The world of eco-printing is made up of experimenting and meeting people. It attracts all sorts of craftspersons and once you are over the first few tentative steps, you’ll be hooked and you’ll probably never leave it and that’s exactly what happened to Carla Arnò. In 2007, together with Cecilia Rinaldi, she set up Feltrocreativo and their team became the reference point in Central Italy for people wanting to try out and learn to make felt and nunofelt.
A few years later, because experimenting is addictive, Carla Arnò took part in an eco-printing workshop run by Irit Dulman at Magliano in Tuscany, in 2012. A meeting like this can be life-changing and it was for Carla. Her fascination with the technique led to her following other routes and to experimenting with other materials, as she tells us in this article and the photos that accompany it.
Can you become addicted to a technique learnt during a workshop? It happened to me with eco-printing, during a course held by Irit Dulman. I was fascinated and I began to experiment and try things out for myself, with variable degrees of failure and success. In the end I was well and truly hooked and just could not stop.
Today, together with Cecilia, after a lot of practice and experience, as well as felting workshops, I run workshops for eco-printing on various kinds of fabric and paper. Recently, we ran a course in Rome during which nature was particularly generous. For in point of fact, the real leading star in eco-printing is nature itself (as well as the surprise element as you can never be quite sure of the results when there are so many variables!
We gathered leaves in my neighbourhood as near to where I live there is a park and lots of green spaces. Since being taken over by this passion, I’m always looking up, towards the trees, continually looking for leaves. Sometimes I know it’s a tinctorial plant but one I haven’t met yet, other times I like to experiment with something I’ve never tried before. Often, even when I’m leading and especially in new areas, my eyes are attracted by the green and I keep stopping over and over again to look closely at a leaf that seems interesting. Nowadays I look at any twig or plant with completely different eyes and I really appreciate the smallest of things. I have come to realise that even in the city, you start to look at nature with more interest and this constant observation makes you start to know and recognise trees, bushes, weeds and flowers. This is the effect of a passion for eco-printing: the first step is to obtain the material you need and the only way to do this is to look out for it, to gather it and to experiment.
What does the technique consist of? It is really an alternative way of printing: the leaves are arranged in direct contact with the paper then put between sheets of metal. The parcel you have made is tied up tightly and cooked. During this phase the leaves release their pigment. At the end of this process the imprint of the vegetable material has been printed onto the paper in an incredible pallet of colours. This is the power of tinctorial plants!
The choice of paper is of fundamental importance and is chosen according to what you want to create. In general the first criterion is the choice of paper in terms of thickness and weight. The most useful for this technique is watercolour paper, made from 100% cotton as it has an even absorbency and is very stable. Apart from these technical aspects, the choice of paper is a case for individual taste. I generally use a paper with a weight of 200 or 300 gm. There is nothing to stop you using any other type of paper, even for example, baking paper. Yes, even baking paper can be printed on: I love using it and I use it to create envelopes to package my work in.
The whole process also requires an initial stage of mordanting (soaking the papers and leaves in a vinegar bath or in ferrous acetate or allum), and a second stage of drying the paper on paper towelling to then proceed to arranging the vegetation on the sheets of paper chosen.
The process of choosing and arranging the material is the really creative part; real works of art can be made, enriched with the scent released by the leaves. Flowers, roots, bark and sometimes even spices. The beauty of this technique consists in being able to layer lots of leaves over eachother, spacing them out and thus obtaining in one boiling process, a multitude of cards of different shapes and colours.
With nature as an accomplice, the possibilities of using our masterpieces are infinite and our individual creative fantasy is the only limit: cards of every kind, greeting cards, invitations to parties, weddings, writing paper, postcards, bookmarks, travel journals, dedications and many more innovative ideas. Naturally, when a person takes part in a course, they must take into consideration that they run the great risk of becoming addicted!
TEXT AND PHOTOS: Carla Arnò