Winter Prints for Artist Book Pages

I am enjoying creating more artist books.

I joined the Canadian Bookbinders’ and Book Artists’ Guild last August 2013 and am building up the technical side of bookmaking there, plus, as is my obsession, I am building a library about bookbinding. Blog posts coming on that topic of book collections!

Making artist books will be a strong focus of my work from now on. Many reasons for that, but a pragmatic one is high on the list: we are selling our house and downsizing. My basement studio has to be reduced in size two thirds, oy…So lots of books and fabrics have to GO…

Paper takes up way less space than huge stacks of cloth, of course. My fibre art textile stash with all its variety of texture and colour from my paint, print and stitch wants to marry into the book family…

For the art content of my books, always related to nature, I am working on both textiles and paper, experimenting with various textures and weights of fibre, and with different kinds of binding and stitching. Artist books have to give fullness and feeling to hand, eye, mind and spirit.

I especially like to combine textile with paper, as you see in this wee Pleasure Book (4″ x 4″) designed to show off the beauty of rust and tannin prints as well as plant dyes extracted from leaves on linen and paper substrates. Its title is “New World Scroll” because it has the form of an ancient scroll, concertina- style, is printed with plants from the New World (my special interest) and is a botanical record at the same time.


The maple-printed and embroidered linen covers for the book are a “first” in their own right. The leaf prints serendipitously appeared on some rusty-metal bundled linen being composted outside on my deck some years ago when I was first learning to rust print. The maple tree overhead dropped some leaves onto the vinegared bundle. The tannins in the leaves did their printing work in that chemical environment on a hot summer day. Lo and behold, my first “eco prints” (a la India Flint, later so named) appeared! Not that well defined or colour-intense because no pressure or even heat had been applied to force contact between the cloth and the leaf – but a print nevertheless.

Here now is a look at the inside pages of the book, treated with 5% acid white vinegar to coax colour from leaves and rusty metal during steaming. Cassandra Tondro (see blogroll) shares her free tutorial on a method for leaf pigment extraction which has been my basic guide and which can be adapted in various ways according to printing goals.


For this latest collection of pages for artist books and scrolls ( following on from my 2012 work on scrolls)I used some of my dried plants gathered in the late fall from my garden: coreopsis verticillata, tagetes marigold and catalpa pods (from my neighbour). The colours of the fresh plants may have faded but their fragrance while steaming brings a summer garden into a January kitchen.

The set up for dyeing the paper (“Montreal” paper, made there by Saint Amand, I believe, though that ref. is still TBD ) : A nice lasagna of a paper stack with bits of rusty iron and dried plants as follows:


Coreopsis verticillata, seed heads and stems:


Tagetes marigold, petals and calices:


I made six bundles with coreopsis, tagetes and rusty iron, with catalpa pods for tannins. The paper was soaked in alum acetate for several days. I just time to make the bundles after a 24 hour soak, so this longer period was not a necessary condition. Here are the prints on the papers after mordanting and steaming, followed by cooling for some hours:


The greens and green-yellows are from the calices of the tagetes which have found a reliable source of green fresh or dried, at any season. The dark greys and browns are are from the tagetes petals, a significant loss of orange colour compared to fresh blooms , but still interesting.


The above papers show prints of the tannin brown of the catalpa pods along with coreopsis (finely etched brown marks) and the tagetes colours.


Dried coreopsis stalks broken into fine shreds to print stitch-like marks; patches of bloom colour.


Detail of the tagetes bloom print – bright greens from the calix, sophisticated charcoal greys and even bottle greens from the petals.

No summer shades of orange here!

These papers are ready for assembling into artist books and scrolls, to be embroidered, sewn, and bound.

These and others are destined to be displayed as samples at my demo etc for the International Printmakers Festival in the UK in March.

That was a lot of pleasure on a January day!

Thank you for sharing your interests with me in a spirit of respect and collegiality. I value your messages as sign of a community.


8 thoughts on “Winter Prints for Artist Book Pages

  1. This idea of eco printing on paper is so exciting to me. I love the prints on cloth, but am miserable at sewing, and so would have no idea what to do with all the fabric. But paper… that’s another matter. Your work is very inspiring.

    1. Thank you, Ms. Gracklebird. Your turn to inspire will come if you love that dye printing on paper idea and work on it!

      As for your allergies to sewing: Stick around with us in this blog community and you might find even your sewing wounds all healed up! Lots of dye print or eco print artists never sew their textiles, or only minimally. The Art Cloth community led by the incomparable Jane Dunnewold like to sew a tad here and there but really their dyed surfaces (using chemical dyes) are distinguished by their surface design created by dye marks, not embroidery…O it is wonderful world here of fibre art variety. Try what keeps you from sleeping!


  2. Wendy, thank you for this invigorating post! It’s wonderful to see a compendium of sorts of artists whose methods have included natural plant materials for so many years. We need to share that information to give heart to the experimenters and the the timid 🙂 I remember stumbling across stuff in the early 90’s about imparting leaf and fruit prints to fabrics and was blown away by the possibilities, though unsure how to do it. The more processes we share, the better!

    I LOVE your book making–can i place a bet? :)—-you’ve inspired me to try some of my dried stuffs this way– you have mastered it with your explorations and trials!

    1. Thanks, arlee! Would LOVE to read about your artist books on your blog! For readers in Western Canada, there is to be a big book arts show in Calgary this summer, the national book arts folks: The Canadian Bookbindesrs and Book Artists post coming soon from me on that! …Yes, re contact printing with plants for dyes: I am sure we are not the only ones who have stumbled unawares on the “eco print”. As we care, we share!


  3. fine work here, and it appears we’re neighbors! ottawa is my city of choice for a day out! working out ecoprinting on papers is almost intoxicating.

  4. hi wendy, new follower here because i have been eco printing on rice paper… i bundle plants and steam them on my bamboo steamer. a friend told me to use some steel wool and some strands of that spritzed with vinegar/water make great marks… i also discovered that dried black beans make great marks also…

    here are some of my efforts of the past few weeks.. thanks for looking.. loving your blog

    BeFunky_eco printing on w_c paper.jpg
    1. Looked at your flickr pics, Ms jamamakitty. They are wonderful! I love the experimenting you are doing. I have not used my bamboo steamer yet for prints but it is a good idea. Have you found that the bamboo created prints of its own?

      I like the little dotty marks made by crushed up steel wool as a rusting agent


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