Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Preserving leaves for Sunprinting

Curling Ginkgo leaf
Sue A here again...  As you have seen in  my previous posts, I love to use leaves from my gardens for sunprinting. Most of the leaves I use behave quite well with just a bit of pressing between newspapers before using and for storing them for later print sessions. Others don't behave as well, such as Maple, Ginkgo and other thicker tree leaves. Maple and Oak leaves don't like to lie flat without a long time of pressing to start with, and I often would iron them between pieces of waxed paper to get them flat faster, but then they would begin to curl on the edges while the fabric and paint were drying, causing the prints to have less sharp edges. Even worse, the curling allows breezes to catch them and blow them right off the fabric before the prints can form (and where I live, there is usually a breeze). I Love Ginkgo leaves, and had been able to only collect a few of them to use. The first time I used them, they curled and got crispy right away... They had been pressed for quite a while after finding them, and I needed to find a way to keep them from curling and also be able to use them over and over since I didn't have a nearby source for them at the time.  That is when I remembered preserving Fall leaves using glycerine when I was a kid.  I gave it a try, and it worked!  Here is how I used the glycerine to preserve my leaves, making them more flexible.

Layering leaves in the glycerine solution

What you need:
*Glycerin-  available in pharmacies.
*Hot water
*Low container with lid
*Pressed or partially dried, pressed leaves… Maple, Ginkgo, Oak, Linden, Grape, and even ferns can be done.

Combine of one part glycerin to two parts very hot water and mix well.
Pour some of the solution into your container. I used a low, wide plastic food storage container with a tight fitting lid.

Begin layering the leaves in the container, making sure you have both sides of each leaf covered with the glycerin solution. Keep adding more leaves and solution until you have all your leaves submerged.
Weight on leaves

To be sure all of the leaves stay covered, place a lid from a smaller container with a weight on top of the stack of leaves to keep them submerged. Here, I "floated' a plastic lid from a large yogurt container on top of the leaves, then added a glass coaster for weight.

Put a lid on the container, and let the leaves soak for at least 24 hours in a cool, dark place. I found that about 2 days gave the best results with my fairly dry leaves. Fresher leaves may need a longer soak time. The solution will turn darker in color.
First batch of leaves

After your leaves have soaked long enough for them to become pliable, remove them carefully from the solution and place on layers of paper towels. After blotting the solution off, they are ready to use for sunprinting. Some leaves may still need a bit more persuading to lie flat, so I may press with my iron between layers of waxed paper, or stack them in my newspapers for a couple days depending on how soon I want to use them. In the photo, left, you can see that my Ferns and Ginkgos were a  bit curled right out of the glycerine.

Preserved Ginkgo leaf still flexible

The treated leaves will remain flexible even after a number of uses. The photo, right, shows one of the treated ginkgo leaves as it was being removed from a dried piece of fabric.

Preserving the leaves like this has made sunprinting with many types of leaves much easier. Maple leaves no longer curl, and they blow off the fabric much less. Now I am able to reuse more of my leaves, and the ferns I treated didn’t break as I pulled them off the dry fabric. Definitely a plus!
Still Flexible Ginkgo

So far I have been storing my treated leaves in the newspapers as I always have (or in the paper towels used for blotting, layered with newspaper). I found some suggestions that they should be stored in the freezer, but I have not found that to be needed… The photo, left, shows one of my first preserved Ginkgo leaves that has been stored for four years in paper towels stacked with newspaper (I reuse the paper towels a few times for blotting, so that is why they look dirty in the photo).  These have been stored in regular house conditions between sunprinting sessions, no freezer needed.
Flexible Mulberry leaf stored in newspaper.

Now any time I get the urge to sunprint, my leaves are ready and waiting... No having to pick leaves off trees, ironing, or long pressing times.  Really helpful since I try to find leaves in all sizes, from tiny new ones in early Spring to the fully mature large ones in Fall.  In some cases, the preserved leaves work much better than just pressed ones. Mulberry leaves can have a bit of fuzz on them, in addition to getting crispy really fast. After preserving, they give me much sharper, more reliable prints.

Small Ginkgo Tree

Now that I have planted a couple of baby Ginkgo trees in my own gardens, I will have a nice supply of leaves to play with in the coming years, and don't have to worry as much about losing a few here and there. The Mulberry leaves are also from a tree I planted a few years ago. Also, the veins in glycerine preserved leaves remain plump so the back sides can be used for other techniques, such as leaf printing or making rubbings.

Now if I could just find a way to preserve some of my favorite fragile flowers...   I'll show you how I use them right out of the gardens in the next post.


  1. Thanks for the tutorial, Sue! I love leaves, and have wanted to learn the correct way to preserve them. I will check into the glycerin this week... hopefully I can start a new collection soon of leaves for various uses, including sun printing!

  2. great post...I usually just press my leaves and hope for the best...but I will try glycerin for some of the delicate ones

  3. When looking for the glycerine I had to ask for it at the pharmacy. At ours, they seem to keep it in different places at different times. It does help the leaves to be able to be reused easier when they are pliable.


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