monoprints · Outdoor Art

Elementary Nature Printing

In my last post I wrote about making prints from leaves  inked up with stamp pads.  I have discovered, however,  that I can’t use stamp pads with youngsters.  More often than not they will apply so much pressure to the stamp pad that everything that can go wrong does go wrong.

At some point I discovered that standard issue Crayola markers do a fine job of marking up leaves for printing.

The most important things about the markers is that they are fresh. If they are dried up at all they just don’t work.

It helps if the leaves are fresh, too. I forage around in the grass for volunteers. I will gather tree leaves right from the branches. Leaves that are gathered from the ground are dry and brittle, and don’t ink up as well as fresh leaves. When I know that I am going to be using markers for my inking I look for leaves that are sturdy, like raspberry, burdock, maple, and apple leaves.

Here’s a catalpa leaf getting inked up with a marker. I generally mix colors on each leaf. Here’s another most important thing to keep in mind: ink up the BACK SIDE of the leaf: it’s the back side of the leaf that shows all the interesing details.

After inking I place the inked side down on a piece of paper, lay some wax paper on top of the leaf and press firmly with my fingers. I give special attention to press my fingers right up next to the veins of the leaves so that there won’t be big white gaps at the spots where the veins meet. I use wax paper on top so that I can firmly press down on the leaf without tearing it.

Viola! I can re-ink and print each leaf several times before it becomes too fragile.

Sometimes I will edit my prints with hand drawing. For instance, the maple leaf prints below seemed too “thin” for my liking:

I edited these prints with pencil and colored pencil. See below.

I doctored up this leaf using pencils around the outside as well as the  inside of the print. These leaves are from our sugar maple tree out front.

Here’s a burdock leaf. These are all over the place, in every size.

These are wild geranium leaves. This plant puts out a tiny little purple flower and grows in any available nook and cranny. When it gets inked up it puts out a strong, lovely fragrance. Sage leaves also scent the room when they are being inked.

When I do this activity with students I hope that they really notice the different textures, shapes, and smells of the plants that they are using.

Ferns and wild grape leaves make great prints, too. Unfortunately they are gone from here for the season.

The prints don’t always turn out lovely and detailed, but when they do, it’s a real treat.

12 thoughts on “Elementary Nature Printing

    1. I was thinking of you when I wrote the post: as I know how expensive it is fill up on the Color Box colors. Starting out with markers makes the doing the nature printind oh so less precious, but the results are great. I used to be bothered that markers are generally non-archival, but, hey, that was before we could reproduce anything on paper using a computer printer with archival inks.


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