Vintage etching plates and eco-dyed paper

By PPA member Lee Downes

During the last few weeks I’ve become addicted to eco-dyeing paper.  Unwrapping every sopping package is like opening a Christmas present – I never know what the results will be.  Each piece of wet paper is greeted with oohs and aahs once the plant matter is removed.  The plant and flower impressions glisten, and even the least defined pieces are beautiful when wet.  However, they all unfortunately lose this striking beauty as they dry, but retain a more subtle beauty.

I scoured the internet for instructions before taking the plunge.

For my first prints, I made a stack of paper and plants sandwiched between two pieces of cardboard and tied up with twine.  I boiled them  for an hour in a pot with 1 cup of vinegar, several pieces of rusty iron and a sandstone rock.  I tried the same method, substituting copper for the iron. I was entranced with the results.

I found that rolling the paper and plant material around a piece of dowel produced the most distinct images, and tiles are better than cardboard for the ‘bread’ in the sandwich.  I’ve made several more batches without vinegar and alternating copper and iron, finding that the copper needs vinegar to produce more distinct patterns.

The question then was what to do with all of this beautiful paper?

Earlier this year, a box of vintage copper etching plates was sold at auction.  My partner attended the auction for me (I was at PPA making paper), and outbid the scrap metal merchants.  The etching plates are delightful.  Some print well, others are a little bit faint and will probably need to be reworked.

Nonetheless I love them all, and decided to print them onto my eco-dyed paper as the first stage in making a book.  Rather than black, which I thought would be too harsh against the subtle paper, I used Payne’s gray.

I’m quite pleased with the results, but I think I will make more paper and make the prints again using black and some other colours.

About Claire B

I'm a passionate printmaker, paper-maker and a poor sketcher (which I'm working to improve). I've stitched from early childhood and am a perpetual student, loving learning and participating in everything creative.
This entry was posted in Activities: Other, Colour on Paper, Member Activities, Print-making, Techniques and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Vintage etching plates and eco-dyed paper

  1. Claire B says:

    These are beautiful, Lee. The dyed paper creates a lovely background for these subtle prints. Congratulations on finding the etching plates, not something you would expect to see. I wonder where they originally came from.


  2. Sue Bradshaw says:

    Beautiful work – thanks for sharing. I’ve done a lot of this in my time and also with fabric. I concur completely – every time you open that sopping package it’s like Christmas!


  3. dbeestontpgcomau says:

    Wow Lee, these are terrific. What a great use for the lovely eco-dyed paper. And what a special partner who got those plates for you. Can’t wait to see more of your experiments.


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