A TECHNIQUE DRIVEN Blog dedicated to mastery of surface design techniques. First we dye, overdye, paint, stitch, resist, tie, fold, silk screen, stamp, thermofax, batik, bejewel, stretch, shrink, sprinkle, Smooch, fuse, slice, dice, AND then we set it on fire using a variety of heat tools.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sunprinting My Way, by Sue A

Hello! This is Sue Andrus from NE PA, your guest blogger for this week of Sunprinting Month. 

This first post will be a "quick" summary of how I do what I do...  I give the book by Mickey Lawler- "Skydyes" the credit for my fascination and addiction to sunprinting... Once I saw photos showing a Fern and a Maple leaf she used, the wheels started spinning...  At the time, I owned a greenhouse with my hubby and had access to lots of fun leaves and flowers to play with!

My newest outdoor sunprinting area under the Big Top.
Even though it is called sunprinting, as you have seen in previous posts, the sun is not what causes the print to form. I do my sunprinting using acrylic textile paints and just about any other acrylic paint that grabs my eye at the craft store, from pearlescent medium to various metallic, sparkly and pearly paints.  Everything seems to work! I have had great results with Setacolor®, Versatex®, and now use mostly Jacquard® brand paints (I Love Dye-Na-Flow for deep colors). The prints are a result of the drying process, and placing the fabric in the sun is the cheapest method of drying it quickly.
My panoramic view from the Big Top... Views for inspiration and gardens full of printing subjects.
While painting, I work in the shade of a carport sized canopy (the Big Top) surrounded by planters and gardens full of flowers... A full sized sheet of plywood covered in heavy vinyl is nearby in the sun for drying paint.
Crispy Ferns- Don't result in crisp prints...

The plant geek in me likes to use lots of leaves... Since the best prints result from flat items placed on the wet paint, I usually press most of them at least for a little while so they stay flat when I use them.  The ferns in the right photo got a bit crispy and curled before getting pressed...  Crispy leaves will make interesting prints, ghostlike and ethereal.... IF they don't blow off the fabric while it is drying...

Pressed Ferns in newspaper for easy use and storage.

This next photo shows a group of ferns pressed in newspaper. I often try to reuse many of my leaves, and keeping them between layers of newspaper works very well, and allows me to print with them in Winter or Summer.

This is how I store my leaves, sorted and stacked inside a clear plastic tub, making it easier to take everything outdoors with me. The lid can go on if the breezes kick up, and things stay dust free in storage. Sticky notes are used to mark which types of leaves are where in the stack.

My paint boards are 1/4″ plywood or foam core covered with heavy vinyl, and as you can see, I don’t always clean up extra paint between sessions if using softer colors (it does clean up great with a little sudsy water and a plastic “scrubby”, when needed).  The remaining paint is dry, and usually doesn’t transfer to the new piece of fabric. My boards are sized to handle fat quarters, or slightly larger pieces of fabric.

Work shelf with supplies.

I start with wet fabric, dunking it into a bucket of water, wring it out somewhat, and then smooth it out onto a board.  This way, my printing items can have good contact with the fabric (also, if working in an outdoor breeze, the fabric “sticks” to the board until it is dry).  The photo, right shows my paints ready to use.  I mix my own base colors, and used regular textile paints watered down to about the consistency of heavy cream for this printing session- the color will be lighter the more water you add, giving soft, calming colors. I have been using plastic food containers with “leakproof” lids,  with great results- I can keep mixed paint in these containers for months, and they usually don’t leak when tipped over. I also have a mist bottle for water, inexpensive brushes, baby wipes for hand cleaning, a rinse container, and a bottle of “Super Sparkle” paint by Jacquard®- to add shimmer if I want. My supplies live in a plastic drawer storage unit that can stay outside under the Big Top on the work shelf during the printing season. Pressed leaves are stored indoors to be sure they stay dry.

Painting Begins

Now the fun begins…..I apply the paint to the fabric.  I like to see what happens when I overlap colors, so I work quickly, and sometimes it looks like I am slopping it on. If I want some sparkle, I add a metallic, pearl, or the super sparkle to the paint, or over-paint areas with it, depending upon the effect I am looking for.

Adding  More Paint

I tend to go through phases as to how  I like to lay on the paint... these photos were done while I was into doing things on an angle...  To keep the paint wet longer, and to help colors run more, I spritz with water. You don’t want to get things too sloppy, or the color will weaken more than you want, but spritzing will give you more time to get your items onto the painted fabric while it is still wet.

Adding pressed leaves and more over the wet paint.

While the paint is still wet, the objects are placed right onto the wet paint. In this example, I used pressed Maple, Rose and Grape leaves with fresh Phlox flowers. Leaves are placed with the veins or back side up. This needs to be done quickly, so the items are arranged before the drying begins. Leaves need to be patted down, so they lie as tight to the fabric as possible. Any areas that are not tight to the fabric will give a ghostlike image. Mylar confetti is also being added to create "bunches of grapes" in this example.

Patterning created by using sea salt on wet paint.

Using salt is optional, but adds very interesting effects that I love.  I use coarse sea salt from the grocery store, and when adding salt to sunprints, be sure to do it After the leaves or other objects are on. The fabric on the board is then moved to  the sun for drying.  The photo, right, shows the patterning that resulted from the addition of salt.

Revealing the prints!

Then the most fun part... seeing the results as the leaves come off after the fabric is completely dry (including under the leaves).  If you are gentle pulling your leaves off, they can be put back into the newspaper stack to be used again (or if I am in a frenzy of printing, they may go right to another piece of painted fabric right away).  This is when you find out if things worked...  Not all prints are totally "successful". Depending on the weather, some days the prints come out very sharp, other days with higher humidity, they may be very different.
Resulting prints with the Grapes.

The above photo shows a very successful piece of fabric in my eyes, the one with the grape leaves and salt didn't turn out quite as well... Sometimes, grape leaves will attract moisture instead of letting it go from under them during the drying, leaving softer prints. When using salt, I will often keep spritzing the fabric with water a few times while it is on the sunny drying table.  If I get carried away and heavy handed with the water, prints will be softer, too... However they turn out, the fabric is very usable even if not what I saw in my mind's eye.  I think that is what is so addictive about this process... You never know exactly what the prints will be like until the paint is dry...  So much is learned while playing and experimenting!

In coming posts this week, I will also be showing you how I did some printing indoors when I didn't have the "right" fabrics for a project one winter; how I preserve some thicker leaves using glycerine so they don't curl while on the drying table; and some other paints and techniques I have played with. I hope I inspire you to start playing with leaves and more from your yard and gardens...


  1. Great post, Sue! I look forward to learning more about preserving leaves for use in sun printing... I have some resources for leaves here, but would like having them ready at a moment's notice! And your use of Mylar confetti is a great idea!

  2. Beautiful piece and so nice for showing us the 'full' process...including your wonderful view...that would for sure get you inspired! THanks! Look forward to your next post.

  3. Thanks! Glad to pass on the info :)


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