A Rainbow of Eco Prints at the IMPRESS International Printmaking Festival

Home to freezing Ottawa from the equally freezing Cotswolds… finally sorted through the thousands of photos and picked some for the blog…It was the coldest March in 50 years in England – snow, sleet, rain, wind…Dire warnings about severe weather (several snowflakes were forecast) ..but who cares? It was a fabulously creative time in the Master Class on eco printing on paper.

The hoped-for foraging was meagre since few plants on my long lists (see Refs pages) were actually available for the gathering from the fields and gardens, given the late spring. Nevertheless, hotel fridges, Tesco, Waitrose, lay-bys, street weeds, hedgerow stalwarts and students' own gardens still provided all we could possibly want for our foray into eco printing on paper. Cousin Pam from Yorkshire even drove down with a “boot” full of eucalyptus, laurel and hydrangea trimmings from her garden; sage, mint, kale, Red Cabbage and carrot tops from Waitrose, roses too and early quince blossoms. From the Stroud environs came blackberry tangles, snowdrops, crocuses, celandine, cyclamen, dried beech leaves, ivy, mistletoe, nettles (barely up but plentiful), juniper berries, barks, mosses and mystery leaves galore…and oak leaves foraged from a galvanised iron drinking trough, all ready rusted…

See now what we printed with all of these (and more) We also had some painterly post-printing brush play with dye assistants/colour shifters like ammonia, iron liquor, copper sulphate and cream of tartar. Just a selection in this post – more to come (and lots already on FB). These, plus dye powders from Couleurs de Plantes, a selection of dried dye plants like sumac berries and black tea, copper pipes, iron bits and various barks all contributed to the rainbow of colours we obtained.

I was very happy with the results my students were able to achieve – first time for most of them. We worked hard and tried everything! Such an adventurous group. We had no time in one short day to let the first bundle rest longer than the lunch hour! The first batch of papers were pre-mordanted with alum as is my recommendation while the second batch had no alum soak (no time! ) but then we were experimenting.

Through the steam from the pot…the first reveal…

Eucalyptus, rose leaves, logwood dye powder, iron modified, in a steamed stack of papers. What can you say? So very lovely.

Sumac berries, logwood dye powder(?), some greenery, iron modified. Simmered in water, “Canal” paper rolled over a wood dowel (or was it a copper pipe?) This method of processing gave highly textured surfaces to the paper and induced pigments to pool in the folds where the fibres were bruised by the rolling.

Mystery (to me) leaf modified by selectively painting with iron liquor (rusty nails in vinegar or ferrous sulphate powder solution) Blues likely from the very co-operative Red Cabbage, greens maybe from rose or nettle…I did give each student a sheet of labels to attach to tne papers and to record the plants used but I did not photograph the label for this one from Bernard (I think)

Water colour paper, accordion fold with pockets , iron bits, dye powders, Rec Cabbage et al…spectacular rust and plant dye print by fearless printer, Maxine Relton.

Eco print on silk organza (I included some silk in the kit along with papers for chine colle experiments) Not sure of the plants but the result is delightful.

Cousin Pam's Ilkley Eucalyptus with Madder Rich dye powder . Isn't that an inspired colour pairing? Love the wash effect of the dye powder (which could be painted on like ink as well as sprinkled as powder)

Rose leaves and quince blossom – on the left, first print; on the right, painterly touches with iron liquor to bring definition. Lovely effect. As Kate said: “The iron brings it all to life!” Indeed it does here, while still retaining, not overpowering, the character of the original colours

A wonderful range of colours and forms in delicious harmony. A colour and value study.

More printerly prints next time. Thank you for your good wishes



26 thoughts on “A Rainbow of Eco Prints at the IMPRESS International Printmaking Festival

  1. What a wonderful, inspired and full of life collection! For some reason i was thinking you were going there in April and of course I imagined you’d ahve better weather..But, obviously with the Ilkley eucalyptus and All the glorious gatherings and the enthusiasm of the students you got a lot accomplished. Saw some of the photos on Face Book. WIll look forward to the next installments. Are you heading for italy next..or later this year to do the same?

    1. Thanks, Ginny.Yes, I am hoping to do some of the same in Italy during the month we are there, as well as the projects on dye plants and Dante for the art residency. We will let it all unfold there- che sera,sera!


  2. I’m delighted your classes went well despite lack of raw materials from our chilly gardens. We are certainly ‘enjoying’ a very late spring. A couple of questions:
    I see you used the Couleurs de Plantes madder. What other dye extracts did you use?
    When using iron on fabric such as silk or wool, dyers are always aware that too much iron will eventually rot the protein-based fabric. The same is true of tannins such as walnut, etc. If your papers are cellulose-based (as opposed to the protein of silk or wool) do you also need to take similar care?

    1. Excellent point. Can one retard the effects of the iron on protein and cellulose fibres? My understanding is that one cannot. Iron used in inks (e.g., walnut) as a preservative is also suspect. In art textiles rusted with iron I have approached them with the idea that the fragility and impermanence have to be buit into the concept of thr work. All one can hope for is that the cellulose in the art on paper or textiles will not rot before the cellulose in the artist does…(i have had my three score years and ten already, so….) .Ditto for the acids in the paper. I introduced my students to the concept of calcium carbonate (chalk from the local pharmacy) to offset the effects of alum in the “acid free” watercolour and other handmade papers. …I did consult book and paper conservators and the general response to the use of alum is that one can to deacidify with a spray…I would try a soak since the watercolour papers are hardy…ditto for textiles. One student asked me if one could “knock back” the effects of colours…Bernard discovered in our experiments that ammonia will remove iron prints to make them lighter. The question is therefore: What else does the ammonia do to the paper? I will repeat our exchange on my blog , with your permission. I like the discussion on this, I feel it is important to make artists aware at least about the questions even if I, as non-chemist or conservator, Imcannot answer them definitively

    2. Hi again Isabella,

      We used only the extracts from Couleurs de Plantes that I obtained from Maiwa in Vancouver. They are thenones that look sprinkly… Students also diluted and painted them on. The logwood and the madders (Rich and Standard) plus cocchineal seemed the big attractions – why not? We obtained plenty of blues, greens and yellows from the plants…though the sumac berries were valiantly pink, I must say. I have used dye powders this way on textiles along with rust and “dye plants direct” and have been very pleased with the Turneresque feeling the mixing of colours can give

    1. One never knows about students’ expectations so I can never day definitely if a class was a success then and there. Time tells. The best thing is lay out what might be expected in the circumstances of the class but even then, hope can triumph over reality…For myself as instructor, the results surpassed my expectations.


  3. Fabulous results – such inspiration for these students to continue throughout the seasons. Imagine what they’ll be able to create when leaves and berries are more plentiful?
    Looks like a very successful adventure.

    1. Hi Jennifer!
      I do hope the students will carry on experimenting. Some were planning a Play and Share day to with others curious about eco printing. It’s a great way to share the word. Thanks for your sharing, too


  4. Such purity of colour and shape!!!!!!!!! I squealed i must say to see the photos and to know that you were so successful and resourceful as the teacher.

  5. Looks fabulous and sure students have broadened their knowledge of Eco print and will explore. Thanks for the details and outcome to share. I learnt quite from your blog.

  6. These are all stunning what a fabulous class you gave, wish I live near so I could go, anyway I ‘ll have to settle just visiting your blog..

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