Earlier this month the Salem Art Association offered me (Casey) the opportunity to be the artist-in-residence at Bush Barn Art Museum in Salem, Oregon. The studio that they make available for art residents is a beautiful, light-filled space is open to the gallery on one side and has windows and a door that face beautiful Bush's Pasture Park on the other.
Their intention for this space is to provide an experimental space for making, showing, and learning about art. This is perfect for eco-printing as it's always a bit experimental! I never know exactly how my work will turn out as even leaves from the same plant may print differently. I usually work with textiles so I took this opportunity to experiment with eco-printing on paper.
I brought many leaves with me that I had gathered and stored in late summer and fall but it turned out that there were so many plants growing in the park that I primarily used those during my 2 weeks in the studio. I started by gathering samples of just a couple leaves of each type so I could try them and see if they released any colors. Not all leaves create prints in this way and I never want to take more leaves from nature than necessary. I found that many printed beautifully so I then gathered more and began creating pieces with multiple types and layers of leaves. Spreading them out in the studio, paying attention to size and shape, as well as the color print they make, is much of the fun of this art process.
One effect that I love about eco-printing is the way the top and bottom sides of a leaf print differently. When I tested single leaves I pressed them between two pieces of paper so that I could see each side's print. The bottom of the leaf often leaves a darker, more detailed print but both are beautiful.
Most paper I used was Fabriano 100% cotton watercolor paper that I soaked in soy milk for a few hours and let dry before printing. Using soy milk as a treatment for cotton fibers is a practice that originated in Japan and has been shown to improve the adherence of natural dyes. I steamed or simmered the papers in hot water for an hour and then carefully removed the leaves once they were cool enough to handle.
I was surprised to find that some leaves printed a bright green. Surprisingly, green is a challenging color to get from nature! Privet berries left a bright blue color that has not faded in the several weeks that have passed since I printed it. I don't usually use berries as the colors left tend to not be as permanent as the leaf pigments. I'm curious to see if it changes over time.
I experimented with dyeing some paper with cochineal or logwood before eco printing leaves on them. Prints on the bright pink cochineal-dyed paper did not turn out very dark but did create a very beautiful, and unexpected, iridescence. These are blackberry leaves and I laid a cloth that had been soaked in some iron water over them while they steamed. I think it is the combination if iron and the strong tannins in blackberry that created the iridescence.
I especially love some of the large pieces I created. Photographing the original layout of leaves is a great reference to see how the colors of each leaf turn out very differently than one might expect. Printing each type individually at the beginning of my residency provided the knowledge I needed to be fairly confident that my large groupings would turn out nicely.
I am so grateful to have received this gift of time to experiment, play, and create new pieces of art. I met other inspiring artists, talked to many curious visitors and got to share eco-printing and my love of nature with others, which is always fun. Some of the smaller pieces I made during my residency can be found in my shop, while the larger ones wait for my decisions regarding framing.