I started my leaf printing journey more than a decade ago, using plants from my own garden and synthetic textile paints along with procion mx dyes. Before long I became more aware of the impact that dyes and paints have on our environment, and started looking for ways to color my fabrics without using salts, and other chemicals. Working with natural dyes are not only more satisfying from an environmental point of view, but I love the subtle shades of color—something that was almost impossible to achieve with the synthetic equivalent.
Figuring out how to make a natural "paint" has been a longer process. During the past months I have successfully printed with dyes thickened with tragacanth gum, which is a natural gum extracted from the Middle Eastern legume Astragulus. Besides as a dye thickener, the gum is also used in leather tanning, artist pastels, and in cake decorations.
I start with a highly concentrated dye solution that is mixed with the gum powder in a blender. The resulting paint or paste will keep for a few weeks if refrigerated. In my experiments I used walnut and logwood for my dye bases. I normally don't use exotic dye materials in my work, but this time I was looking for a strong black and found that logwood was the best match. I bought the extract from Aurora Silk, who guarantees that their exotic dyes are harvested in a sustainable manner.
It takes some experimentation to get the right consistency of the paint, which sometimes tend to be a bit gelatin like and slick. I used my two paint batches for leaf prints, block prints, stamps, and silk screen prints. I am thrilled by the result —after curing, steam heating, and washing the colors are still strong and crisp. If any of you have more insights about printing using natural gum bases I would love to hear from you. For now the few synthetic paints I still have are gathering dust in my basement cupboard...