prints just fine! 🙂

    1. It’s fun to experiment and I’m sure some fabric paints dabbed onto leaves would make wonderful prints. I’ve jelly printed leaves onto cotton fabric with fabric ink and found it works best if the fabric is slightly damp.

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