DIY: Create Photographs Using Plant Matter!
Extra photos for bloggers: 1, 2, 3
It’s the perfect time of year to take a break from editing at your computer. Take a stroll outside and breathe in the budding aroma of flowers.
Unbeknown to most folks, those pretty flowers harness the power to produce a stellar photograph! An anthotype to be exact — a photo print made with plant matter.
Spinach, daisies, wine, strawberries, onions, and other plants are all light sensitive. If you leave them out in the sun long enough, you’ll have your very own plant prints, just like that.
Not only do plants feed us and give us shelter, but they make photos for us, too! Is there anything these guys can’t do?
What’s an Anthotype?
The concept behind Sir John Herschel‘s anthotypes goes like this. Grind up plant matter and paint the juices onto paper. Plop a positive film on top and allow nature to execute its handy work.
You can use all kinds of petals, leaves and berries for this process.
Here are just a few to choose from:
Note that the final color may not be the color of the original plant!
Spinach: 4-5 hours, light green (This is what we used.)
Daisy: 1 week, sepia
Red Wine: 1 week, burgundy
Pansy: 2 weeks, purple
Onion: 3-4 weeks, orange
Beetroot: 4-6 weeks, fuchsia
There is one catch. Anthotypes will fade if left out on display. You can slow down the exposure a couple of different ways.
Artist Binh Dahn encases his work in resin. Rosemary Horn exhibits her anthotypes but covers them so that viewers have to lift a flap to view the print. This protects her work but also makes you think about the fragility of nature.
- Rubber gloves
- Grubby clothes
- Petals, berries or leaves
- Blender or mortar and pestle
- Denatured alcohol (found at hardware stores)
- Container for mixing
- Coffee filter or cheesecloth
- Foam brush
- Hefty watercolor paper (300gsm suggested)
- Contact print frame
- A positive image on transparency film
- OR items to produce a photogram
- The Sun
STEP 1: TRANSFORM THE PLANT INTO EMULSION
Once you discover the plant that suits your fancy, it’s time to blend it up. In the case of spinach, use only the leaves and you will receive a darker pigment.
Splash some denatured alcohol in the mix. Alcohol is an ideal diluter because it helps extract the chlorophyll from the plants. Blend until it looks juicy.
Strain your mixture through a coffee filter or cheesecloth into a bowl. Drip, drip, drip.
STEP 2: COAT YOUR PAPER
Brushes with hair shed all over your paper, so you may try a foam brush.
Dampen your brush with water, so it doesn’t suck up all the plant goop. Dip it in your juice and coat your paper any funky way you like. Make sure you get it evenly spread out.
Since the sun bleaches the light areas of your positive, begin with as saturated a color as possible. This may require several applications.
Dry in a dark place to avoid premature exposing.
STEP 3: FRAME IT
Grab your positive film and arrange it on top of your dry piece of coated paper. Place it into your contact print frame and close it up tight.
You can also use a regular frame as long as the positive stays in place. Contact print frames are really the way to go if you can get a hold of one. They have a hinged back that lets you check the exposure without accidentally moving the positive.
You can snag a reasonably priced contact print frame at B & H Photo.
STEP 4: GIVE IT TO THE SUN
Find a place in your yard that has the brightest sun and leave your soon to be anthotypes there to cook. Check on them periodically to make sure they are not being blocked by shadows.
Now it’s time to wait. The length of your exposure depends on the weather conditions, so if it’s an overcast day, give it more time.
STEP 5: FINAL RESULT!
Admire your print!
Anthotypes are low contrast, but instead produce a subtle and delicate looking print.
From here, you’ll want to store it away from the sun. You might want to scan your anthotype. That way, even if it fades, you’ll be able preserve what it looked like forever.
Take it Further
1.) Expose your petals while you pedal, like artist Rosemary Horn. She attaches anthotypes and chlorophyll prints to her bike!
2.) Recommended Reading: Anthotypes by Malin Fabbri. The plant index is especially helpful with tips on which plants to use.
3.) Make a fancy food centerpiece. Place a stencil or positive directly onto fruit and put it in the sun!