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
- 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!