Introduction: Hammered Leaf and Flower Prints

Picture of Hammered Leaf and Flower Prints

The vibrant colors of leaves and flowers are easy to preserve by pounding them to release their natural dyes onto paper. I learned this fun and simple technique from my college roommate, Sarah, but it's been around a lot longer -- I hear that Cherokee women pounded flowers to decorate fabric.

With not much more than a hammer and some leaves, you can make beautiful botanical cards or prints and enjoy spring greenery year-round.

Who knew that venting your frustrations could have such aesthetically pleasing results?

Step 1: Take a Walk

Start by going on a walk or visiting your garden to find leaves and flowers to work with. You're looking for things with bright colors that aren't too juicy or too dry. It'll take a little trial and error to find good plants, so grab a variety and play around.

Be sure to ask for permission before snagging your neighbor's prized plants. Oh, and try to avoid things like poison ivy and nightshade, okay?

Step 2: Assemble Your Materials

Picture of Assemble Your Materials

For this project, you'll need:

- flowers or leaves to print
- watercolor or other rough, acid-free paper
- selection of hammers (including ball-peen or cross-peen, if you have them)
- hard work surface (cutting board, slab of wood, etc.)
- paper towels
- scissors
- a pen
- tweezers or toothpicks
- tape (optional)
- acrylic finishing spray (optional)

Gather your materials and set up your work surface. You want a smooth, hard surface that you can hammer on and not worry about denting or getting messy. I used a plastic cutting board covered with a paper bag.

A note on safety: please help kids with hammering. Smashed fingers hurt! Safety goggles are a good idea, too.

Step 3: Trim the Flowers/leaves

Picture of Trim the Flowers/leaves

Trim any chunky or squishy bits off of the plants and arrange them on your watercolor paper. You can tape them down if you like (I didn't and it worked out fine). Just make sure that the tape doesn't get between the plant and the paper.

Step 4: Cover With a Blotter

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Cover the plant with 2-3 layers of paper towels. You can also cover it with another piece of paper, but the paper towels work better because they absorb excess plant goo.

Step 5: Plan Your Attack

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On the paper towels, sketch the borders of the area you'll need to hammer. Unless, of course, you want to vent some frustration and plant to hammer the whole thing.

Step 6: Let the Smashing Begin!

Picture of Let the Smashing Begin!

Start by making small, even taps using the flat side of one of the hammers. This will set the flowers or leaves in place. Then go carefully over the entire area with a ball- or cross-peen hammer. Start by going in rows up and down (see the arrows in the previous picture), then do another pass from side to side. You'll need to hit every single bit of the plant, so be patient. It can take a while.

Step 7: Check Your Progress

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Peel back the paper towel to check your progress. If the pattern on the towel is filled in, then you're probably done. If not, replace the paper towel and start again.

Step 8: The Unveiling

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Now peel away the leaf to reveal the print. If it sticks to the paper, just let it dry for a bit and you'll be able to brush it off.

Step 9: Try Different Hammers

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Note that different kinds of hammers can give different results -- I used a ball-peen hammer for part of this, and it left some round spots that I think are a little too smooshed and gray. The more natural-looking, red parts of this print came from cross-peen hammer action.

Step 10: Try Different Leaves and Flowers

Picture of Try Different Leaves and Flowers

Here's a sampling of the plants I tried this with today. The Japanese maple and periwinkle worked especially well. Some of the others would have worked with additional hammering.

You'll probably have to try several plants to find one that works for you. The quality of the print will depend not only on your hammering technique and the paper you use, but also on characteristics of the plant, such as its color, hydration level, the stiffness of its fibers, and whether or not it has an outer layer of wax.

You can layer the images, too. Start by hammering the flowers and leaves that will go in the background, then build up layers from there. Remove the smashed plant material before going on to the next layer.

Step 11: Preserve Your Print

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Once your print is to your liking, you can spray it with UV-protective acrylic spray to help keep the colors bright. Be sure to do this in a well-ventilated area.

Step 12: Admire Your Work

Picture of Admire Your Work

Ahh, the beauty of brute force!

Enjoy this project -- it'll work with a lot more than just few plants I've shown here. Please feel free to link to photos of your prints in the comments area or on my blog, where I first posted this tutorial.

Now go get hammered!


KathyS228 (author)2017-05-12

can it be done on wood?

JennyA41 made it! (author)2017-04-23

Tried this out this afternoon, and did a tomato leaf right from the garden. Thanks for the tips!

casketqueen16 (author)2009-10-04

I've tried this with my class of 3yr. olds, using rubber mallets. We first laid down a layer of wax paper, to keep the plant "juices" flowing into fabric. They came out really beautiful. I'll have to try it again.

Hello! I'm hoping to do this with a school group soon and am currently writing a lesson plan. Do you know if the "dye" stayed in after washing the fabric? We're planning to have the kids make "bandanas" from squares of white fabric and I'm concerned that the dye won't stay during washing. Any recommendations to how to make it stick?

I haven't tried it on fabric but I'd be concerned that it wouldn't stay. Maybe you'd have more luck if you had the kids use the leaves to stamp on fabric-safe paint. Good luck with it, whatever you do.

Waaaay belated reply. Soak the fabric in a salt solution (I think it was before the imprint), dry, and then do the imprint.

I'm so glad it worked for you. Thanks for the feedback.

Sugarimp made it! (author)2016-05-14

I tried it on fabric after reading your instructable - 6 years ago! The fabric needs to be soaked in a mordant (in this case, just a salt water solution) either before or after (sorry, can't remember which one!) you've made the imprint. It's lasted six years and a few washes (after the cat peed on it), so far.

cbroeckx made it! (author)2015-11-19

It does work :) This makes me very happy :)

cbroeckx (author)2015-11-19

can this be done on wood?

diydonut (author)2015-03-29

Great tutorial and fantastic work! I used your techique (instead of a hammer I went with a pestle and grounded/rubbed in small circles, the effect is less sharp lines but it worked for what I wanted to achieve. )

heather.breslin.526 (author)2014-08-13

Thank you! I am doing a garden class for young children and this is perfect (with supervision of course). Very funny instructions too. Can't wait to see how this comes out. I may use mallets instead of hammers through.

Gato Nipon (author)2013-01-31

Amazing !!! gonna do this for sure. I'm getting ready to go down to the street and start picking leaves up. This is perfect for greetings and birthday cards.

ArtisanEclectic (author)2012-12-23

If you put the sample between two pieces of watercolor paper instead of paper towel, wouldn't you get two mirror image prints? Of course that would negate the "one of a kind" aspect of it. But hey, Two of a kind is even better!

Ieatbabiez (author)2009-09-07

Lovely Technique! I love it! :D I think I'll use this in my altered book....

Strombergundy (author)2009-05-28

I'd like to try putting a stencil of mylar down underneath the plants to see if I can make a cool print. This is way cool though, thanks for putting it up!

ataylor02 (author)2009-05-27

So clever!

virender (author)2009-05-14

Great. Thanks for sharing. I know what I will do this weekend. :-)

catboo22 (author)2009-05-04

that leaf looks suspiciously like Mary-Jane/pot

It's Japanese maple. I've never heard of purple pot...

Yea,but only the bud is purple ish.

there are purple plants.. stems are mainly purple at a young age but it is possible from a frost that the plant will have purple leaves and actually purple buds as well ( takes a few days of frosts and nice days to happen). i have personally seen 8 foot tall plants that were half purple :). used to be a stoner, quit one day when i noticed i act crazy and funny and feel the same when i am off it( prolly perma-stoned haha), so i know what i am saying :)

tha japanese maple does look similar to marijuana to the untrained eye... (like me before i saw a japanese maple last year...) it's leaves have five parts, its semetrical, the jagged edges on the leaves(although they aren't exactly the same).

HappyToBeAlive (author)red-king2009-05-07

So THAT'S why Maple syrup is so darn Addictive!!

Oh come on. Mary Jane isn't addictive (physically) at all.

I know its not Addictive PHYSICALLY..... Mentally or emotionally, it may be addictive as it is no darn nice to smoke. ( I am an ex pot-head stoner dude . and it was a tongue in cheek reply!

catboo22 (author)2009-05-08

pot can also have only five parts

braadkarma (author)2009-05-07

really REALLY NICE. i'm going out plant poaching now!!I!

Lori Ell (author)2009-05-07

what a great idea. i can't wait to try it. i make greeting cards and will use this often. tfs

marjorieallea (author)2009-05-07

This is a beautiful technique. Thank you for sharing. Once we used this for a science camp and the students/staff decorated their un-dyed t-shirts. This was about 5 years ago and I still have my t-shirt, though faded (and stained). I just hate to throw it away because it was so much fun "designing" the shirt. It made so much noise, though, that we wondered just how eco-friendly an activity it really was. (Can you imagine 20 or so students hammering away on park tables?)

3frog (author)2009-05-07

Could you do this and then us the paper as stationary?

sycamore74 (author)2009-05-07

Thanks for your great tutorial! Can't wait to start on this project. Grow flowers grow!

brainangles (author)2009-05-07

Thanks for the instruction. I'm going out to the yard right now :). I will be using clear mac tac to protect my print. Stay inspired!

random-charm (author)2009-05-07

This works well on tissue paper too.

neuralstatic (author)2009-05-05

your example is really beautiful, so i had to try it. i just tried it with some rose petals on some drawing paper. the transfer is really minimal... maybe because i'm using the "corner" of a regular construction hammer. or maybe the petals are too dry (been sitting in a vase for a week, and were about to see the trash can, ready to wilt).

Thanks, I'm glad you like it. I haven't tried roses before, but some flowers just don't show up very well. I've done this several times with a regular hammer, so I'm guessing the roses are more likely the problem than the hammer. Try it with different plants until it works -- even dandelions and grass are a good place to start.

Short One (author)2009-04-30

Do you have to use water color paper? will printer paper, or thick paper work?

Definitely try this with whatever paper you have on hand before you go buy something special. The watercolor paper works well because it's absorbent and has a rough surface for the plant dyes to bind to, but you may get good results with plain paper, too. Give it a try and see. If you plan to make prints for framing, one thing to keep in mind is that regular printer paper may not be of archival quality.

Okay. When I try it, I'll let you know how it turns out.

benji_38 (author)2009-05-03

I'm going to start keeping a journal of flowers now

WiggityWagner (author)2009-05-01

is that canabis?

Nope, it's Japanese maple. Can't say that I've ever heard of purple pot leaves…

raeraethejetplane (author)2009-05-02

Everything I hammered turned into a bloody pulp. Could it be that the plants were too moist? Also, I tapped down on everything lightly like you instructed and I still had trouble with the items bouncing around when I hammered them.

Yes, it sounds like the plants were probably too moist. Try it with something fairly flat, like tree leaves or grass, and peek often to see what sort of hammer pressure you need to use to get a good image. You might also want to try using a little tape to hold stuff in place. Hope it goes better the second time around!

LemonLily (author)2009-05-02

This is cool! Its good for the environment too because its natural!

zamok (author)2009-05-01

japanese maple not canibis

Uncle Kudzu (author)2009-04-30


you might be interested in the Anthotype Process:

I hadn't seen that technique before. The results are beautiful. Thanks for sharing!

mynameisjonas (author)2009-04-28

simply beautiful! This would make an awesome card for someone. is it possible to do this with out the protective spray? or would it smudge and fade.

Sure, you can do it without the spray. It doesn't smudge once it's dry. It will fade over time, especially if it's exposed to sunlight, but some of the images don't fade too much. I have some cards I made with pansies maybe five or six years ago and they still look pretty good (but were stored in a box).

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