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Screen printing with natural dyes and pigments

Last year I was very fortunate to be awarded Arts Council funding to develop my creative practice. I have been researching natural dyes and pigments for screen printing, which has been wonderful and frustrating in equal measure! (all about balance at this time of year).

Over the course of 8 months I experimented with processing plants and some minerals (bricks from my allotment!) to extract colour, and made a big mess in my studio!! I attended several courses, including sustainable screen print at West Dean College in Sussex. It felt very emotional as it’s such a special and beautiful place. We screen printed with a range of dyestuffs including red cabbage, buddleia, red onion skin, pomegranate, elderberries, and madder, all mixed with corn flour paste and indalca paste which I hadn’t heard of before. I learnt loads from the fabulous Lara Mantell and have been more organised and thorough in my test prints since returning to the studio. I also learnt about printing with modifiers, which is something that adds another layer of depth to the prints. It feels quite magical to see the colours change before your very eyes! Iron generally saddens/darkens the colours, soda ash (alkali) brightens/deepens colours, and citric acid discharges/pulls out colour, and in the case of red onion turns it hot pink! I’m not a chemist but I am learning more and more about the science of colour, which is really changing the way I engage with the natural world. Walks in the park will never be the same again, everything that grows has the potential to give colour, and even the pigments that I had considered insipid or failures have their part to play in sitting in harmony with the stronger colours to make the prints sing.

I chose the title of my project from a book of the same name, by Derek Jarman, who I love. His writing on nature is particularly wonderful, but he also wrote a book about colour, very poignantly as his eyesight was failing. Chroma means the intensity or saturation of a colour.

A small collection of prints made using natural dyes and pigments is now available in my online shop.

What’s next?

I am excited to use all this new knowledge in a long project this year, attempting to capture a sense of place though the use of hyper-local colour palettes, making my own dyes and print pastes from plants I find when I’m out walking. Do get in touch if you are interested in natural colour, I’m really keen to share these ways of working, and could talk about it all day!

Huge thanks to the following people who helped me with this project:

  • Jacqui Symons who started me off on this path!
  • Lucy Mayes for showing me the wonder of lake pigments
  • Lara Mantell and Flo Hawkins of Ceres Studio in Brixton
  • Mark Devereux for mentoring and helping me to get the funding secured
  • Laura Pottinger for encouraging me to start a sketchbook and interviewing me about my project – sorry that I’m incapable of finishing a sentence!
  • Elle Brotherhood for taking beautiful photographs and enabling wonderful creative chats
screen printing with natural dyes and pigments

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