There is a very brief moment in New England where the snow melts, the ground melts as well, but slower, and the earth is covered with water; running down hillsides, filling and over-filling rivers and ponds, spreading into glinting puddles in fields before they can be tilled.
Before the water can completely consume the landscape, the ground melts, and the surface water sinks in to be ground water, or flows down the tilted landscape to the ocean. At the moment the water begins to disappear, the green begins. Trees standing with their roots still covered by water start pushing the first sprightly bits of color. The first green is so intoxicating – these absurd flashes of chartreuse and brilliant reds at the very tips of the branches.
I thought I needed more brown fabrics, but in fact, what I needed was to organize and dig through the fabrics I actually own. I found this array of browns and tans, some with gold – I was particularly hoping for brown with gold so it was gratifying to find these pieces.
Then I finished getting the colors down for the spring river piece, and starting stitching on the fields. The outrageous thunderstorm last night prompted an outburst of blossoms and baby leaves all over the trees, so I need to get moving on this to catch the part of spring I am thinking about.
This past weekend I ran away from home. I did not answer my phone or stay with family or friends, I just went away. It was lovely!
What took me to Portland was a class by an online friend, Velma Bolyard. I’ve been following her blog since I started mine in 2007, and we’ve emailed privately and sent actual objects back and forth. I leapt at the chance to see her in person, and to see what she had to say about contact printing using foraged materials and metals.
The class was held at the Southern Maine University Portland campus, in a beautiful new building. It was organized by someone with extensive background in book arts and paper who also possessed a sturdy capacity to organize. The day went beautifully.
Contact printing is far simpler than I expected. The process consists entirely of three steps: collect, arrange and cook. Foraging is used loosely to indicate it does not matter where you find the material. I pulled leaves off trees, ferns out from under my house and fungus from a neighbor’s log. One woman brought all her old spices and dried food, several people brought seaweed and other local flora. And THEN we all traded around.
Placing the material on the paper was not so hard as folding the paper to keep all the bits inside. Once the paper was folded around the plant material, it was clipped onto pieces of flat metal. The combination of metal (mostly iron and copper, in the form of can lids and pipes but also a big handful of pennies) and plants would color the paper in all kinds of unexpected and interesting ways. One of the most coveted metal pieces was a flattened box grater – all the holes made compelling patterns on the paper. My best find was a bottle-cap that had been in a parking lot over the winter. It made a great little corrugated circle on one side and a rusty blob on the other.
From there, you just boil it for a while. You could steam it too. But really – an hour or so, and we fished out the wrapped bundles of paper and unwrapped them and found these beautiful colors and shapes. If control matters to you, and you want a particular outcome, this might not be so gratifying. If you are willing to explore the garden, freezer and grocery store with an open mind, there is some good fun to be had!