This tutorial shares a simple method of eco-printing on paper. The effects you get will depend on your local fauna, the paper you use and many other variables. Have fun experimenting!
- Mordant- iron soaked in vinegar
- Plastic gloves
- Leaves and flowers
- Onion skins
- Tin cans (rusty if possible)
- Dye pot
Select and prepare your paper. I like to use cotton-rag watercolour paper that I buy at art stores. It has a beautiful texture and doesn’t tear easily when wet. But you will get some sort of result on any paper. Cut your paper to the desired size. For this tutorial I cut narrow strips that can be wrapped around the tin can. You could also make small cards.
I pre-mordanted my paper using a similar technique as that described in my ebook – giving the paper a short soak in water with a dash of iron-vinegar. Wear gloves to protect your hands from the mordant. You can let the paper dry after mordanting, or continue with the process. If you are using a rusty tin can, you can also omit the mordanting process and just let the rust work it’s magic.
Gather plant matter. For my paper prints, I’ve been exploring a range of both native Australian and introduced flowers and leaves. I use some fresh, while others I soak for weeks or months in advance. Look for interesting outlines, and plants that will press fairly flat. And please avoid any toxic plants as you will be touching them and breathing in their fumes!
Arrange the leaves on the paper. Leave some gaps and spaces so that the outlines have more chance of being visible. You can also try experimenting with layering materials for a different effect. Try sprinkling crushed onion skins over the paper, to add extra colour.
Roll the paper around the tin can. If you are using a rusty can, the paper in contact with the rust will print darker than other sections. When you have rolled all the paper around the can, tie it with string or fabric strips to hold it in place.
Place your paper bundle in a dye pot (a cooking pot dedicated to dyeing only, to avoid food contamination) and cover with boiling water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for about 1 hour. If possible, do this step outside or open doors and windows to ensure good ventilation.
After the bundle has cooled down, it can be left overnight, or for a few days, to allow the natural colours to continue to develop. Or you may choose to open it immediately. Unwrap slowly and carefully to avoid ripping the paper. If some of the leaves seem stuck, don’t pull them off. Instead, submerge the paper in some water and rub them gently.
Allow your eco-printed paper to dry, noticing how some colours shift or fade in this process. Then enjoy your beautiful paper- use it for cards or scrapbooking, or display it as an art piece. And if you didn’t get the results you were after, keep trying!
If you are interested in learning more techniques for getting good eco-prints on paper, check out my ebook Plant Poetry.