Plant magic

“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you”

– Frank Lloyd Wright

One of the best things about the Concertina Retreat was the swapping of ideas, the inspiration and encouragement we all gave and received. One day we were prompted by the theme of ‘Botanical’ and images of ecoprints appeared on our Pinterest group board and on Instagram. A completely new-to-me technique, I loved some of the delicate and ghostly images of plants I was seeing. I asked around and the name Gumnut Magic kept popping up, and so I joined Louise’s Iso Dye Club.

I had two ideas jump out at me immediately about how I could use the techniques and incorporate them into my art practice. As usual, running before I’d learnt to walk ;) I had a pile of small cyanotype tests doing nothing useful, and a desire to go and make work directly in the river – one of the few places I could access during confinement.

And so began a 2 week long adventure into the world of ecoprinting. Thanks to the good instructions from Louise, I was soon picking out plant materials, wrapping them in cyanotype papers around tin cans and boiling them up for a while, then leaving to soak overnight.

The next thing I wanted to try was going bigger, but how? Without an outside firepit and huge vessel, boiling up wasn’t going to be an option. So I cut a length of drainpipe and wrapped apple blossoms onto an old painting that had cyanotype over the top, fastened with strips of an old torn up tee-shirt. The whole thing I put into the bottom of an old plastic rat cage. Let me explain: we have dozens of old cages in our basement, from years of living with rats, guinea pigs and rabbits. Then the piggies ended up in a deluxe duplex mansion in my studio and rabbits just free roam the house. But we still have stacks of cages accumulated over the years, which I really need to do something about.

I digress. Into the rat cage bottom, topped up with hot tap water and a lot of black tea and onion skins. The next morning I unwrapped my bundle and was delighted with the results.

Well after that I was all guns blazing. Knowing I didn’t need a saucepan and simmering I took off to the river armed with cyanotypes. There are a lot of plants growing there as Spring bursts forth, as well as rusty metals and other detritus, bones, driftwood, heavy stones… so much stuff for me to experiment with. And experiment I did. Wrapping bundles of cyanotypes and plants around bones, rusty tin cans, or making sandwiches of paper and rusty things, all wrapped up tightly with strips of old teeshirts. I put the bundles into various spots along the river, and left them submerged for a few days. I kept visiting the river every day to either collect up or submerge new ones. Meanwhile in my studio I tried soya milk binders, iron mordants and other techniques to affect the process. I also played around with the finished pieces by adding monoprinted accents with gold ink, and sometimes adding silver leaf.

Funny story: one day I left a precious bundle in the river on a balmy warm day. When I woke up the next day it had been tipping down overnight. And the next day. And the next. The river was a muddy, rushing, angry and flooding mess. It was 5 days before the water receded and I’d given up hope of finding my parcel. But when I finally went back, there it was waiting for me! I unwrapped it with excitement, only to find it underwhelming.

And therein lies the problem. Ecoprinting completely absorbed me. I loved learning a new technique, I loved playing and pushing the possibilities beyond the usual method; combining it with cyanotype, working in very cold, running water and directly in the land that means so much to me. But after 2 weeks of intense work I realised that yes, while process is what drives my practice, I also need to be satisfied with the outcome.

And I realised this project has come to a natural end. Not everything has to be fully resolved, and I also came to the conclusion that ecoprinting didn’t really serve me or my art practice in a way that ultimately felt fulfilling. I’m happy I made these pieces and they will always be marked by my confinement time, a little part of my personal history. But the process also inadvertently caused me to want to try something else. Well, perhaps more a revisit to something I’d dabbled in many years ago. But I’ll save that for another journal entry…