There are plenty new leaves now so it’s time to give you instructions on how I ecoprint on paper. I have kept these instructions as simple as possible as I would love you to try this out.
Health and Safety.
You are solely responsible for your own health and safety. Some of the chemicals and plants used could have a harmful effect so please wear a mask and latex gloves when ecoprinting. Work in a well ventilated area, some plants may give off toxic fumes so use plants that aren’t poisonous. All equipment used for ecoprinting should not be used for food or drink once used for ecoprinting. Care should be taken to avoid burns and scalds.
What you need to get started.
(See Addendum below for more information on each item. )
- Rectangular roasting tin, a bit of rust on it is good but if it’s not going rusty you can add some rusty iron metal such as nails, screws, hinges, to the pan but you don’t have to do this. (1).
- A cover for the tin (2).
- Rust water – see how to make it here.
- Mordant – Potassium aluminium sulphate ( known as alum) or alum acetate. (4) I don’t bother to measure this accurately, I put 2 heaped desert spoons in about a litre of hot water and stir until dissolved.
- Trays to put the paper in and one to drain it on, also a smaller one for the rust water. (5).
- Paper a heavier weight watercolour or cartridge paper is best (6).
- 2 ceramic tiles that fit your roasting tin, metal sheet, wood or thick cardboard would do (7).
- String to tie the bundle (8).
- Vinegar– malt vinegar will do (9)
- Foliage – plants and leaves (10).
- A hob ring – I used to boil my bundles on my hob indoors with good ventilation but now I use a portable electric hob (11).
- Other useful items – mask, rubber gloves, old towels, a flat stone, small stones or pieces of pipe or nails to raise the tiles off the bottom of the pan, protective table cover, scissors, tongs, an old spoon, bicarbonate of soda (12).
- Put the alum mordant in a tray large enough to take the paper . Add the paper to the tray and push it down, continue adding your paper. I leave it soaking while I go and pick some foliage, for about 15 to 30minutes. Lift it out and let it drain on another tray or old towel. If you aren’t using a mordant then soak your paper in water.
- Choose your leaves (see addendum 10) .
- Lay one of the tiles on the table glazed side up, lay a sheet of paper on top.
- Put some rust water into a container, I have a jug that I use for this sole purpose, and I try not to stir up the sediment in the bottom of the container.
- Dip a few leaves into the rust water, take them out and arrange on the paper.
- Lay another sheet of paper on top and press it down gently, try and keep the edges lined up if possible. Lay on more dipped leaves.
- Continue layering your paper and leaves. Don’t make the bundle too thick, about 10 to 12 sheets will be enough.
- Put the other tile on top of the bundle, glazed side down. Press down to compact the bundle. Tie up tightly with your yarn or string, leave some long ends tied together to help with lifting the bundle.
- Put the roasting pan ( with the small stones, pipes or screws in the bottom to raise the tiles slightly) on the hotplate with water and a few of squirts of vinegar and bring to the boil.
- Carefully add the bundle to the pan, top up the water so it comes up to the top tile, put the heavy flat stone on top if there is room, if not don’t bother and then cover with a lid or foil.
- Allow to boil gently for 40 minutes but check the water level now and then and top up if necessary.
- After 40 minutes carefully turn the bundle over, it will be hot so I use tongs and gloves but I have very carefully used a spoon handle under the yarn to lift the tile then turned it over using a silicone pot holder. Take care not to scald yourself. Top up with hot water and boil for another 40 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and carefully lift out the bundle, let it cool a little until you can handle it safely.
- Remove the yarn and open the bundle, remove leaves and gently wash off in water then rinse in water with a little ( a teaspoon) bicarbonate of soda if you want.
- Lay the prints on a towel, cover with another towel, remove excess water with a gentle pat.
- I then lay my prints on kitchen paper ( I save and reuse it) until almost dry, turning occasionally. Make a couple of piles of prints, lay them between kitchen paper and place a heavy book on top and leave overnight. They should be flat but if not they can be ironed. A flower press works as well.
Hopefully you will have some great prints, notice which leaves print well. Does the top and bottom side of the leaves print differently? What colours did your leaves give? Did some leaves leave no print, or a ghost print? Are your prints very dark, too pale, do they have good tonal contrast?
In another post I will give suggestions on how you can improve or change ecoprints.
I would love to hear from you and see your prints in the comments. Keep experimenting and keep a record of your results.
- You want a roasting pan that you can lay your bundle in flat. A rusty pan is good, mine was one where the non stick started peeling off, now it’s gone really rusty. When my prints get too dark I scrape off some of the rust. I also have a couple of newer pans, the non stick coating can be scuffed up to encourage rusting. If you have an enamel pan you can always put bits of rusty metal in the pan when you boil your bundle. A Grundy tin (which are aluminium and often have a baking sheet lid) could be used too. Aluminium is a mordant so you won’t need to use one on your paper but I would probably add rusty metal or rust water to the pan. I haven’t tried this yet.
- I now use a metal sheet from my old oven as a lid but before that I used 3 layers of aluminium foil folded over the edge of the pan, however this dripped quite a bit. The foil can be used over and over again.
- See how to make rust water here.
- You can print on paper without a mordant but the results will be slightly different, see here. Today I am using potassium aluminium sulphate (alum), I don’t bother with accurate measurements, I added 2 dessert spoons into about a litre of hot water and stirred to dissolve. The solution is kept for future projects in a milk container. Label it well.
- I use plastic trays that meat comes in/ on but a plastic storage box would be fine. A takeaway container is good for rust water to dip leaves.
- Try different papers to see how they print, heavier weight paper is best as it doesn’t tear so easily when wet. I have printed on lightweight wet strength tissue paper so it’s worth experimenting. My favourite paper is Windsor and Newton cartridge paper, 200gsm as it’s very smooth and gives great detail in the prints.
- I use ceramic tiles to form my bundles but thin pieces of wood, glass, thick card or metal sheets can be used. I cut the corners off some of my tiles so they fit into the pan. As you can see with use the tiles absorb the tannins and iron, I don’t bother washing them as it helps to get dark prints.
- I tie my bundles with leftover acrylic yarn as I always have plenty. Strips of T shirt can be used as well.
- White vinegar or brown, it doesn’t matter.
- Try to avoid thick plant material and waxy leaves. Don’t use any plant material that may be toxic. Good plants to begin with are rose leaves, cranesbill geranium, blackberry, sycamore, coreopsis, herb robert, cotinus and onion skins are good too. Have a look at examples in my other posts.
- I used to boil my pot on my hob indoors with good ventilation but now I use a portable electric hob outside or in the studio.
- A mask and rubber gloves are essential safety equipment when working with chemicals. A table cover and old towels are good for protecting surfaces and mopping up. Tongs are useful for turning the bundle but I have used a spoon handle taking care not to splash hot liquid. An old spoon is handy for measuring but not one used for food afterwards. I use small stones, nails or screws, or pipe to raise the bundle off the bottom of the pan, it stops it rattling about so much. A large stone can be put on top of the bundle to weight it down to get good contact and good prints. Bicarbonate of soda is used when rinsing the prints to neutralise them, but I don’t always use it.
If you want to see my monthly posts for the year so far type “Ecoprinting throughout the year” into the search box.
Have fun and I look forward to seeing your ecoprints.