An Easy Technique for Creating Natural Prints

30 Mar 2010

Although I live in what most would probably call a suburb, our home is surrounded by woodlands and plant life. In addition to the flora and vegetation we and our family members have put in (blueberry bushes, trees, and so on), there is a ton of stuff growing wild. If you doubt me, you should see the sticks, twigs, leaves, flower heads, and seed pods my Maine coon cat, Dickens, routinely carries home in his luxuriously fluffy tail.

So, when I am looking to get inspiration from nature--spring, summer, and fall--I need only walk out my back door to find it. (Don't worry, the stuff I find in the cat's tail gets tossed!) Sticks and seed pods make great fodder for line, shape, and stitch motifs. Flowers inspire with their colors and shapes. And leaves make terrific printing tools.

If you're gelatin printing, you can use leaves to leave an impression on the printing plate, or as a mask. You can make rubbings using the veined underside of a leaf, Shiva® Paintstiks® or crayons, and paper or fabric.

But I think my favorite way is to use a leaf as a stamp, inking the bottom side with ink or fabric paint and pressing it onto paper or fabric. While scrolling through the 2008 Collection of Cloth Paper Scissors on CD, I ran across one of my favorite articles on printing with leaves, "The Nature of Art" by Cathy Taylor, from the July/August issue of that year. Here is a brief overview of Cathy's technique.


  • Scissors or pruners
  • Big, old phone book
  • Paper or fabric
  • Water-soluble block printing ink
  • Plexiglas® plate
  • Old newspapers
  • 4" soft brayer
  • Tweezers, apron, paper towels, and nature's treasures


  1. Gather leaves that have interesting shapes and textures and flowers with heads that are fairly flat (such as daisies). As you harvest, place your plant life in between the pages of the phone book, which acts as a press to flatten the plants and pull out excess moisture. For printing purposes, a couple of hours in the press should be enough.
  2. Cover your work area with old newspapers and place the Plexiglas sheet, inks, and other materials on top.
  3. Put a small amount of ink onto the Plexiglas plate. Using the brayer, roll out a thin layer of ink, covering the surface.
  4. Remove the plants you wish to print with from your plant press and place them onto the inked plate. Gently roll more ink onto the foliage, covering all areas evenly. Using tweezers or clean fingers, place the plants onto a clean piece of paper or fabric.
  5. Place another clean sheet of paper or fabric on top. Gently, but firmly, rub the top of the paper/fabric. You may use your hand, the bowl of a spoon, or a clean brayer. After evenly rubbing the surface, lift off the top sheet and lay it aside. Remove the leaves from the bottom sheet. You've just created two prints!

In her article, Cathy also gives directions for decorating your portable plant press, aka phone book. If you're going to be doing a lot of plant pressing or know someone who does, it would make a fun project.

Just decorate the phone book cover with fabric, paint, paper collage, or a mixture and apply clear adhesive laminate over the artwork to make it moisture-resistant. Add a handle by punching two holes in each side of the cover, inserting eyelets, and then running decorative cord, ribbon, or yarn through them.

It occurred to me that another quick way to decorate the press would be to use Lucie Summers' directions for making Winter Journal Covers. All you have to do is swap out the winter motifs and colors with leaf and flower prints, and you have a book, journal, or plant press cover that makes a great gift.

You can get the directions for Lucie's covers and four more small quilting projects by downloading our eBook, Free Quilt Patterns: Five Small Quilting Projects from Quilting Arts Magazine. It's quick, easy, and free. These projects are fun, fast, and simple to create, and they all make great handmade gifts for the upcoming wedding and graduation season.

Now, I'm off with Dickens to collect plants while the sun shines.

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Laura54 wrote
on 30 Mar 2010 5:43 AM

Wonderful idea, not difficult to make, but...the daisy with two different colours?  And a big WOW for your big cat!

on 30 Mar 2010 9:22 PM

Holy crap, your cat is huge. I have a friend who has a Norwegian Forest Cat that weighs in at a whopping 25 pounds and Dickens looks at least that big...

Pokey wrote
on 31 Mar 2010 8:20 AM

We took Dickens to the vet on Monday for a check-up and I thought he was 30 lbs. I was disappointed when he only weighed in at 27!

Rajeanias wrote
on 22 Sep 2012 8:34 AM

Dickens makes my two 6 pound tabbies look like kittens! Love the look of printing the leaves but had never tried flowers before.

zyrn wrote
on 5 Jun 2013 7:52 PM

I was very impressed with the size of Dickens in the photo in which you are holding him. I sent it to my sister, but her comment was "but how tall is his owner"? About how big IS Dickens?