This video gives step-by-step instructions for eco-printing on paper using a rusty can. I love this method because it is easy to get interesting prints with most types of paper and leaves, although I have used some of my favourites for this demonstration.
Drawing over the top of eco-printed paper is a lovely project to do with all the samples that accumulate. It can be a meditative process, and can also inspire new ways of drawing. Even if you don’t consider yourself an artist, the natural shapes and colours already present make it easy to be inspired.
The photo below shows symmetrical paper eco-prints that I created by sandwiching plant matter between two pieces of paper and wrapping them around a rusty tin, before heating in water. You can see how adding simple line drawings with a black fineliner can create a very striking and organic artwork out of what was quite a subdued print.
Ideas for mark-making
If you have some eco-printed paper that you want to try drawing over but don’t know where to start, here are some ideas.
Begin by drawing outlines around each leaf, then let your thinking mind relax so your subconscious can take over. As you daydream, experiment with different types of lines and marks on different parts of the paper. For example:
light feathery lines
dark bold lines
Keep some areas simple and build others up to create contrast and detail.
If you want help learning how to eco-print on paper so that you can try out these drawings, I have in-depth instructions in my Plant Poetry ebook.
Let me know below if you have tried drawing over your eco-printed paper, or whether this post has inspired you to give it a try.
Eco-printing on paper is a fast, easy and satisfying way to get started with this wonderful craft process. You don’t need much in the way of special tools or equipment and you can experiment with the plants growing around you.
This tutorial shares a particularly simple yet effective method for eco-printing on paper, using a tin can and whatever paper you already have. It’s my favourite method for paper, because it is so easy to get interesting results. The effects you get will depend on your local flora, the paper you use and many other variables. Have fun experimenting!
Materials for eco-printing on paper
Mordant- iron soaked in vinegar
Leaves and flowers
Tin cans (rusty if possible)
Method of eco-printing on paper
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. Even basic paper like printer paper can give stunning results.
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 mordanted my paper using a similar technique as that described in my eco-printing on paper 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. But if you are using a rusty tin can, you can 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. Most were gathered fresh, though some had been soaking in water for a few weeks. When choosing plants to use, look for interesting outlines, and leaves or flowers 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!
More techniques for eco-printing on paper
If you are interested in learning more techniques for getting good eco-prints on paper, check out my ebook Plant Poetry. It’s a comprehensive guide which includes many examples of specific plants to use, comparisons of results on different types of paper, and special effects such as soy mordants, dye blankets, iron blankets and discharge printing. Check it out by clicking here and take your paper eco-prints to the next level.
I also have some more free tutorials for eco-printing on paper: