More ecoprints on paper from plants of the Subasio

At Arte Studio Ginestrelle, my studio set up for printing on paper was dependent on found materials, whatever could be repurposed for steaming papers and textiles. I used wire-mesh screen material scrunched up in a pot or a lasagna pan with a few inches of water below and a large terracotta tile for a lid. A Gypsy Campfire was not an option because we were located in the Regional Park of the Subasio and thus subject to strict forest fire controls. My heat source was propane, the same as we used in the house for cooking (when not using the wood stove). It was a simple and effective set up in an outside barn studio. With a daily temperature of around 75 degrees, that was no hardship!

A pot with wire screen bent to fit (and it makes interesting grid prints, too)


Iron bits to make rust prints; abundantly available around this former three storey farm house ( built to house a family of ten) :


…The bundles of textile or paper were for reasons of practicality on the small side. This textile bundle had been simmered in some of the plentiful walnuts strewn under the trees on the property. I usually stacked my paper bundles six sheets of papers high, weighing the stack down with a rock on top of a tile. I bundled paper and textile in thick white linen thread and used it later to sew my Artist Books, after it had taken on pigments:


I used a lot of different locally available papers, some unavailable to me here in Ottawa. To my surprise, the quality Fabriano paper known worldwide was just not available in Assisi or Perugia nearby, nor in Florence – the latter because the art supply shop was closed when we visited it. (Businesses often close from 1 – 3 pm in the afternoon as well as on Saturday and Sunday). I used thicker papers ( over 300 gms) to enclose my bundles; from these I obtained prints from pigments leaking through the stack. (Fabriano is about two hours drive from Assisi towards the Adriatic at Ancona. )

Here are some samples of my papers that were printed in the first week or so of my residency when I intentionally printed only one kind of plant on each page or between two pages. This was to enable me to judge the colours I could obtain without the colour mixing that occurs when you bundle several plants together.

Post ecoprinting, I often treat paper and textiles surfaces as paintings, taking the colours and forms in directions I choose as counterpoint to the spontanaity in colour and form that is the result of an eco print.

After printing this first set of papers, I enriched their colours in various ways: by using iron as a modifier and painting on iron liquor: by resteaming the papers with other leaves or by using the same type of leaves again and steaming them longer or under more pressure; and by applying natural dye colour (e.g., madder) as powder sprinkled on or as liquid, painted on.

These papers are in their early stages of development in the layering. Later, along with the eco printed textiles, they will be layered with embroidery and taken along other colour roads.


The grid prints are from the screen mesh and from a metal rack during the first printing. For layered colours, I made second and third printings. Rust and madder were painted on to give more colour post-printing; squishing blue coloured berries on top of the print introduced some complementary blue shades beside the yellows and oranges.



I enjoyed the “distressed” effects on some of the thinner papers caused by the high heat in the steambath and the fact that the paper sometimes tore or developed holes. The distressed surfaces and broken colours recalled for me fresco surfaces that have faded or flaked off over the centuries. These papers will form the content of more work on that “distressed fresco” theme now that I am back in my home studio.

Meantime, here are some more examples of “Little Plants of the Subasio” gathered together as pages of botanical scrolls, or destined to be:

Italian Maple (Acer opalus):


Rusted pages with Rosa canina (Wild/Dog Rose) and a “ginestrelle” seed pod:



Rust print:



Italian Maple with Oak (Quercus robur) modified with iron to give black:



Blackberry smooshed on maple:



Maple with iron:



Dogwood with iron:



Paper stack barrier sheet: with leaked colour from maple and madder.



Walnut (Jugland regia) with Dogwood berries and iron:



Walnut leaf and fern with iron:



Not sure- maybe maple…Did not take good notes on that one! The blue is Dogwood berries.



Sicilian Sumac (Rhus coraria)



Fern, Blackberry and iron:



Maple, iron and Blackberry:



Fern, maple and iron:



Collection: Maple, oak and vine leaves; blackened with iron liquor painted on, post printing.



Next time: More pages for “Little Plants of the Subasio: October Scrolls” Artist Books


17 thoughts on “More ecoprints on paper from plants of the Subasio

    1. Yes, Morgen – it was all about creating on the fly! I love the challenge of Problem-solution and making do- the luxury of middle class “poverty”…

    1. Sheila!
      Thank you for visiting and for your previous lovely message. Will respond soon…better late than never…we are moving house in a few days so will be busy but eventually…so sorry we could not meet. Maybe next time!!!

      I obtained some strangely thick and bumpy paper that at first appeared unpromising but in the end, with persistence, gave interesting results. I lived my resolution to use ONLY what I could obtain locally- I loved the challenge! So the lack of good Fabriano became a creative benefit in the end…I was bemused to find a cool Fabriano boutique at the Rome airport stocked with every kind of lovely deco item…but NO art paper!


  1. Hi Wendy! Thanks for your posts. I’m learning a lot and getting very inspired for my owns experiments on eco-printing. I’m wondering how do you prepare the iron liquor for post-treatment. Can you give me some tips? All the best!

    1. Hi Anna!

      To make iron liquor for modifying dye colours, I put a handful of nails in a glass jar and fill the jar with white vinegar (5% acid is OK). Leave the jar at room temp until the liquid turns rusty coloured- normally about two weeks, depending on the temp. Top up with plain water. Dip, dribble, splash,paint on your surface. To arrest the iron colour development, rinse your substrate under gently running water just soon as the colour has developed to your taste. The iron acts almost instantly and continues to darken the substrate if you keep it submerged.


  2. I would like to know what sort of plastic bags you use in your microwave for eco printing. I have looked at various websites as well as one about plastic bags and microwaves and could not find any useful information at all. It would good to know about the timing too please. I belong to the NSW Guild of Craft Bookbinders and found your blogs to be very interesting.

    1. Hi Maureen

      Please be aware that what I reported was an experiment and not my “established practice”. For info on more systematic use of the micro, please consult my reference page as indicated in my post. I refer to work of Karen Leigh Casselman who did eco dyeing in the microwave and reported it in the journal article I mention there.

      For my brief experiment, I used a small Ziploc bag, closed, and took it out of the micro when I saw it was about to explode…I set the power to 100 percemt and zapped the bag for ten seconds. I let the bag cool in the micro and flatten itaelf out. KLC did not, as far as I recall, close the bag she ecodyed her stuff in. Sooner or later, you will have to take the risk for yourself…precise recipes for this process are unlikely. Microwave wattage and power levels are variable and so are pigment levels in the plants. Ergo, try it and see. I have to say I was suprised at the intensity of the colours and will certainly try others plants with this process.

      1. Hi Wendy – thanks very much for the microwave instructions. If I can work up courage I might give it a shot, but I am a bit wary of my microwave, as I had a whole baked potato disappear once with only two brown stains left inside the oven. While I was searching various links from your blog I found Cassandra Tondro’s instructions for eco printing by steaming in a roasting pan so am more inclined to give that a go I think. However, I was really wanting the information to pass on to my sister in Melbourne who has died paper using walnut shells, and recently done some printing/ dying with leaves. She was the one who sent me your website. The examples of dying prints and hand made books you have created and show on your blog are really beautiful. Thanks again.

  3. Maureen,
    O dear, dear re the baked potato – but you did make me laugh! Indeed, Cassandra’s instructions are excellent for basic steamed eco prints on paper. If you feel brave, you could try the microwave at lower power, say 75% and with the Ziploc bag open, not closed. Fortune favours the brave, as the saying goes

    1. Wendy – thanks again for your help. One thing I have noted when doing research online is how generous yourself and other eco dyers and printers like Cassandra Tondro are regarding sharing information. It is much appreciated. And if I ever work up courage to try the microwave method I will let you know. Cheers.

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