Saturday, September 1, 2018

Art in Nature -- September 1, 2018

Hi everyone and welcome to September!  It's hard to believe summer is on the decline.  I'm not particularly happy about that, even though I do like autumn.  It's just what's on the horizon after that I am not looking forward to.  Luckily, there's still a little time left!

Bo and I have had a very busy week at home base.  All things that just couldn't be taken care of from the van in the middle of a forest.  I had to get a new drivers license, Bo needed yearly shots, I had to figure out a dratted municipality tax issue, I had a meeting about health insurance, I needed to catch up with a couple of good friends, and I had a doctor's appointment.  I still haven't cleaned and washed the van from our last few camping stops.  For anyone contemplating an RV or van lifestyle, don't think that is an exemption from "real life" stuff!  But, I tried to condense it all into one week so once I get rolling again after Labor Day, it is all behind me and I can get back to nature.  Where?  Well, I'm not sure yet.  Need to focus in on that pretty soon!

Ok!  You might recall I left you with a "cliff hanger" at the end of our Hemlock Cliffs in the Hoosier National Forest review.  

What in the world????

Well, it's the middle of the process of making


This is a very cool art project that ANYONE (even children with a little supervision) can do, costs practically nothing and you probably have most of what is needed already!  If not, everything is easy to find.  I didn't plan this ahead and I happened to have everything I needed in the van.  As you have probably figured out by now, this lifestyle offers quite a bit of free time.  I decided to make eco-prints during a few hours of this spare time.  So, let's get started!

First, collect what you will need.
  • Any variety of leaves, flowers, grasses from your yard or nearby woods or wildlife area
  • Paper (some people use basic copy paper, but I suggest watercolor paper - I used 140#)
  • Twine or binder clips
  • A stock pot large enough to hold your paper which has been cut to any size you wish (mine was cut to 6" x 6")
  • Vinegar or alum
  • Optional:  anything rusty...old nails, an old hinge...anything that will fit into your pot
That's it!  Now you are ready to make some eco-prints all from nature, with unpredictable, but very interesting and organic results!

Gather up your leaves, flowers and grasses.  Lay an assortment out on your first piece of paper, letting some parts of the plants fall over the edge. There's no science to this....just choose a variety of your specimens.

I cut (12) 6" x 6" pieces of my 140# watercolor paper for this project, but you can have as many as you want.  Next, start layering your nature-laden pieces of paper.

Now it's time to make your "packet" of pages.  I had a silicone oven mat in the van which I never used, so I cut it to size to wrap around my pages to make a tight package.  You can just wrap twine or string around your packet in all directions...just make sure it's tightly compressed and your leaves aren't apt to fall out.  I secured the edges of my packet with binder clips.  Doesn't everyone camp with binder clips???  LOL!  (Actually they come in handy all the time in van life!)  Note:  you aren't trying to make this packet air tight if you are using something like the oven mat....just well compressed.  In my example, two opposite sides are "wrapped" with the mat and the top and bottom sides  are open at the ends.  

Now, place your packet into your stock pot and fill it with water -- enough to cover the packet by a few inches or so.  You don't want it to be floating in the water, so put something heavy on top of the packet to keep it submerged.  I used a piece of concrete I found around the campsite but you can use a rock or anything that is impervious to water and is weighty enough to hold down your packet.  

Add "some" vinegar or alum (most of you will probably have vinegar on hand.  I didn't, but I did have lemon juice for some reason so I added that to the water even though I have never read about using lemon juice.  But, I was thinking "acidity".)  Add about 3/4 cup, I guess... not something like a tablespoon.  

I also didn't have a stock pot.  But, my packet fit into my quite shallow (2") grill pan which was deep enough to barely submerge my pages.  You want the water to flow in and out of the packet...this is why you don't want to make it airtight.  

You can add your collected piece(s) of rusty metal now, if you found anything.  This isn't mandatory, but can sometimes add to the end result in one mysterious way or another.  I found an old, rusty spring in the woods at the campsite, so I threw that in.  It would have been better totally submerged, but that couldn't happen using just my grill pan.  Not a big deal.  It may or may not have added to the "recipe" -- no way to really tell.

Now for the magic to begin!  Bring this concoction to a boil, then turn your stove down to a simmering point.  Let your packet simmer for about 2-1/2 hours.  My grill pan was so shallow I had to keep adding water and a little lemon juice.  If your water starts evaporating away, just add more to cover your packet, along with a little more vinegar.  

Your project will be much more "civilized" than mine was, but this just shows, you don't need anything fancy for this art creation!  It had started to rain a little about half way through the simmering time, so I made a little tent with some Reflectix I use on my windows to keep out the sun.  

After the 2.5 hour simmer, I turned off my camp stove and just let my packet and water cool down for a little while, but you can take your packet out of your pot immediately with some tongs or a fork. You will be tempted to see what has happened, but let it cool before opening it.  

Once it is cool enough to handle, unwrap and/or remove your twine or string from the package and you might have something that looks like this....

At this point,  you are probably thinking, "Ok, that looks kind of interesting...I see some natural plant dyes have emerged, but isn't there more to this?"  Well, YES!  I started disassembling my packet, with great anticipation, and removing each page and peeling off the cooked leaves, flowers, ferns, etc.  (You can carefully rinse them off in your sink, but I didn't have a sink, so I never rinsed my pages.)

WOW!  Now you should be seeing the magic that the plant dyes have left on your paper...on both sides, no less!  Some actual imprints of the plants themselves!  Once each page was clear of all the wilted, wet natural elements, I laid them out to dry on top of a tote lid on the ground at the campsite.  You can lay them on your oven rack or cake racks for better air flow.  

How cool is that??  

Here are some of the individual pages...
you never know what you are going to get!


I hope you think this is as cool as I do!

Once your pages are dry, if they are a little warped, just press them in some large books, weighted down with something until they lay flat.  

So now that you have these neat, naturally decorated pieces of paper, what do you do with them?  Well, they would make great greeting cards.  Just cut to size and mount on a piece of folded cardstock, then add your message to the inside.  Everyone still enjoys receiving snail-mail cards!  Or cut them into a tag size and attached them to a housewarming or hostess gift.  They would also make a striking wall display, simply matted and framed.  Or pick up a couple of frames at a thrift shop or Goodwill for a nice, very unique gift that would fit any décor.  I will be using mine bound together some way as an art journal.  An art journal comes together over time, but when it is complete, I'll post it!  You can add to these pages with your own art using pens, watercolor pencils, watercolors, quotes, photos...really anything!  Don't forget, they print on both sides, so pick your favorite side to mount or frame.  But, if you are making a little book, you'll have double the number of pages to work on!  

Have fun experimenting with different plants and leaves.  The outcome is always a surprise!  

There you have the revelation of my "cliff hanger"!  It's amazing what you can do with simple, natural materials in a simple, natural setting!  If I can do this at a campsite you can do this in your kitchen!  

That's it for now!  I'm just chilling out after my busy "work" week, contemplating our next go-to spot. If plans don't change for some reason, we plan to head out on Tuesday...somewhere!  

Enjoy the Holiday Weekend!
If it is a traveling weekend, be safe out there!


  1. I really appreciate this cool project! Like the finished prints!

  2. Very cool. I am going to try this at home! Thanks for the great idea!

  3. Six. I count six greeting snails... so who gets them :)