I’ve been printing leaves for about six years now and during that time I’ve been developing my technique, exploring different methods and constantly trying to improve the results to achieve what I want. My process currently involves inking each leaf individually and then printing from them, which means only one-off prints are achievable.
During recent research for an artist residency application, I came upon a technique that seems to recreate what I do and is a recognised form of printing which I had never heard of! So…. Nature Printing “the name given to the techniques of taking prints from natural objects such as leaves, flowers, or feathers, without the interposition of an artist who, interpreting the form of the original, will often distort it”. So writes Roderick Cave in his brilliant book ‘Impressions of Nature‘ which I now own and has lots of notes and scribbles over already.
In reading this, and other information on nature printing, I came across a technique developed by Alois Auer at the Staatsdruckerei (the Austrian National Printing Office) and later, by Henry Bradbury. This technique was called electro-typing, which involves pressing the subject between a plate of steel and lead, then using the impression in the lead plate to create a copper plate in an electrolyte solution. This plate can then be inked as an intaglio plate and printed.
Henry Bradbury produced a book ‘The Ferns of Great Britain and Ireland’ which contained over 100 plates printed using the electro-typing process. They’re absolutely beautiful – you can feel the impressions of the ferns in the page and (for all you letterpress enthusiasts), the type too. The process is something that I’d like to consider researching further but it is going to involve a lot of head-scratching and deciphering of scientific language – not my strong point!