wildflowers in field corner

Nature printing with summer plants

My daily walk usually takes me down the track that runs through the middle of the farm through Little Forest field and Great Forest field into Grove Field and down to The Ley. The hedgerow next to the track is filled with many different species as well as trees such as oak, ash and field maple. A ditch runs beside the hedge and a margin of native wildflowers and grasses separate it from the crop. This green corridor links up with others, providing a network through the fields for insects and animals and also acts as a wildlife larder with nectar supporting butterflies and other insects while berries and seeds providing food for birds and small mammals.

This green space is also a great resource for humans too. Throughout the year, I look for flowers and berries that we can eat from the early spring violets to the sloes picked in the winter, there’s usually something I have my eye on. We make wreaths from the willow trees that line the ditch and use some of the plants for natural dyeing.

My attempts at natural dyeing have been mixed, with rather too much beige, but as I like the idea of extracting colour from plants, I decided to see if it was possible to get any colour from them onto paper by trying some nature printing.

Mayweed leaves printed with no ink, just natural colour from the plant

Mayweed leaves printed with no ink, just natural colour from the plant

We started by laying our leaves and flowers on an old drypoint plastic plate over which we laid a piece of damp paper and then ran them through the press. There were some successes but several were a bit disappointing and you may not be surprised to learn that there was quite a lot of beige. Lavender heads, marjoram leaves, ladies’ bedstraw and mayweed flowers all printed a dingy brown.

fat hen leaves nature print

Fat hen leaves printed with no ink, just natural colour from plant

Soft leaves like fat hen squished out colour in all directions though walnut and sweet chestnut leaves yielded no colour but left a beautiful imprint. Flag iris flowers and buttercups printed yellow while rose petals and red poppies printed purple. Raspberries, even in miniscule quantities, squirted juice in all directions and the pips made deep imprints in the paper.

Mayweed leaves nature print

Mayweed leaves printed with ink, though the natural colour still comes through

It was all a bit hit and miss, so we decided to ink the leaves to see what effects we could get. I tried inking with a roller and dabbing on with a sponge but didn’t find it very satisfactory so resorted to my good old jelly plate. I found the easiest way was to roll out the ink on the jelly plate, lay the plant material on top and then smooth over a piece of newsprint. The inked plant could then be lifted from the jelly plate and laid ink side up on the plastic plate before running through the press using dry paper.  It turns out that if you put it ink side down then you don’t get much of a print. But at least I only did that once.

vetch leaf nature print

Vetch leaf printed with ink with a little natural colour showing

Inking the leaves is far more reliable and of course you can use a variety of vibrant colours (no beige). Using  fresh leaves means the plants still release a little colour when they go through the press and anything too delicate can’t be re-inked because it just falls to pieces.

Inked vetch leaf printed on old book page

Inked vetch leaf printed on old book page

It was good to play around with the leaves but the uninked prints are a little insipid and the press rather flattens the plants, even if does add depth when the stems and veins leave an imprint so I think I shall probably carry on making my nature prints with my jelly plate.

Whichever technique you use, the good thing about nature printing is that you don’t need any great skills. There’s no drawing or painting, you don’t need to cut out lino or a stencil. At its most basic, you just need to grab a leaf, add some ink with a bit of sponge or press it into a stamping ink pad and then lay it on a piece of paper and apply pressure. At this time of year, there’s so many leaves around that it seems a shame not to give it a go.

cow parsley under trees

Looking for Inspiration

 

One of the best things about having a daughter who runs printmaking workshops is that I get the chance to faff about with inks and paper and bits of lino. Ruth will call me to say the heating is on in the barn and she’s printing, so why don’t I pop over and join her. Off I trot, put on an apron, sit at a table, lay out a sheet of clean paper, sharpen my pencil, arrange the crayons in rainbow order, set out a neat line of cutting tools, make a cup of coffee … anything but commit pencil to paper as my mind has gone blank. The recent inactivity here on the blog may perhaps be reflected in my tidy and well organised desk. Even the paperclips are neatly sorted into a tin.

I’m not alone. Some of the people who take part in the printmaking workshops arrive with sketchbooks and folders filled with designs and ideas but there are also others like me who arrive with an enthusiasm to print, but no idea of what to print. We need a springboard to find our inspiration.

Looking for inspiration

This is one of the ideas we’ve had for providing a bit of a springboard.

Consequently, taking a piece of my own advice, I’ve been …

West Mersea seaside

taking a walk by the sea,

drain cover

looking down to find patterns,

horse chestnut blossom on grass

noticing the beautiful colour of the horse chestnut blossom blown onto the grass,

stones

exploring the textures and shapes of the stones beneath my feet,

hawthorn flowers

looking up through the hawthorn blossom at the blue sky (but wishing it would turn grey and rain),

inside old farm building

peering inside empty old farm buildings, feeling the texture of the rough walls and watching the dust dance in the sunlight.

a quiet place to sit

Finally,  finding a quiet place to sit on an ivy covered tree trunk surrounded by cow parsley. I now have some ideas running through my mind for printmaking, though I’m not sure it’s helped much with blog posts.

Next, I need some inspiration for supper. Perhaps a walk first …

 

 

Where do you find your inspiration?

 

Diary of a Mitten Knitter

knitting mittens

Decide that Morris the fox terrier must be kept on lead  through farm yard on morning walk as he has taken to dropping heavy stone onto partially frozen pond and skidding across ice to retrieve it. Note that on cold, frosty mornings fingerless mittens do not offer enough protection when holding the lead and search out proper gloves. Find two left gloves but matching right gloves are elusive. Finally discover pair of gloves at back of drawer behind assortment of woollen hats. Try gloves on but cannot get all fingers into gloves. Curse Dupuytren’s contracture. Remember pair of Marks & Spencer sheepskin mittens received as Christmas present in 1980s and hopefully look in wardrobe for them. Curse all magazine articles encouraging us to throw out unwanted clutter.

Settle down for evening in front of fire with knitting pattern for mittens and wool left over from previous projects. Discover wool is wrong thickness for pattern. Find pattern for fingerless mittens suitable for my wool. Knit mitten using combination of patterns and possibly wrong sized needles. Try on mitten. Too short. Unravel part and reknit. Laboriously weave in and cut off loose ends. Work out there is too little pink wool left to match cuffs and thumbs on second mitten. Also did not make note of alterations. Consequence: will have two mittens not a pair of mittens.

Sidetracked by pattern for Mittens for Babies. Have correct wool and needles. Start knitting and discover it possible to knit one mitten in an evening. Knit two matching pairs during week. Try them on elder grandson. Surprised that they fit and more surprised that he wears one pair when he leaves. Without complaint.

Abandon idea of knitting second mitten for me. Resolve to hold lead only in right hand and keep left hand in pocket.

Save