Printing From Nature


This activity was created by Irene Chan, a San Francisco artist who was commissioned by the Exploratorium. It provides a demonstration on different ways to print. After the demonstration, visitors can create their own compositions and patterns from everyday objects.

"This project is an investigation of an alternative way of looking at or perceiving everyday objects. How often do we take the time to look at and study objects in detail? Textures are emphasized in prints. Objects and their details are seen differently. One begins to see the formal patterns of life recurring again and again."

-Irene Chan, Artist

What You'll Need:

  • Water-based, non-toxic textile paint. Good colors are yellow, red, blue, green, and black.
  • 12 rubber paint brayers (rollers). It is best to use 6 soft rollers for the palette ink and 6 hard rollers for the dry rolling at the end. If these are not available, 12 hard rollers will work fine.
  • Construction paper (9" x 12", many colors)
  • 7 Newsprint pads (18" x 24")
  • 7 Clear acrylic sheets (8" x 10")
  • Printing materials (fruits, leaves, branches, fabrics, palm fiber, dried flowers, etc.)
  • 5-gallon bucket of clean water
  • Disposable aprons
  • Large trash can
  • Unless you have a sink nearby, you should provide one squeeze bottle of soapy water and another of plain water with plenty of paper towels for washing-up.
  • Drying rack for prints.

Methods of Printing:

1. Objects. Find everyday objects. Paint on them, then press firmly on paper. Look at the interesting shapes and patterns made. Experiment by printing on top of shapes and/or overlapping images.

Sample objects: sections of fruits, leaves, moss, acorns, etc.

2. Textures. Find objects with interesting textures. Use a roller to roll paint onto the object. Put a piece of paper over the object. Roll a clean roller on the paper. Carefully lift the paper. You will be able to see textures from things that you may not have noticed before.



Place 6 newsprint pads along the edge of two large tables and place one, for purposes of demonstration, in the center, facing the 6 work stations. Put a dry, clean roller at each work station. Place acrylic sheets in front of newsprint pads. There is one palette for each color. Scoop out a different color paint for each acrylic sheet and with a different roller for each color, "roll out" the ink onto the acrylic sheet so that each roller is covered with ink. Set up drying rack, large trash can, cleaning spray bottles and paper towels and printing materials (dry plants and fruits). Put dry plants on a shelf underneath the tables. Place leaves, etc., in small piles near all the work stations. Continue to replenish the dry plants as needed.

Demonstrate the printing from your workstation in the center. Take a leaf, place it on the newsprint pad. Select a color and roll out the paint. Roll this color onto the leaf. Return the paint roller to the color palette. Take the leaf and turn it upside down on a piece of construction paper (the inked side is face down). Fold the newsprint pad over, or find a clean area on the pad. Place the construction paper with inked leaf under a clean piece of newsprint. With a clean, dry roller, roll all the layers with firm pressure. Lift the newsprint, pull out the construction paper and peel the leaf off. You will make a relief print of the leaf.

Ask visitors when they sit down at a work station whether they would like an apron. Ask which color of construction paper they would like to print on. Demonstrate the printing process. I have found that after demonstrating, it is a good idea to watch and show visitors, step-by-step again while they are trying the technique. Encourage them to return the paint rollers to the correct color palette and to keep the dry roller clean. Problems do happen, however: the paint rollers get mixed up and the dry rollers get into the paint palettes. When this occurs, take the rollers, roll them out on some newsprint to remove excess ink, dip them into the bucket of water, and dry them with paper towels. Return the rollers to the right places. After visitors have made their prints, offer to hang up the artwork to dry, so they can continue to visit the museum and pick up the artwork when they are ready to leave. Show them the cleanup area with soapy water and paper towels. Clean up the work station. Throw away used dry plants, and turn the newsprint pad over to begin again.

Some Tips:
Use dried leaves with prominent veins. Buying the leaves from a dried flower shop is best because they are preserved with a waxy coating that is excellent for printing. Unpreserved leaves are hard and crispy, so they can easily break. Besides leaves, there are infinite possibilities for objects to print from. Most visitors will be delighted at the results of their printmaking.


Try these other activities . . .

Making Salt Growing Your Own Slime Mold Making Turbulence Patterns

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