Wednesday, January 12, 2011
I've been seeing some beautiful botanical prints lately that I'd love to somehow reproduce (in spirit, if not in detail). I've only marginal drawing skills, but Mother Nature herself offers an ideal way to bring the silhouettes of ferns and other plants into our homes without having to render their likenesses in pencil - pressing plants. It couldn't be more straightforward, and there are infinite ways to mount and frame your finished product - but I've got a few tips to help people along.
This was a gift for my mother, and originally I'd meant to press hydrangeas, her favorite flower, but I had trouble getting the incredibly dense mopheads to spread flat and display all their blossoms. Ferns are ideal for pressing because they're so flat and their silhouettes so striking.
Step 1: Press the ferns
Gather up specimens of whatever species you like - mine are some sort of wood fern or shield fern, and came from my parents' yard.
Lay out several layers of newspaper on the floor or a table, and cover with a few sheets of white tissue paper. Lay your ferns on top, arranging them so that they don't touch. Cover with more tissue paper and several more sheets of newsprint. Place heavy books on top, and leave it all alone for three to four weeks.
When it's time to uncover the plants, just peel them carefully off the trace paper and store them flat.
Step 2: Mount the ferns
I mounted my ferns on archival, ivory-colored 4-ply museum board, using pH-neutral glue. You don't want acid or chemicals in any of your mounting materials to accelerate the ferns' decomposition. (I assume that, over the years, the ferns will begin to crumble a bit, and eventually need replacing - but honestly, who knows? Certainly not I.)
Determine what frames you'll use, and cut your board appropriately.
Lay the ferns out on the boards in a pleasing way, and use tiny dabs of glue to adhere the ferns at the top, middle, and bottom of their woody stems. Then go back and glue the large fronds into place; otherwise they'll sag a bit as they hang.
I used India Ink and Speedball #103 steel pen tips to write labels on the boards (guessing wildly at the species of the fern specimens), as well as the date and location where I'd collected them.
Step 3: frame the ferns
I used two 20" x 24" wood frames that I bought at Binders (a Scoutmob coupon came in handy). You can also find well-priced, high-quality frames at Pottery Barn and West Elm (as well as the same frames, much lower-priced, at Pottery Barn Kids). Pottery Barn frames have the advantage of coming with frame spacers, which put space between your artwork and the frame's glass.
I found a great product that I used instead - a very inexpensive self-adhesive plastic spacer that comes in a variety of depths (I used 1/4" Econospacers). The website looks intimidating, like it's meant only for wholesale ordering, but if you call the number, you'll get the inventor of the product on the phone, and he'll be happy to send you a minimum order of one foot! I believe the cost for 1/4" is $0.65 per foot.
(You'll need to make sure that the frame you've chosen is deep enough to fit the spacers.)
Just adhere the spacers to the edges of your board, making sure the top spacer runs the full width of the board, so that it's supported by the vertical spacers below it, in case the adhesive eventually fails. Then stick your board into the frame, close it up, and throw it on a wall! Or make your mom cry on Christmas.
(Note - I was a little worried about the longevity of the dried ferns. But the framed ferns have been assembled for about three months now, and they haven't lost any more color than what they initially lost when I pressed them; they're still a fairly vivid dark green. I don't doubt that they'll eventually decay over the years, but the mounted ferns themselves are so inexpensive that I won't mind replacing them a couple of times a decade. And they may hold up better than I expect.
Also - my dad used self-leveling picture-hangers to mount the frames to the wall, but the stress cause the top of the frame to bow up, so it looks like the spacer is sagging. I think we're going to have to re-hang them, stringing wire from the back of the frame to reduce the stress on the wood. Your method will depend on your walls and the type of frame you use.)