Friday, November 7, 2014

Collecting Phragmites Australis Subp. Australis

It's official. I have now turned into one of those crazy people you see collecting plants on the side of the road, though I am proud to have joined their ranks. I just got back from collecting a HUGE bin full of Phragmites australis subp. australis, pictured above. This time I collected newer plants whose stalks weren't as thick in hopes that they'll be easier to chop and I won't have to spend so much time at the blender. I should have enough for a steady stream of paper-making this winter. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Two Prints for Donation to Michigan Nature Association

I just finished these two prints, newly transferred and still wet, for the Michigan Nature Association's Silent Auction to Benefit Environmental Education this Friday at the Kellogg Center. Click here for tickets and more information about the event. (Sorry for the horrible picture.)

The images are shadows of cream wild indigo (Baptisia leucophaea) and shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia), transferred onto paper made from Phragmites australis subsp. australis

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Exhibit at Gallery Karahashi in Otsu, Japan

Here are some pictures from the exhibit at Gallery Karahashi (ギャラリー唐橋)which runs September 19th – 30th, 2014. Thank you Tomoko Hirao and Takayuki Fukuyama for making such lovely frames for my prints! And a big thank you to all who helped hang the show!


Monday, September 8, 2014

Exhibits in Japan Opening Next Week

The exhibits for the Art from the Lakes exchange program open next week in Shiga, Japan. I'm so grateful to Takayuki Fukuyama and Tomoko Hirao for allowing me to send my work even though I will not be traveling to Japan with the other Michigan artists due to health issues.

The work arrived safely, which was a huge relief!

If you or anyone you know happens to be in Japan during the month of September, please pass along this information regarding the Art from the Lakes exhibitions. There is also a nice article written about the program here.

September 19th – 30th, 2014
Gallery Karahashi (ギャラリー唐橋)
Otsu, Japan

September 21st - 28th, 2014
Fujii Honke (藤居本家)
Aisho Town, Japan

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Final Prints for Japan

These are the ten prints I'm sending to Japan this week for the exhibition in September. They are matted, packed up, and ready to go! There were no guesses in response to my last post on what plants they were, so I'm divulging their names below.

compass plant (Silphium laciniatum) on Phragmites australis subsp. australis paper 

cream wild indigo (Baptisia leucophaea) on Phragmites australis subsp. australis paper 

prairie smoke (Geum triflorum) on Phragmites australis subsp. australis paper 

prairie trillium (Trillium recurvatum) on Phragmites australis subsp. australis paper 

shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia) on Phragmites australis subsp. australis paper 

spiderwort (Tradescantia bracteata) on Phragmites australis subsp. australis paper 

rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium) on Phragmites australis subsp. australis paper 

virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) on Phragmites australis subsp. australis paper 

cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum) on Phragmites australis subsp. australis paper 

cream wild indigo (Baptisia leucophaea) on common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) paper

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Successful Transfers!

I was praying to the gel transfer gods today as I made these five transfers onto phragmites paper. There's little room for error when you've got few remaining pieces of paper and an approaching deadline. They're still a bit wet in this picture, but I'm so happy how they turned out. Any guesses to what plants they are??? Three are threatened species and two are endangered. Post a comment below with your answer.

Monday, June 30, 2014

New Mould & Deckle

I'm making Phragmites paper today using a brand new Lee McDonald Co. mould and deckle. A BIG thank you to Lee for processing this custom order as he isn't really in the business of making small frames anymore. And another HUGE thank you to Karen O'Neal for lending me hers over the past year. Since I'll be at this for another year or more, I decided it was time to purchase my own.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Flowers to Photograph and Paper to Make!

Between a trip to Yellowstone, my son's end of the school year activities, and a trip up north, I've been squeezing in visits to the Beal Garden at MSU to capture the shadows of blooming plants. It seems there are at least one or two plants per week that I am chasing. And of course, the conditions have to be just right - bright sunlight either in the early morning or late afternoon to get a side shadow, and not too much wind. It's not too much to ask, right?

In the last two weeks I've photographed Prairie golden alexander (Zizia aptera), Prairie smoke (Geum triflorum), Lakeside daisy (Hymenoxys herbacea), Spiderwort (Tradescantia bracteata), and Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis).

I've also been collecting invasive Dame's Rocket (Hesperis matronalis), which is growing right down the road from our neighborhood. So now it's time to make more paper. I need to have 10 good pieces of paper onto which I can transfer 10 shadow images for the September exhibit in Japan. The finished pieces need to arrive in Shiga by mid-August, so I have a lot of work ahead of me!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Shooting Star & Cream Wild Indigo

Today I was fortunate to once again visit the Welsch Nature Preserve to photograph the shadows of two endangered plant species: shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia) and cream wild indigo (Baptisia leucophaea). Thank you Clifford Welsch for pointing them out to me! Their shadows were easy to capture in the bright sun, but I also snapped the images below to help me identify them again later.

The prairie looked completely different from last time I visited. Not much was above a foot high and only a few species were blooming. However, Clifford assured me that come July, the prairie would be filled with plants and bursting with color.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) on Invasive Phragmites Paper

Finally, a successful transfer onto a smooth piece of phragmites paper that is exhibition-worthy!

Last week I was having trouble making transfers onto the finer pulped phragmites paper. The fibers of the paper kept peeling up every time I removed the transparency paper. So I posted my dilemma to the Digital Art Studio Seminar group on Facebook and received the wonderful suggestion of spraying the paper with Krylon Preserve It before doing the transfer. Thank you to the wonderful person who made this suggestion, as I was about to start pulling out my hair!

This shadow of the cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum), which is threatened in Michigan, was taken at the W. J Beal Botanical Garden at Michigan State University.

Friday, May 2, 2014

A Trip to the W.J. Beal Botanical Garden & Fenner Nature Center

Today has been a busy day. I stopped off to visit the Endangered and Threatened Species Garden at MSU to see what's starting to pop. There are three plants with buds that will bloom in the next few weeks: Twin leaf (special concern), Jacob's ladder (threatened), and Prairie trillium (threatened).

Virginia bluebells (endangered) is already in bloom, so as soon as the sun comes out I'll go back with my professional camera to capture their shadows.

I was lucky to once again run into Hope, a botanical technician at the gardens. She has been a huge help in both pointing out where the plants are and in helping me identify and collect Common buckthorn. While she was showing me the Canadian burnet plant, I caught sight of this wonderful creature out of the corner of my eye. Hope said she'd been there for a few weeks now sitting on her nest. We were standing within 5 feet of her and she didn't move a muscle.

Afterwards, I made my way over to Fenner Nature Center in Lansing where Program Manager Katie Woodhams walked me down a trail to point out Garlic mustard, an invasive plant and one of the biggest threats to Michigan's native woodlands. Once we had identified it, I started seeing it everywhere. I pulled plants for about an hour and now have enough to try my hand at making Garlic mustard paper. I'm going to use the whole plant, roots and all. I've been told it will smell a lot better in the pot than the other plants I've worked with.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Michigan Nature Association and a Request for Plant Locations

Sunday afternoon I was honored to give a presentation about my project at the Michigan Nature Association's annual meeting at the Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids. What a beautiful park and day it was! It was great to hear about all the wonderful work MNA is doing to care for their more than 170 nature sanctuaries across Michigan and about their additional land acquisitions over the past year. If you are not already a member, please take the time to learn more about this wonderful organization at

After the meeting, I received several suggestions from MNA members on where to find endangered and threatened plant species that are soon to bloom. I am anxious and ready to start photographing the shadows of as many threatened and endangered plant species as I can. My short term goal is to collect at least 10 images of plant shadows (10 different plants) for two art exhibitions in Japan this September. The transferred prints need to be completed and ready to ship in July. The long term goal is to collect at least 25 images of plant shadows for an exhibition in 2016, but I'll post more on that later.

If you would like to participate in this project by suggesting where I can find and photograph endangered and threatened plant species, you can contact me through this blog or at More specifically, if you know of a plant that is blooming and are willing to share its location, I would be very grateful! I'm ready and willing to travel. :)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Prairie False Indigo on Invasive Buckthorn Paper

This sheet of paper was made after giving the buckthorn pulp another round of chopping in the blender. The paper came out a bit finer in texture. I was also finally able to produce a clearer transferred image due to drying one side of the paper on acrylic, which gives it a smoother surface for printing. It looks like I'll be collecting more buckthorn in the coming weeks.

The image is the shadow of the seed pods on a white or prairie false indigo (Baptisia lactea) plant that I photographed back in November at Welsch Nature Preserve. The status of white indigo is "special concern", meaning that it is rare (or uncertain) but not legally protected.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Common Buckthorn Paper

It looked a lot better before it dried. :)

This is my first attempt at making paper from the invasive plant common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica). I dried one side on acrylic to make it smoother and even tried an image transfer, but I'll spare you that picture. It came out a lot rougher than I thought it would considering how smooth the pulp had felt. I'm going to throw this piece and the rest of the pulp back into the blender and give it all another chop. As I predicted, each plant is going to require a new learning curve both in processing and image transfers. Back to the drawing board.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Invasive Buckthorn Pulp

I finally had a chance to cook and chop the strips of inner bark from invasive buckthorn which have been sitting in my laundry room for the past few months. I was curious if the pulp would be orange or green, but the answer was immediately clear as soon as I added the cuttings to the boiling water. The water turned a dark reddish orange within minutes. Unlike phragmites, the strips blended easily and created a nice smooth pulp the first time around - one boil, one chop. It was a great relief as I am now on my THIRD boiling of a stubborn pot of phragmites. Anyway, I made two pieces of buckthorn paper which are now drying on a sheet of acrylic so that one side is very smooth. We'll see if it holds together and how it takes an image transfer before I collect any more. I'll post a picture as soon as the sheets are dry.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

More Phragmites Pulp

I tried to make more paper last week out of phragmites, but found that I wasn't getting enough pulp to cover the screen as I lifted it from the water - a clear sign that more pulp is needed. So I've spent a lot of time this week processing the last batch of dried phragmites collected last fall. (Note to self - next time you collect phragmites, separate the outer stalks from the inner stalks BEFORE you cut it into pieces.) As a result of not doing this the first time around, I've spent a lot of time picking through all the cuttings and pulling out the tough inner stalks as they don't break down no matter how many times I boil and chop them.

The whole phragmites process is time-consuming. It's not bad...just slow. First I boil the cuttings for 2-3 hours. Then I rinse it all and chop it in a blender. Then I boil it again for another 2-3 hours, rinse again, and then finally I chop it once more until it becomes a fine, consistent pulp. 

Picture 1 - cuttings after one boil. Picture 2 - cuttings after a boil and one time through the blender. 
Picture 3 - cuttings after a boil, a blend, another boil, and a final blend. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Transfer Trials

I started testing photo transfers on my homemade paper. This is an image of the shadow of Cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum), a threatened plant species in Michigan, transferred onto paper made from the invasive plant Phragmites.

Here is the first transfer I made. I saturated the front and back of the paper with alcohol gel. As you can see, I used too much. The ink started running and bleeding through to the back of the paper, giving the image a blotchy appearance. NOT good. Also, I dried this piece of paper between two sheets of cotton and the wrinkles in the cotton made creases in the paper. My next experiment will be to dry the paper on Plexiglass so that it dries smoother on one side.

For the second run, I used less gel and applied it only to the top side of the paper. This time the image came out a lot cleaner. However, I spread the gel starting on the left and didn't get as much gel on the right side of the paper. This resulted in gaps in the ink. There are small gaps on the left as well, but this is due to the texture of the paper. Actually, I don't mind this as it gives the image an airy, ephemeral appearance and it works nicely with the theme of the project. Though I do think I can make the paper a bit smoother.

My husband took some pictures for me during the second transfer run. I should add here that I'm a bit embarrassed by the quality of all the images on this blog. I can only concentrate on one thing at a time and right now it's the paper-making process. My cheap point-and-shoot and iPhone will have to suffice.

Back to the process. The first step in the transfer process is printing a reverse image of the plant shadow onto special transparency film. I added a strip of painter's tape to one side of the transparency film so that my Epson 2400 inkjet printer would be able to read and pull it through.

I then applied Purell hand sanitizer to the paper and spread it first with my handy Pampered Chef scraper (which I had never used until now) and then with a brayer until the paper was completely covered. I now know that it's better to apply it to the top end of the paper and spread it downwards to spread it faster and more evenly. Gloves are worn because the gel sanitizer starts to liquify when you touch it and you don't want it to liquify until it makes contact with the transfer film.

The next step is placing the transparency film (ink side down) onto the paper, starting at one edge to avoid trapping air and causing bubbles.

A brayer is then used to apply pressure to the transparency film to release the ink. You roll it for about 1 minute and then gently remove the film. I actually lifted it up a little and put it back down a few times so I could roll it again to get more ink into the gaps, but because of the texture of the paper it just wouldn't absorb in some places.

I first learned the alcohol gel process from Melinda Pope at LCC and was immediately inspired. Later I was referred a book on photo transfers called Digital Alchemy by Bonny Pierce Lhotka. Bonny sells a transparency film which she developed specifically for this and other transfer processes. It's called DASS Transfer Film and it's available at I purchased this film for the project and so far it has worked wonderfully!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

I....have made...PAPER!!!!

I feel like Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away after he builds his first fire.

I took a Hand Made Paper class this past weekend with Karen O'Neal at Lansing Art Gallery. It was an amazing class and a much needed confidence builder. I showed Karen the paper I had made out of phragmites (pictured in my last post) and she suggested maybe I hadn't cooked the stalks long enough before blending. She actually liked the paper, but we both agreed that it might be too rough to transfer an image onto the way I was envisioning. Anyway, I'm going to throw it back into the pot and give it another go in the coming weeks.

I had called Karen prior to the class to tell her of my paper woes, so she went ahead and brought me some of her own phragmites mixture to play with during the class. She's awesome! It gave me the perfect opportunity to both see what the pulp should look like and to give it a test run under ideal circumstances. Whenever I ran into a problem, she was there to answer my questions and give guidance. It was simply wonderful! I made eight pieces of paper with which I can begin to experiment the photo transfers onto.

THANK YOU KAREN FOR ALL YOUR HELP, INSIGHT, AND ENCOURAGEMENT! If anyone wants to learn how to make paper, Karen teaches both private and group classes at her studio, Out of Hand Papermaking Studio, in Ann Arbor. She's a great teacher, passionate about the process and about sharing it with others!

Saturday, January 25, 2014


My husband thinks it looks like a door mat.

Over the last week, I've attempted to break down the phragmites stalks even more in the blender, but I was unsuccessful. So I decided to go ahead and make a sheet of paper anyway. Result: door mat. Later today I'll see paper artist Karen O'Neal and I'm hoping she can give me some guidance as to how to improve on this first run of phragmites paper.

Meanwhile, I'm prepping the buckthorn I collected along the river at Michigan State. I'm starting to realize that paper artists are an extremely patient group of people. That or I'm doing it wrong. I borrowed my husband's Swiss army knife and have been cutting away strips of bark from the branches (below). I've learned that any branch smaller than an inch in diameter is basically useless. On the other hand, anything bigger than 2 inches is tough and doesn't strip as well. (Good to know for my next collection outing.)

After I've removed the strips of bark from the branches, I then peel the outer bark away from the inner bark by hand. I could use both the inner and outer bark in my paper, but because I'm transferring an image onto it, I need it to be lighter in color and the outer bark will only make it darker. Again, this is a lot easier with strips from bigger branches. It's also a lot easier to separate these two layers within an hour of cutting them when they are still relatively moist. The pieces I had left out overnight had dried too much and were difficult to remove so I had to add a third step of soaking them in water in order to peel them.

My pile of inner bark is getting bigger, slowly but surely. I'm optimistic this paper will turn out better than the phragmites paper as the fibers are already easily coming apart even in the stripping process. My blender should have no problem chopping it all up. I can't wait to see if the paper will be more green or orange in color.