Hand-Printing from Nature: Printing with Ink Pads and Felt Markers

Recreate the beauty of nature by hand-printing its designs into your daily life.

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by Adam Mastoon

Bring nature’s artistry into your home with ideas from Laura Bethmann’s Hand-Printing from Nature (Storey Publishing, 2011). Transfer the beauty of freshly gathered botanical treasures onto paper, pillows, chairs, draperies, clothing and even ceramics. The following how-to is from “Printing with Ink Pads and Felt Markers.”

Once I start working and the images begin appearing on the paper before me, the enchantment begins. I feel a little giddy. I get delirious over color, pattern, and things that grow. To be able to recreate a field of daylilies on a sheet of paper or design textiles with the patterns of pineapple rind or ginkgo leaves excites me. But it’s not all about the result, what I’ve made by the end of the day. Ask any artist why she works and she’ll tell you it’s about the process the doing.

Direct Printing

Nature prints are direct impressions of life. The natural object is printed, not a carved woodblock, photo silkscreen, or other printmaking technique that depicts the object. When direct printing, ink or paint is simply applied directly to the object and it is printed! We’re beginning with leaves and inks, but the basic process is the same for both inks and paints and whether you’re printing celery, starfish, or the little winged fruits (called samara) of maple trees. Throughout this book, specific methods and tips for handling and preparing a variety of natural objects are described, but for the basic printing techniques, refer back to this chapter as needed. You’ll find that printing pansies is relatively quick and straightforward whereas printing eggshells is more complex; and it’s a simple process to print one grape leaf rather than the whole vine. Therein, however, lie the challenge, the fun, and the potential for more spectacular results! As you practice these techniques and become familiar with the subtleties involved when hand printing nature, you’ll become like the pasta maker who can feel when the dough she’s kneading is ready to transform itself. Soon you’ll be creating a wide variety of expressive designs with a swift, knowing hand. To get started, use the pigments and materials you’re familiar with, and if you’ve never touched ink or paint before, begin with an ink pad and felt marker.

blue leaf print on paper with markers on the table

METHOD HOW-TO: Printing with Ink Pads and Felt Markers

This is probably the simplest, most accessible way to get acquainted with hand-printing nature. Using dabbers and brayers lets you have more control for combining colors and gives more options for printing a variety of natural objects, but pads and markers are great for making some quick and easy cards, envelopes, and gift wrap without having to set up a lot of supplies. Get a few leaves and try it!

Materials Checklist

• Ink pads in different colors
• Wide-tip and brush-tip felt markers
• Tweezers
• Newsprint, for test prints
• Cards, envelopes, or other papers, for printing
• Newsprint or paper towels, cut to size, for cover sheets
• Waxed paper or freezer paper cover sheets, cut to ink-pad size
• Flat, sturdy leaves with interesting shapes and textures

Printing with Ink Pads

person pressing a paper to an ink pad

1. Place the leaf, underside down, on the ink pad. Cover it with waxed or freezer paper to keep ink off your fingertips and press over the entire leaf. Look to see that ink is adhering to the leaf. Press again if needed, but don’t saturate it.

person using tweezers to pull a leaf off of an ink pad

2. Use tweezers to lift the leaf by the stem end, then place it inked-side down on a sheet of newsprint. Cover the leaf with a cover sheet and press with your fingertips or the heel of your hand.

small red inked leaf print on paper with a red leaf next to it and a red ink pad

3. Remove the cover sheet and pick up the printed leaf with tweezers. If the leaf details are masked from too much ink, make another print or two without re-inking.

Printing with Markers

person using a marker to color the back side of a leaf

1. Place the leaf, underside facing up, on newsprint or scrap paper. Anchor the leaf stem end with a fingertip from one hand while coloring the leaf with the other. Draw the marker from the base of the leaf up toward the tip and from the center rib to the outer edges. Work only in one direction, not back and forth. The ink dries quickly, so go over the leaf a couple of times.

2. Use tweezers to place the leaf, inked-side down, on paper. Cover it with a cover sheet and press with your fingertips or the heel of your hand For a watercolor effect, use a moist (not dripping) soft brush and briefly drag it over the inked leaf just before printing. Try this also when using two colors (for example, light green and blue) to quickly blend the colors.

book cover with stamped plants on the front

Reprinted with permission from Hand-Printing from Nature by Laura Bethmann. Photography by Adam Mastoon. Published by Storey Publishing, 2011.

  • Updated on Nov 10, 2021
  • Originally Published on Dec 16, 2015
Tagged with: crafts, hand-printing, ink, nature, stamp