The Natural Collection Through Collagraph Printmaking: Part 1

Reader Contribution by Barbara Hengstenberg
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I’m always searching for ways to see — really notice — the natural world. Some of my most relaxing, meditative times have been in the midst of nature, and paying attention with all of my senses. When I walk outside, I love to feel barks, grasses, mosses, rocks. I enjoy listening to the wind in the trees, birdsong, water lapping on a shoreline. The smells of spring, especially right before a rainstorm, the crisp smell of winter or the fragrance of fresh cut grass and our southern magnolia blossoms.

One way to capture the signs and textures of nature, as well as memories, is to collect all sorts of pieces of the natural world and use them in artful collagraph printmaking plates. Collagraph print plates are made by gluing items to a thick paperboard, cardboard or wood plate to be used in creating prints. I use these plates create artwork, notecards, book covers and writing paper.

Arts and Crafts for Kids

Collagraph printmaking can also be a fun art project for kids to work on. Children love to hunt for pieces of nature. Imagine their delight in creating colorful prints of their treasures. This can be a project just for fun, or it can be used as an educational project, such as leaf identification, shapes and patterns identification or part of a lesson on senses.

Collection of Nature

Start by searching for beautifully shaped leaves (especially those with deep vein patterns), ferns, stems, chunks of bark, grasses…anything with interesting patterning. I once created a plate using fresh lavender. Once I started the printing process, the fragrance of lavender permeated the room.

Beware of using any material that is too thick. For instance, if a thick chunk of bark is affixed to the plate, the thinner materials on the plate will print lighter, if at all.

Also, think about the variety of places where you might collect your materials. In order to use this printing exercise as a way to fully appreciate nature, spend time collecting. Pay attention to this part of the process. Maybe you’ll search for special bits of nature to remind you of a festive family picnic. Collect nature’s remains on your daily walk. Use stems and flowers from a special bouquet. A visit to the seashore might provide a few strips of seaweed and blades of sea grass as a reminder of a relaxing vacation. The possibilities are endless.


To add to the texture of your plates, save scraps of mesh bags such as those from the grocery store that contain avocados and lemons. Keep a stash of sheets of sandpaper, bits of yarns, fabric swatches, torn pieces of corrugated cardboard — really, anything with a textured surface. In fact, hold on to cardboard shipping boxes, as the flat sides can be used for the plate to which you will affix your treasures.


Next, spread your collection out on a table. Decide how large of a print plate you plan to create. Are you making small notecards or larger art prints? Cut the cardboard plate to fit whatever size your choose.

Take the time to contemplate and feel the bits and pieces in your collection. How can you put some of your collection onto your cardboard plate to make an interesting composition? What I especially enjoy about collagraph printing is that once I’ve applied paint and have pressed my print, the final product is usually a surprise. So be open to experimenting and the unknown outcome of this project.

I can’t decide which I enjoy more: the process of being present in nature, and finding the patterns and textures to use in future prints, or creating art from nature. In Part 2, we will go step-by-step through the process of creating a collagraph plate and a series of prints from the plate. Meantime, enjoy the process of collecting mindfully.

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