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Low-tech Leaf Printing - Explore

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Low-tech Leaf Printing

 SassafrasleafIf you've never tried leaf printing, you may be surprised by how easy it is.

Start with a leaf that call to you, as the trident shape of the sassafras leaf at left calls to me. Textured leaves--those with lots of veins and crinkles--print best, because the roughness holds the ink.

You'll need water-soluble printing ink (I used Speedball red, yellow, and blue), which you can find at a crafts or art supply store for about $5 each. You'll also need newspaper and white paper plates on which to mix the ink. If you can afford it, a mini paint roller or brayer (about $10) will help to transfer the ink onto the leaf, but you can also spread the ink onto the leaf with your fingers. I used both a brayer and my fingers as spreaders to print the image on the left.

I mixed yellow and blue on the plate and ran the brayer through the mix, making sure to cover all sides of the roller with ink. Then I laid the leaf on a piece of clean newspaper and rolled the inked brayer all over the surface of the leaf (don't forget the stem!). I dipped my fingers in ink to gently fill in white spots in the print, where the brayer had missed, and to add the unexpected red of the stem.  

DSC05927You can print on white copy paper, but I love the texture of the soft mulberry fibers in Japanese paper. The paper must be soft to the touch to make a good print.

The paper you see at right is soft as cotton cloth. It made beautiful prints because the paper absorbed the ink from all of the little crinkles of the leaf. Pick up your leaf and lay it inked side down on your paper of choice. Cover it with a clean sheet of newspaper and rub the leaf through the newspaper using your hands, the brayer, or the back of a wooden spoon. Remove the newspaper and lift off the leaf. You have a leaf print! (I added an oakleaf hydrangea in the center and a leaf from the round-lobed gum tree.)

If you enjoy leaf printing, you will like the ideas in two books that focus on printing from nature: Natural Impressions, by Carolyn Dahl, and Nature Printing, by Laura D. Bethmann.

-- Sue Fierston paints and teaches just outside of Washington, D.C. in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. As a painter, she works in acrylics and watercolor and is in the middle of a series called "100 Flowers." As a teaching artist, she works with teachers to bring art into their classrooms in grades 4-8. Her posts focus on her nature-themed art collaborations. For a look at her paintings or more about her teaching, check out her website at suzannefierston.com.

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