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Anthotype Photograms

Ephemeral photographic prints made with extracted botanical juice and the power of the sun echo the transitory character of gardens.

Anthotype photograms are a perfect reflection of a garden’s ever-changing nature. An anthotype photogram is an image produced by placing an object directly onto a surface that has been made light-sensitive by coating it with a photographic emulsion. The emulsion used here is made from plant materials. This results in a delicate, color-infused, low-contrast print. Anthotypes by nature are temporary—they might last from six to eight months—and part of the charm of an anthotype is watching the image fade away over time. Some people scan their artwork to make a permanent record of it, others store their prints in a dark place to extend their longevity. I like to display them and enjoy them for as long as they last. If you are going to display your anthotype photogram put it in a spot with no direct sunlight and if possible use UV-protective glass when framing it. If you wish to display them in a room that receives a lot of light, plan on replacing them every six months.

This project calls for using spinach leaves to make an emulsion, but you can use all kinds of petals, leaves, and berries to make emulsions. Some plant emulsions can take weeks to develop; spinach leaves have a relatively short processing time, making them a perfect introductory emulsion. Other flowers, vegetables, and fruits that you can use to make emulsions include pansies, which make a beautiful shade of deep purple in one to two weeks; marigolds, which make a light rusty yellow in three to four weeks; cabbage, which makes a purple hue in two to three weeks; onion skins, which make a rich orange in three to four weeks; and beetroots, which make a fuchsia in two weeks.

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When you use paper with deckle edges it is nice to see the edges in the final framing. I used 7- × 9 1/2-inch paper with 8 1/2- × 11-inch frames, with a mat board behind the print and a slightly smaller piece of foam core in between the mat board and print, so the artwork floats and you can admire the torn edges of the print.

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MATERIALS

  • 3 sheets of heavyweight watercolor paper (I used 100% cotton rag fiber, 7- × 9 1/2-inch handmade, deckle edge, 150-lb. white paper from Papeterie Saint-Armand) (A)
  • Approximately 4 cups of raw spinach (you can use regular or baby spinach) (B)
  • 3 small trees or plants for making the photograms (I used Zelkova serrata, Juniperus pingii ‘Loderi’, and Microcachys tetragona) (C)
  • Three 8 1/2- × 11-inch frames (D)

TOOLS

  • Painter’s tape (E)
  • Mortar and pestle, blender, or food processor (F)
  • Cheesecloth (G)
  • Measuring cup or bowl (H)
  • Foam brush (I)
  • Towel (J)
  • Piece of glass larger than the paper used to make the print (you can use the glass that comes with the frame) (K)

On each sheet of paper, just in from the deckle edge, run a length of painter’s tape along the border but leaving the deckle edges uncovered. Smooth the tape down once you have it in place. Repeat along all four edges of each sheet of paper. This will give you a uniform white border.

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Grind or blend the spinach until it is completely processed and looks like coarse pesto.

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Transfer the pulp to a doubled-over piece of cheesecloth.

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Hold the cheesecloth over a bowl or measuring cup, and squeeze the cloth until all the liquid is extracted into the bowl.

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Using the foam brush, coat the paper with the spinach emulsion, brushing from side to side in long, continuous strokes. Place the paper on a flat surface in a dark place and let dry. The drying time will vary depending on the temperature of your home—it could take about ten minutes to an hour.

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While the paper is drying, pull the plants out of their pots and remove as much soil as you can by gently combing through the soil with your fingers.

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Run water over the roots of the plants to rinse off all the dirt.

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Place the trees on a towel and let them dry until there is no moisture left. While the tree roots are drying, check on the paper.

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If the emulsion is dry coat the paper with another layer of emulsion, but this time brush the emulsion on from top to bottom. Return the paper to a dark place and let dry.

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Once both the paper and plants are dry, position each plant on a single sheet of paper and cover each with the glass. The plant will compress into a two dimensional object.

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Place the glass-covered print in the sun and wait 1 to 4 hours. Monitor the changing color of the print. Once the paper is very light green and significantly lighter than the area under the plant, remove the frame from the sun and remove the plant.

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Remove the tape from the edges and frame the print.

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PLANT CRAFT
30 PROJECTS THAT ADD
NATURAL STYLE TO YOUR HOME

CAITLIN ATKINSON