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Turn over a new leaf ... printing cards, clothing, art.

TURNING OVER A NEW leaf takes on an entirely different meaning after a visit with Betty Auchard. The Los Gatos, California, artist has discovered a world of intricate beauty on the undersides of leaves. When she finds one with intriguing form, she paints it with watercolor or acrylic paint, then presses it onto paper or fabric to make elegantly detailed prints.

She turns the paper prints into note cards, stationery, and framable art; fabric prints become clothing, pillows, quilts, aprons, and bags. Though the prints look sophisticated, they're easy enough for young children to do. It's an eye-opening process: once you start looking at leaves, you'll be surprised at the diversity in something that seems so familiar.


A collection of fresh, supple leaves is the starting point, but you'll need other supplies as well: a set of transparent watercolors, one 3/4-inch flat brush, a quart-size heavy plastic bag cut into two pieces at seams, a roll of paper towels, a small container for water, and a spray bottle of glass cleaner. We also used water-base metallic paints to print on dark paper. Use acrylic paint or fabric paint on cloth.

Paper should have a smooth, absorbent surface. Start with heavy writing paper, blank postcards, or cutup manila envelopes, then experiment with other kinds of paper. Our examples include smooth blotter paper, colored charcoal paper, and stiffer (3-ply) paper. Avoid papers with slick surfaces.


Leaves must be clean. A surprising number have a water-repellent coating. Test each leaf by painting it with water; if the water beads up, dry the leaf and spray it with glass cleaner. Pat the leaf dry and test again. For stubborn leaves, rub on a drop of liquid detergent, then rinse.

Leaf printing is a mildly messy process that requires constant cleanup. Work on a smooth, nonabsorbent surface that wipes clean easily (a laminate or composite counter or a sheet of acrylic will work). After making each print, wipe all the surfaces that have come in contact with the paint.

For your first prints, work with a single tone of water-color paint; later you can try using several colors on the same leaf. For thin, soft colors, start with a puddle of clear water, then dab in a little color. The pigment will barely show when you paint the leaf, but it will transfer.

Use the flat brush to apply the paint to the leaf's under-side, barely wetting the brush. If you use too much paint, it will run when you apply pressure. When the leaf back is completely covered, carefully place the painted side down on the paper. Once the leaf is in place, hold it with a finger as you overlay the heavy plastic sheet. To print, press down but do not rub; that makes paint run. Try substituting a paper towel for the plastic--it quickly absorbs paint that escapes from under the leaf--but use it only once to avoid staining other paper.

After each print, wipe the plastic clean, pat excess paint from the leaf onto a paper towel, and clean your work surface. When leaves are not in use, keep them submerged in a tray of clean water. Store them in a zip-lock plastic bag in the refrigerator.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Whiteley, Peter O.
Date:May 1, 1993
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