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What's cooking in the studio?

Pots bubbling on the stove in summertime are usually about canning, pickling, and other food-preservation activities. But this summer the pots bubbling on my stove had to do with something entirely different, thanks to some inspiration from Sue Brown, a UK printmaker. One of her Instagram (@sb.brown21) posts prompted me to try botanical contact printing, also known as eco-dyeing. It's a fairly simple process -- you gather some leaves, spread them out on paper or fabric, roll them up tightly and simmer them in a water and vinegar solution, with a few scraps of rusted metal tossed in. After my first try at this, I started doing a little research and discovered that there are endless variations to the process. Some people add alum, some add dye, some wrap their materials around a rusty can, some simmer longer, some shorter, some allow the bundles to cool overnight before unwrapping...and on and on.

Here's how mine went --

The leaves -- all from trees, shrubs and weeds in my garden, plus some yellow and red onion skins in this batch -- are arranged on a sheet of paper. (I used several varieties of watercolor and printmaking paper, and found my favorite for this was 90 lb. hot-press watercolor paper.)

The paper and leaves, in several layers, are rolled tightly around a piece of PVC pipe and bound with cotton cord. Firm contact between paper and plants is the goal.

An old enamel roaster, no longer used for cooking, is filled with about a gallon of water + 1 cup white vinegar. Some rusty bolts and nails are added to the pot.

Once the water comes to a boil, the bundles of paper are added, the heat turned down, and they are simmered for about an hour. Then the bundles are removed from the water and allowed to cool for a half hour or so...

Finally, they are unrolled….and how exciting is that?!

Amazing colors and patterns are left on the paper, some vivid and sharp, others soft and diffused.

After the first batch I was totally hooked on this process, and I have been at it all summer. So now I have an ever-growing stash of beautifully marked and patterned paper -- lovely in its own right, but also a wonderful material for further use in prints, drawings and handmade books. Next week I'll post some of the things I've made thus far from this hoard. (and if you'd like a sneak preview, hop over to the Printmaking section of my site and see a few of the collagraphs I've printed on eco-dyed paper.)

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Kathleen Piercefield

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