Organic Designs

Create your own organic designs on t-shirts, aprons, and wrapping paper using inked slices of fruits and vegetables.
By Junita Browne
July/August 1980
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Modeling a shirt stamped with organic designs.
PHOTO: JUANITA BROWNE
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Take a chunk of apple, half a squash, a hunk of mushroom, a sliver of cucumber, and a slice of onion ... what do you have? Well, most folks would consider such an array of ingredients to be either the start of a compost pile or the basis of a very unusual summer salad! But if you slap a little acrylic paint onto those pieces of produce, you can—even if you've never been able to draw a straight line—try your hand applying organic designs to textiles.

The idea isn't new. It's been around since the North American Indians used natural materials and dyes to stamp decorations on their bodies, clothing, and tools. And you can probably remember the old school trick of cutting out a simple design on a potato, inking it, and printing the pattern on paper (or on your nearest school chum).

Nature Patterns

By taking advantage of the natural artwork found in the middle of fruits and vegetables and in the veins and outlines of leaves and flowers, you can print some interesting motifs on T-shirts, jeans, curtains, aprons, window shades, wrapping paper, walls ... or on most anything you can reach that doesn't fight back. A set of small tubes of acrylic paint (enough to print several T-shirts) shouldn't cost much more than $5.00, and—for patterns—you can use anything from apples to zucchini ... so available designs will be limited only by the season.

Take the time, then—whenever you cut open a fruit or vegetable—to rediscover that the beauty of such edibles is more than skin deep. Look at the delicate lines in a cross section of cucumber, or the concentric rings of an onion. Slice a crookneck squash lengthwise ... does it remind you of a dandified penguin or a dancing dinosaur? A rhubarb leaf print resembles a magnificent miniature tree, and half of a mushroom topped with a slice of cucumber looks like a flower in a pot. Pieces of onion, lemon, and zucchini can be combined to make interesting border designs, and halves of apples and asparagus look exactly like ... apples and asparagus!

How to Proceed

After you've picked out the types of greens and groceries you want to use, slice them (varying your designs by cutting through the top, bottom, or middle of the fruits and vegetables) and let the sections dry for about an hour. During this time, they'll shrink slightly and their internal patterns will become more distinct.

Cover your work space, then place several sheets of newsprint or paper towel between the layers of the to-be-printed T-shirt or what have you ... so that the ink can't penetrate from one side to the other.

Next, mix your colors on pieces of aluminum foil, and fill several containers—such as paper or plastic cups—with water for thinning the paint and rinsing the bushes. Be sure to keep paper towels or rags handy, too, for cleaning up hands and spills.

Now, daub a little acrylic on your "stamp" with a small brush, then press the coated side down, firmly, on a piece of scrap paper. If your experimental print is too light, add more paint to your printing piece. If you get nothing but a blob, wipe off the excess coloring and try again.

To make an imprint of a leaf, apply the pigment just to its underside ... where the veins are more prominent. Then, carefully, place the painted side down on your test paper, put a clean paper towel over the leaf, and rub it gently. After a little practice you'll learn the a proper amount of acrylic to use and the pressure needed, to get two or three clear prints from each coat of paint. At that point, you're ready to start printing on material.

The Grand Design

If you're the tidy type, you'll probably want to measure and then mark (with a pencil) the precise spacings for each print. (The most foolproof method is to work on the borders first, and to use one color and one design at a time.) But if you lean more toward abstract art, just plop the stencils on in an inspired, random pattern.

You can create a variety of designs by letting one color dry and then overprinting with a hue that contrasts or harmonizes. Select shades that are either natural or nonsense: Stick to red apples and yellow lemons, if that's your style ... or print a blue onion over an orange one. If the acrylic paints are watered down enough when applied—and allowed to dry thoroughly—your prints will be flexible, permanent, and washable.

So go ahead! Be the first brave soul in your neighborhood to "Stamp Out Fruits and Vegetables"


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