Monoprinting is a great way to create unique artwork. In this tutorial from our July/August 2008 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, artist Cathy Taylor shows you how to create artful nature prints using easy monoprinting techniques. You can frame your finished nature prints, or use them in art journals, handmade books, collages, and other mixed-media creations.
The Nature of Art, by Cathy Taylor
“Art is everywhere, except it has to pass through a creative mind.” —Louise Nevelson
For me, art and nature are intrinsically linked. My studio is filled with nature’s objets d’art: delicately crinkled tree bark, sun-bleached seashell fragments, fragile chestnut leaf skeletons, a bright blue feather from our bluebird neighbors. I find inspiration in Mother Nature’s creations, and often her designs find their way into my artwork in a direct or indirect collaboration.
Nature printing is one way to capture part of nature’s splendor for use in your artwork. It is a simple, direct process that allows anyone to produce wonderful, artful prints that may be framed and displayed, or used to embellish altered books, collages, fabric, note cards, or journals.
My journey into the intriguing world of nature printing began when I wanted to feature a beautiful leaf I had collected in a collage I was creating. Gluing the leaf directly onto the piece was not the best option, so I painted the leaf with acrylic paint and stamped the image. The result was less than masterful, so I endeavored to procure the proper printmaking ink and experimented with methods of obtaining a painterly print. Only a few inexpensive materials and a little practice are needed to create masterful prints.
- Scissors or hand pruners
- Big, old phone book
- Paper (Asian, printmaking, or bond)
- Water-soluble block printing ink (Speedball®, Blick, or Createx™ brands)
- Plexiglas® plate, 11″ × 14″
- Old newspapers
- 4″ soft brayer
- Paper towels
- Mother Nature’s treasures
1. To begin, take a stroll through your yard, or nearby woods or fields. Bring an old phone book with you as this will serve as a plant press for your treasures. Select leaves and flowers that have interesting shapes and textures. Place the leaves between the pages of your plant press to flatten them and pull away excess moisture. A couple of hours in the plant press should be sufficient.
2. When you return to your studio, prepare a large, flat work area by covering it with old newspapers. Place your Plexiglas sheet, brayer, inks, and other materials onto your work surface.
3. Put a small amount of ink onto the Plexiglas plate. Using the brayer, roll out a thin layer of ink, covering the surface.
NOTE: The ink should make a hissing sound, not a squishy sound, when it is the right consistency.
4. Remove the plants you wish to print from your plant press and place them onto the inked plate. Gently roll more ink onto the foliage, covering all areas evenly.
5. Using tweezers or clean fingers, place the plants onto a clean piece of paper.
NOTE: Many types of paper may be used to create nature prints. I use rice paper, plain bond paper, printmaking paper such as Rives or Strathmore, or watercolor paper. Experiment with different papers to find your favorites.
6. Place another clean sheet of paper on top. Gently, but firmly, rub the top of the paper. You may use your hand, the bowl of a spoon, or a clean brayer.
7. After evenly rubbing the surface, lift off the top sheet and lay it aside. Remove the leaves from the bottom sheet.
Congratulations, you have just created two beautiful masterpieces!
Cleanup is easy. Simply rinse the Plexiglas plate and brayer in the sink, dry with paper towels, and you are ready to make your next print.
Naturally, flat leaves and foliage are easiest to print, but with practice, you can print bulkier items such as flowers. Simply disassemble the flower with scissors or an X-acto™ knife and print each section separately, like putting a puzzle together.
Nature printing can be used to create impressions not only from plants, but also from other natural articles such as feathers, vegetables, shells, and fish (an Asian art form called Gyotaku).
Use your imagination and creativity to create a tabletop garden of fantastic natural prints!
Make an Artful Portable Plant Press
Transform your phone book plant press into a work of art. Paint or collage the covers with your own designs. Use clear laminate to protect your artwork and create a moisture-resistant plant press. Add handles by attaching ribbons or yarn, and presto—you have a portable plant press.
Cathy Taylor is an award-winning mixed-media artist and popular workshop instructor. Her artwork celebrates the natural environment and she is known for her ability to interpret a subject in a variety of styles. Cathy’s work is represented in museums, nature centers, and private collections throughout the U.S. and abroad. Visit her website at ctaylorart.com.