Hello, it’s Jana again, bringing you my final prompt for Art Journal Adventure! It’s been a wonderful experience to help Barb and Bonnie out, and to create prompts and develop tutorials for you. Join me for this week’s prompt “Changing Seasons” and explore natural processes such as eco-dying to transfer leaf prints onto your page, and the use of teas and spices to create beautiful washes of color. While eco-dying and natural dyes are my inspiration for this page, your inspiration for “Changing Seasons” may take you on another path. Embrace your muse and journey.
My page was inspired by the cooler temperatures, shortening days, and other signs of autumn. This time of the year makes me want to curl up with a cup of tea, a cat on my lap and a dog at my feet, and spend time watching the changing colors of the plants and trees. I tend to spend more time reflecting on things and have a deeper appreciation for the natural world. It’s a quiet, softer season for me and filled with inner exploration.
I grew up in a small suburb outside of Chicago and had the full experience of dramatically changing seasons: violent thunderstorms in the spring that made everything green and blossoms burst with color, quickly followed by the hot, humid days of summer, the smell of fresh cut grass everywhere; the beautiful and rich colors of the leaves as they changed and the “nip” in the air that reminded me that winter was coming … those winters of my youth were filled with so much snow, ice, and frigid temperatures. Winter endured for months!
The seasons are the primary reason I moved to Southern California, nearly 30 years ago. We experience subtle seasonal changes. Summer vegetable gardens are weary and dry by the end of August, the Santa Ana Winds blow across the hot deserts and warm up our fall days in September and October, and our sunsets go from blue sky/yellow sun to brilliant oranges, purples and pinks. I can watch how the earth has moved from where the sun sets behind the mountains to the west of us. The seasons are changing now and I want to capture this one in my journal.
Top: Fresh eucalyptus leaves, Bottom Left: Dry eucalyptus leaves (naturally harvested) Right: Bundle
My home is located in a semi-rural area of San Diego. We have several mature Eucalyptus trees on the property and their leaves are prized for their essential oil and dye making properties. I wanted to transfer these leaf shapes onto my journal page and chose to eco-dye, using a steam method. My process will be described in detail but know that eco-dying is experimental and results are imperfect. If you don’t have access to Eucalyptus where you live, I’ve included a list of various plants that tend to imprint well at the end of this post.
Let’s get started!
Step #1 – Top Left: Gather your leaves and plant material into an enameled pan or a disposable aluminum container and soak them in water for 30 minutes.
Note: Do not use your cooking containers for any eco-dying process as some of the chemical reactions are toxic. We won’t be using toxic inhalants in this project, but we will use rusted items to help the transfer process, and the iron could be toxic if it leeches into food.
Step #2 – Top Right: Prepare your paper. I’m using 140# watercolor paper, tearing it into 3 pieces against a metal ruler, and using an accordion fold for each piece. It is very important that you have 3 sections of paper to make your bundle.
Step #3 – Bottom: Gather binder clips of different sizes, string and/or cotton binding tape, and rusted metal items that you can fit inside your bundle. I have some rusty flat nails, safety pins and a few buckles. The items must really be rusted and not just painted to look rusty.
Step #4 – Left: Start to layer your soaked leaves onto the bottom page of one of your pieces of watercolor paper. Pay attention to placement and think about the image that you’re hoping will transfer.
Step #5 – Top: Fold over and add more plant material and a rusted item, continue to fold and add material in every fold. Take note of the reverse side fold and put leaves and rusty bits in there too. Use your binder clips to begin to secure the pages and keep them closed.
Step #6 – Bottom: Lay the second sheet of watercolor paper over the first “bundle” and attach with a binder clip. Build the layers of plant material and rusty bits in the same manner and then add your third and final sheet of paper, securing with binder clips. Repeat the bundle building process until you reach the top page.
Step #7 – Once you have plant and rusted material in between all the folds and your bundle is secured with binder clips, you will begin wrapping it with string, twine or binding tape, or a combination. The key is to make your bundle tight so the natural materials are in as close contact to the paper as possible. Don’t worry about making it pretty; make it tight!
Step #8 – Here comes the chemistry! Well not really, but there will be chemical reactions that take place and leave you with hauntingly beautiful reminders of the season! As you can tell from the pictures, I took the easiest and least expensive route in steaming my bundle. I used the same aluminum roasting pan that I’d soaked my leaves in, poured a couple of inches of water in the bottom, and then placed a vegetable steam basket inside. Place your bundle in the steamer basket (make sure it’s not in the water, you’re steaming it, not drowning it!) and use another roasting pan over the top to trap the steam or if you’re using an enameled pot, put the lid on it. I put my spoon rest on top to keep the “lid” a little more closed. Simmer for 2 hours, checking occasionally to add more water if needed but try not to peek more than necessary.
Reminder: dedicate your steamer basket and pans to this process and don’t use them to cook food in again.
Step #9 – After 2 hours of steaming, remove your bundle and allow it to dry intact. If the weather is nice, put your bundle outside in the sun to dry thoroughly. The longer you let it dry and wait to open it, the more time the colors from the leaves and rust will have to impress upon the paper. I’m impatient though, so I put my bundle on a cake rack over a baking sheet and left it in front of a fan overnight. Just sayin’…
While your bundle dries, start to prepare your “paint.”
I set up a few small glass containers for black tea, hibiscus tea, and turmeric, and poured boiling water over each, allowing them to steep overnight. You don’t need to wait this long to get rich color. I just did it before I went to bed so it could do its thing while the bundle was drying.
I painted swatches of color onto the watercolor paper and put some swatches directly in each container, so I could better understand the density of color that each pot would provide me.
The next morning, once my bundle was dry, I began the quiet act of unwrapping my bundle. I brewed a cup of tea, filled with anticipation. I carefully removed the string and binding ribbon, storing it away for future use, and began deconstructing the bundles. This part is always so magical to me. The great unknown comes into play and I marvel at the colors imparted by the rust and leaves, but also at the unique impressions left behind on my paper. I couldn’t make such beauty on my own. Mother Nature is my muse.
Once the bundle is unwrapped, and all its components placed to the sides, the transfers made by the leaves are revealed: the black lines from the rusty bits and bobs, the way the ribbon and string have been stained …. This is one of my favorite things. I marvel over these for a while and pick out my favorites.
Let’s add some color!
Using my teas and turmeric, I begin to bring color to both sides of these pages by brushing, splattering and dripping color from my “paint”, using a wet brush with clean water to thin color when necessary.
It’s an experimental process. Just flow with it. The turmeric is brighter yellow and a little grainy (it will brush off once dry). It really stands out and resists the hibiscus tea. The hibiscus tea is blue in thin applications but takes on the pinks and purples the more it’s concentrated. I’m applying color haphazardly, and watching the way they react with the imprints of both leaves and rusted items.
Once I’ve covered both sides of my pages in color, I can begin to figure out which of these will be used in my journal for the prompt. I’ll save the others that I don’t use, tear them in half to make signatures, and bind them into a book. They’re all so lovely that it’s hard to choose!
Rather than throw away the “paints” that I’ve made, I add a wash of teas and turmeric to another piece of watercolor paper and begin the auditioning process to build a mixed media collage.
You may recall that my past prompts have shown you steps that I use to create collage or in the reuse of everyday objects to give them new life in my artwork. I don’t have to add much to this piece since the stars of the show are the eco-prints. I have some old crochet lace in a yolky yellow and add it to the composition to provide some brightness. Incorporating the string and binding ribbon from the bundle, I attach one of the rusty buckles as my focal point and add stitching around the piece and to secure the buckle.
Thank you for joining me and in reflecting upon the “Changing Seasons.” I look forward to seeing your interpretations of the prompt! I hope these prompts have provided you with inspiration and new skills to add to your ever-expanding creative tool box! Thanks again to Bonnie and Barb for the opportunity!
Leaves for Imprinting:
Nearly all leaves will work but leaves from these trees or shrubs are especially nice:
Maple; Elder; Sumac; Cedar; Crabapple; Eucalyptus; Dogwood; Black Walnut
Other Resources for Eco-Dying:
Plant Materials Listing:
Jana Freeman is a mixed media artist residing in San Diego, CA. She hosts regular art workshops at her studio, Way Art Yonder, www.wayartyonder.com and can be followed on Instagram @wayartyonder and @janamfreeman.