Trip report: Portland, Maine

contact printing class

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!


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