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How to: Make art with anthotypes

Inspired to try a new hobby? Why not try your hand at creating anthotypes and experimenting with botanical dyeing? Anthotypes are a beautiful way to create fine art images with found objects from your garden.

So what’s an anthotype I hear you say? Put simply, an anthotype is a photographic sun print made by coating watercolour paper or material with the natural pigment of plants.

The image is printed in the sun from anywhere between a couple of hours to several days, depending on the level of contrast you desire. The print develops as the rays of the sun destroys the colour of the pigment, bleaching the print, and leaving behind soft, dream-like patterns.

What makes these pastimes appealing is that you can design anthotypes or manufacture economical and non-toxic dyes in your kitchen using everyday utensils. You will be amazed by the vibrant colours and patterns that can be created on fabric, yarn or paper by using all-natural ingredients that are easy to obtain.

You can produce a variety of dyes by experimenting with plants from the garden such as beetroot and red cabbage while a rummage through the pantry will inspire hues made from turmeric and black tea. Kitchen scraps are another great way to produce some brilliant pigments, in particular we liked onion skins, avocado pits and carrot tops!

Botanical dyes are made by using either part or all of a plant. Lavender produces dye from its leaves, whereas avocado dye is extracted from their skins and stones. Although the process may take a little time, the exquisite dyes that result make this a very satisfying craft activity.

We experimented with loads of different types of botanical dyeing ingredients before settling on the bright red and pinks created from beetroot. Check out our other attempts and read our step-by-step how-to below.

If the school holidays are driving the kids batty, get them experimenting in the kitchen with botanical dyeing and anthotype art too. As long as you don’t mind a bit of mess, it’s a fun, low-cost and safe activity that can be stretched out over a couple of days (or even weeks!)

What you'll need

Step One: Peel and finely chop a beetroot. Using a mortar and pestle crush it to a pulp. You may need to add a few drops of hot water.

Step Two: Strain crushed beetroot pulp through a piece of muslin, discarding the pulp and retaining the liquid.

Step Three: Using a large soft bristled brush, or hake brush, paint dye onto watercolour paper. Add as many layers as needed until you obtain a vibrant, rich colour, allowing the paper to dry in a dark room between coats.

Step Four: Place pressed flowers, leaves or other chosen items onto the dry paper, with a board underneath. Cover with a piece of glass or perspex to hold the flowers in place. Secure everything together with clamps, or tape.

Step Five: Place in direct sunlight. The time to develop will vary depending on the desired vibrancy. Some attempts took just one hour, others took several days. We chose to leave this one out for 24 hours.

Anthotypes Step 1
Anthotypes Step 2
Anthotypes Step 3
Anthotypes Step 4
Anthotypes Step 5

NOTE: If you are going to use pressed flowers, a little bit of foresight (and patience) is required.

We experimented with found items from the garden but needed to press them flat before use. You can press flowers or plants in a wooden flower press or a large, heavy book. For beautiful pressed flowers, gather clean flowers free of blemishes.

To prevent them going mouldy collect them on a sunny day when they are not wet from rain or dew. Place them face down in a book lined with baking paper. Close the book, weigh it down and leave it for one to two weeks until all the moisture is gone and the flowers are papery.

As seen in Swell Issue 5. Grab your copy here

Photography: Zoe Lonergan

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Measurements (cm) XS S M L XL XXL
A: Half Chest 46 49 52 55 58 61
B: Body Length 66 69 72 74 76 78
C: Sleeve Length 19.5 20.5 21.5 22.5 22.5 23.5