Key pattern based on a Celtic design made of natural fibres by Ruth Black
Hayrack in a cold moonlit landscape, painting by Vida Fakin. More on Vida.
By Jean Duncan. More on Jean’s work with the Living Field.
This year, as a 3rd year Contemporary Art Practice student at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design (Djcad), Dundee and with the support and encouragement of Geoff Squire & Gladys Wright (& Pete Iannetta who pointed me in the right direction) I was introduced to the Living Field at the James Hutton Institute, Invergowrie and ran my plant-printing workshop as part of the Open Farm Sunday event.
My work concerns wild plants (and those often considered to be weeds) and the soil in which they grow. I currently work mostly in printing where I have developed a number of plant printing techniques. I also make ‘earth’ paintings, and work in ceramics, photography, and laser cutting. I would be very interested to hear from any scientists who might be interested in this work, have comments, or who might want to collaborate with me, particularly in context of the blue pigment; in making the prints lightfast; or the possibility of employing these printing techniques as a scientific tool.
Edaphic Plant Art
In my most recent work I coined the term, Edaphic Plant Art. This body of work was concerned with a small patch of grass on campus. I was interested in the variety of wild plants growing on this patch and also in the soil in which they were growing. I focused on 5 plant varieties and attended soil science lectures. I documented these plants by using 3 different plant-printing techniques that I have termed, the Pigment Print; the Graphite Print; and the Ink Print.
These prints were presented on the wall in a grid format together with digital print photographs of the plants. Porcelain tiles were also prepared for each plant. In addition ‘earth paintings’ were made using soil taken from the site and ‘healthier’ soil taken from another site. Besides each painting a soil sample was presented in a hand made porcelain cup.
This body of work began with the initial desire to get plants to ‘draw’ themselves. The plants used were those largely considered to be ‘weeds’. The method used to develop this idea has primarily been experimental printing. Experimental photography techniques were also been employed to a lesser extent, as were small sculptural works.
The resulting plant ‘drawings’ were able to convey the inherent beauty of these weed forms and the individual ‘character’ of each plant. In addition, the body of work was presented as a metaphor for our own human condition, commenting on different aspects of ourselves.
The Blue Pigment
Over the course of developing my Pigment Prints I have often noticed a very blue pigment located just where the stem meets the roots in certain grasses. If anyone can shed light on this I would be very grateful and would love to extract this in the lab.
More from Tina to follow ….
Most of our paper comes from plants, but the process by which leaves and stems are converted to sheets that we can write on or wrap things in is unknown to most of us.
As part of her work with the Living Field, Jean Duncan has been making paper from plants grown in the garden.
She started with some maize, which is a tropical and sub-tropical species originally from the Americas. Some types can now grow in our climate, and it was one of these that was grown in the garden for its cobs (corn on the cob).
Jean used the maize plants to make the paper. Here is a description of what she did.
Step 1 is to collect maize leaves and stems when they are in good condition, still green.
Step 2 is to cut the leaves and stems into small pieces. Leaf pieces should be about the size of those in the white bowl. The tough stems were cut into larger pieces (right below).
Step 3 – put the cut material into an enamel bowl or pot (above left). Add soda ash to the material, 1 teaspoon for a 10 litre pot, and mix.
Step 4 – cook the plants for 3 hours, or more if the material is tough. At this point you will need pH indicator strips (litmus paper) to check that the cooking is going according to plan. (Litmus can be bought on-line or at some gardening shops.) The pH of the mixture should be around 8, but if it drops to 7 or 6 then add a little more soda ash. When cooked, the fibre should be soft and easy to tear.
Step 5 – rinse the fibre thoroughly in water; when fully rinsed the pH or the water should be neutral (i.e. about 7).
Step 6 – the fibre now needs to be beaten to a pulp. The traditional way is to beat it with a mallet for a few hours. (Craft-workers in some countries still use this method). An alternative, if you have electricity, is a kitchen blender working in short bursts so as not to burn out the motor. Jean uses a machine called a Hollander beater.
Step 7 – the fibres are now ready to be transformed into sheets of paper. The pulp is suspended in water. A ‘mould and deckle’ is lowered into the water (image above) and brought out slowly with a flat layer of fibre on it, or else the pulp is poured into the mould and deckle until there is a flat layer of the right thickness for the type of pulp (which you work out by trial and error); the water drains out through holes leaving the moist fibre.
Step 8 – the moist sheet of fibre is turned onto an absorbent fabric or board or something similar for drying and pressing, a procedure that takes about 3 days (top right in images below).
And that’s it – a sheet of paper!
[Update with minor amendments 10 June and 27 July 2017]
Exhibition, Dalhousie Building, University of Dundee, 17-30 March 2017. More images here.
Our artist friend, Jean Duncan has been trying out new techniques, getting inspiration and materials from the Living Field garden and from microscopic sections of roots. Jean writes about her depictions of brassica roots:
“The print is an etching made on a zinc plate by drawing with a needle into soft wax and then etching the lines in copper sulphate. Ink is rubbed in to the etched lines and then printed on wet paper.
“My idea is to print root sections and plant drawings on to plant papers. I want to combine ancient techniques of papermaking with the latest microscopic images in a way that will highlight the plant’s diversity and engage people in how plants can enrich soils as well as provide food.
“For papermaking, the most successful fibres so far have come from maize stalks from the Living Field garden. These are chopped and simmered for several hours in soda ash to break down the fibres. The long fibres are then bashed further in a Hollander beater like a large grinder. Sheets of paper are then formed on a mould and stacked for printing or casting. Wet paper sheets can be pushed into plaster moulds of the plants and roots and when they dry the plant is embossed into the paper.
“So it’s a long process but I am currently working on a latex cast of a plant root and it’s been successful so far. It may even be useful to scientists as a way of preserving the fragile roots in a way that means they can be handled without being damaged.
Jean Duncan on this web site (with links): art/jean-duncan
Here it is.
And thank you for allowing us to use it on this site.
[More to follow from Jean’s experimenting ….]
Through a brassica root by Jean Duncan based on micrograph by Robert Baker. More at Sectioned II …
Around Dundee this summer were spotted those with their mobile phones in hand, but this wasn’t for the Pokemon Go craze, this was for the Oor Wulliecraze. They were popping up everywhere and where there was a Wullie was someone, from young children to adults, with their Bucket Trail map and/or phone app…. writes Linda Ford.
The Oor WullieBucket Trail in Dundee and the surrounding area was such great fun! In a stroke of genius The Archie Foundation teamed up with Wild in Art and DC Thomson to raise funds for Tayside Children’s Hospital and with an auction total of £883,000 for 70 Oor Wullies, it was definitely a huge success.
The £50,000 that the Oor Original sold for is a clear indication of how much of a beloved icon Oor Wullie is to those of us who grew up reading about his exploits in the Sunday Post each week and the yearly annuals.
Many of the Wullies were designed around something close to Dundee’s heart, such as the Wullie the Menace, which of course, was situated on Bash Street.
Here are some more Oor Wullies. The one below is called Whar Ji Cum Fi? It was in the Howff. It’s reflective so you can see yourself in it.
And here are four where they were assembled before being auctioned. They are Strawberry Thief (one of the Oot an Aboot touring Wullies), Woodland Wullie (upper right), Lillies, inpired by Monet (lower left) and Oor Original.
More info and what they sold for can be found here