Hammered Leaf and Flower Prints

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Introduction: 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

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

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

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

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

5 People Made This Project!

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57 Comments

The periwinkle is now in bloom, so rush out and find some. Their images work quite well. Dandelion leaves for some reason work well, but be careful with the flowers unless you want a yellow blot. Achillea leaves and fern leaves seem to work particularly well.

One thing I did was to use heavy watercolor paper, one piece under the leaves, another over it. Voil√°, two prints in the time it takes to do one.

were you able to find any info on your question.

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.

4 replies

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.

can this be done on wood?

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. )

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.

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.

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!

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

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!

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

Yea,but only the bud is purple ish.