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.

Saturday, April 30, 2016


My college botany textbook
This is my last post here for the month of April. I had big plans! So did Life (but she forgot to tell me)! In any case, it has been such a pleasure to gather this information and to do some studio experiments that I plan to continue on this botanical topic for a while on my own blog.

Frankly, botany is not the popular subject it used to be. (I actually got a great job during semester break in graduate school because I was the only student at the fairly large university who had a reputation for knowing any botany. Kinda sad. Worked for me though.) One hundred years ago things were different, and many wonderful botany books were published that are great fun to work with in art. For the most part, copyright issues are not a problem, due the ages of the publications. (You need to know a few things about copyright law to be sure you are not infringing.) And the illustrations are abundant and lovely, as is the text.


One of my favorites is a botany textbook published in 1901, Elements of Botany. I have used illustrations from this book in several pieces of art. Because I have only one copy of this book, I scan the images and then print on fabric or paper as needed. That means I can use multiples in one piece of art, always a great design element.

Detail from fabric collage "Some Elements of Botany"

Fabric and paper collage

One of four pieces in fabric collage "Some Elements of Botany"
Some other great resources for me have been a set of three encyclopedias published in 1877 and an ancient dictionary that must weigh five pounds! (All from my local library after the annual book sale.) Because I have so much material to work with, I can use the original pages. However, they are fragile so I back them with a lightweight fabric using an acrylic medium. More often, I scan those pages to print on fabric.

And of course, I occasionally use my revered botany textbook from undergraduate school. Pretty old now too (1961), but I would not use illustrations directly from that one. Significant alterations of images can work, though, and it is a great reference.
 From many years of moving and the consequent home decorating, I have a nice stash of small fabric samples and – guess what – many have wonderful botanical images printed on them. They make great collage elements.


Last but not least, I saved my lab notebook from my Plant Morphology class. What a treasure!!! My instructor, dear Leo Simone, was a stickler for his requirement of very carefully drawing everything we saw under the microscope as well as the live plant material. As a result, I have a wonderful collection of original images that I can use as I wish. Below is a print I made using my drawing of a microscopic Selaginella shoot.
Oil emulsion print - Selaginella shoot
Page from my botany lab notebook - placentation
 I'm in the process of enlarging this and other drawings to use on fabric as direct prints, transfers, and tracings.

Many thanks for the kind and instructional comments from all of you this month. I hope you have found some new techniques to get your botanical dreams onto your fabric!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Real Thing

Have you ever used the actual plant in your artwork? Although dried plants may not be archival into the next century, there are times when I have used them as records, souvenirs, and art objects.
Years ago, I used my plant press to dry and store ferns, flowers, and leaves for my framed plant and paper collages that I sold at art fairs and from my studio. I see them occasionally in friends’ homes and I kept a few for myself, so I have kept track of their aging processes. The news is good – all have fared well, usually changing over time from their fresh green colors to rich golds and browns. I always posted information on the backs of the framed pieces to the effect that the dried plant material could be expected to transform beautifully.

Fern collage 12+ years after framing
In some cases, I used plants as evidence of place. A few years ago, I was in a group of several professional artists who worked with students at Paul Smiths College in the Adirondack Mountains to combine science and art for an exhibition called “Emerging Patterns.” The project examined forest succession and the related ecological processes. One artist collected lichens, bark, and other forest materials to dye fibers that became her weavings. Another artist created paintings while sitting at the site. My own group of five works developed from a poem the course professor wrote about his sense of the site. I included the five part poem printed on sheer organza, my own site photographs on thin layers of molding paste imprinted with balsam fir and birch twigs, maps of the area, scientific articles written about past research there, and  dry American beech leaves collected from the site and encased in sheer organza. The leaves related to a section of the poem as well as to one of the dominant trees.

One winter while staying in Florida with my mom, I was participating in an online daily creative practice. Each day when I walked in local parks or on the beach, I collected leaves, small plants, and feathers that I embroidered onto my sketchbook pages. I identified each species and painted the backgrounds with watercolor. The 8 or so pages made a nice group that I framed informally together.
These little pieces have held up very well, and now I have a record of my trip. I plan to frame them individually for my gallery.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Using Plants in Screen Printing

Deconstructed screen print made with dried American Beech leaves
In this post, I want to share a project I enjoyed recently – using plant parts and thickened fabric dye to screen print on fabric and paper. The plants were used in several ways:

  • as stencils to block the transfer of dye to the fabric
  • as materials to make a dried screen for some deconstructed screen printing
  • as direct prints using the plants that collected dye under the screen

I won’t go into detail here about the techniques of screen printing or of deconstructed screen printing – lots of great information elsewhere for that. Just to clarify though: screen printing is the process of using a sheer fabric (silk or synthetic) fixed in a convenient frame to distribute a medium (paint, ink, thickened dye, etc.) onto a substrate (fabric or paper, generally). Deconstructed screen printing uses the same materials but thickened dye is allowed to dry on the screen in patterns made by objects placed under the screen. The thickened dye is gradually dissolved during the printing process, then it can be washed completely off the screen with water when finished. Beth Berman has a very good tutorial on her blog. And Kerr Grabowski posted this video tutorial. I used thickened fiber reactive dyes for my entire process - screen printing, deconstructed screen printing, and direct printing. I soaked my cotton and linen fabrics with a soda ash solution and dried the fabric ahead of my printing session. I also sprayed the printed fabrics lightly with a soda ash solution before put them in plastic to "batch."

We'll start with basic screen printing. Below is a small screen with three fresh Alstroemeria sp. leaves laid under the screen. After the first swipe with the thickened dye, the thin leaves stick to the screen until rinsed or picked off the underside of the screen. That makes it very easy to make repeated prints, shown in the bottom left of the photo below. The fern print at top right was made by laying a fresh florist fern under a screen, printing with thickened green dye then swiped with yellow dye on a card without the screen. I love putting this additional layer of dye over a previously screen printed image to add a more random color layer. I let the original print set for several minutes, then it seems to resist the new dye layer that adheres to the white fabric left by the plant "stencil".
 Here is a series of prints showing the first screen print with the white stencil images and then some additional card-applied dye.

Multiple Alstroemeria leaf screen prints.
Alstroemeria leaf screen prints with added purple dye.
 BOTANICAL NOTE: The Alstroemeria leaves and petals I used for these prints are from the florist. Those sold in the florist trade are cultivars (meaning selected from wild plants and then propagated for desirable characteristics). One of their common names is Peruvian Lily. Great information and images at Wikipedia.

 Here are more plant parts used in my screen printing.
Alstroemeria petals

Alstroemeria petals under screen.
Multiple petals prints.

Grasses and fern on underside of screen.
Grasses and fern as stencils.

American Beech leaves as stencils.
Next, I let the screens dry with my thickened dye and plant material on them. I then used them with either clear print paste or with fairly pale tinted print paste as my printing mediums.
The Beech screen with dried dye, leaves removed.
Deconstructed print on paper from Beech screen with tinted print paste.

Deconstructed prints on fabric made with paperwhite narcissus, flowers left on screen in top print as stencils.
Back of grasses and fern dried screen, plants removed

Front of screen with tinted print paste ready to apply.
Detail from finished print on paper.

And here a couple of prints made with the dye-covered plant material first used under screens as stencils and then pressed onto substrates.
Balsam fir stem screen printed on right (with too much dye) and then printed with the residual thickened dye in center.
Alstroemeria stems with leaves directly printed on paper with the original thickened dye, then overprinted with lavender dye before stems were removed.
I find this process fairly addictive, as you can continue to use the original screens and plants in so many ways. Hope you enjoyed my fun day in the studio!