About the Art - Nature Printing

Plant Printing

Plant printing techniques in which ink is applied directly to the subject evolved during the 1400s in renaissance Europe, in response to the need to produce accurate illustrations of herbs and medicinal plants. Major improvements in the direct method were made during the 1700 and 1800s by Austrian and English printmakers. The fidelity of detail achieved during this period with subjects such as algae, ferns, flowers, snakeskins, bat wings, lace and even polished agates has never been surpassed.

Nature printing was introduced into the American colonies during the 1700s. Prints of leaves were commonly used to illustrate regional floras and were used on paper money to prevent counterfeiting. By the late 1800s, the invention of the halftone process and the advent of photography brought the golden age of nature printing in the Western world to a close. The techniques, which held such unique possibilities, were all but lost and forgotten until their revival over the past 50 years.

Sources of additional plant printing information are available through the Nature Printing Society website.

Fish Printing

Japanese fish printing, or gyotaku was first done in the mid-1800s in Japan to celebrate fishes caught for a samurai lord’s feast.  The techniques were probably developed from old Chinese stone rubbing techniques dating back 2000 years.  In the past 50 years, artists in Japan and elsewhere have refined these techniques into a sophisticated art form.  The combination of the importance both of seafood and printmaking in Japan make this art form widely known.  I was drawn to gyotaku in the 1970s by my passion for fish and interest in art.

There are two primary fish printing techniques.  The direct method involves brushing or rolling ink (water soluble) directly onto a fish or other object.  Paper or fabric is then laid over the top of the fish and the ink is transferred with gentle rubbing with one’s fingers. For more details see the Japanese fish printing leaflet attached to this website.

The indirect method is similar to a rubbing.  Paper or fabric is placed over the fish and then moistened with water.  The paper or fabric is gently molded to the fish and allowed to dry.  Oil-based inks are then applied with cotton-filled silk tampos. For more details on  the indirect method, see the Nature Printing Society website.