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Anthotypes – step by step instructions to making a print using plants

Writer and photography / Malin Fabbri

It is possible to print photographs using nothing but juice extracted from the petals of flowers, the peel from fruits and pigments from plants. We’ll show you how.

Rose petals used to make anthotype prints

What you need

You probably don’t need to go shopping before making an anthotype. All the tools you need can most likely be found by rummaging around in your kitchen.

  • Petals from a colorful flower, berries or other plant
  • Mortar and pestle or electric food blender
  • Glass container or ceramic bowl for mixing
ingredients
  • Water (distilled if possible) or alcohol
  • Cheesecloth, coffee filter, cotton cloth or very fine masked strainer
  • Brush
  • Art paper
  • Glass clip frame or a contact print frame
  • A large size positive (not negative) or items to make photograms
  • Sunshine

Good to have

  • Newspaper to cover work surface
  • Scissors
  • Rubber gloves
  • Apron or an old shirt
  • Cleaning cloth
Anthotype emulsion from black currant and lilacs
Emulsion from Black Currants will make a strong pink anthotype print whereas Lilacs will give you a more gentle anthotype print.

Step-by-step anthotyping

The anthotype process is made up of three steps. Making emulsion, preparing the canvas and printing. Before you start, cover your work surfaces. Put on your rubber gloves, an apron or an old shirt, cover the work area with old newspapers and you’re ready to go. Plant pigments can stain your work surface blue, red or green and turn your hands rainbow colored.

1Making emulsion – Grind, mash or mix the plant

An anthotype emulsion can be made from a large number of plants. There are plenty of plants to choose from. The book Anthotypes – Explore the darkroom in your garden and make photographs using plants has a huge directory with plants to choose from and you can also find examples in the anthotype galleries.
 
Pestle and mortar or mixer?
Using the mortar for petals is more economical, since a print can be produced using only one or two flowers. Using the mixer will require petals from a dozen flowers to make pulp. If the plants, leaves or berries are too dry, dilute them a little.

Diluters

Different diluters that can be used – with various result of course! My preferred choice is a few drops of alcohol.

  • Tap water
  • Purified water (Deionized water)
  • Denatured alcohol
  • Cheap vodka
  • Lighter fuel
  • Paraffin oil
  • Olive oil
  • Rapeseed oil
Pestle and mortar for making anthotypes
A pestle and mortar is good to use for anthotypes when you only have a few petals at hand.

Using pestle and mortar


Advantages

  • Needs only a few petals to make a print
  • Therapeutic
  • Strengthens arms
  • Quick and easy to clean

Disadvantages

  • Peel does not get into the mix, but is strained away
  • Your hands may blister
Blender or mixer for making anthotypes
Using a blender or mixer requires large quantities of petals. It’s better when using leaves and plants that are hard to grind by hand.

Using a blender


Advantages

  • Fast when making large batches
  • Includes pigments from the peel of berries

Disadvantages

  • Noisy
  • A lot of petals needed
  • Takes time to clean

 

Straining anthotype emulsion
Strain the anthotype emulsion, or you will have bits of peel or petal on your final print. Unless of course this is what you want!

Straining the emulsion

Once the soup is blended or crushed into pulp, strain it though a cheesecloth, a piece of cotton rag or a coffee filter. Once all the liquid has drained through, use a teaspoon to squeeze the excess liquid out, and then discard the pulp left in the filter. Make sure you wash the cloth thoroughly between different emulsions, or the emulsions may get “contaminated”, or use a new filter each time you strain.

2Preparing the canvas
Any paper that will hold the emulsion can be used. Since it will be out in the sun for a few days or even weeks, it is best to start with a sturdy paper. Try a medium or heavy weight watercolor paper before you start experimenting with other base supports. Once you are feeling more confident you can try coating and printing on any material that will hold the emulsion. Just remember that it will be exposed in the sun for quite a long time, so it shouldn’t be too fragile.
Always work in a dimly lit area, since any exposure to sunlight will destroy the color of the emulsion. Prepare a drying area in the dark before you start coating.

Dipping paper in anthotype emulsion
Dipping the print in the emulsion, rather than coating it on will create a more even coat and a stronger print.

Brushing or dipping?

Two ways of getting the emulsion onto the paper is brushing it on or dipping the paper, both adding different qualities to your final print. Coating with a brush will enable you to leave brush strokes on the paper, adding a handmade quality. Coating by dipping will give you a more even coat.

Exposing anthotypes
Exposure of an anthotype print is best done in the sun. It can take a few hours or a few weeks.

3Printing the anthotype

Objects or positives (not negatives, since most of the emulsions tend to lighten when exposed) are placed on the material to make a print. The anthotype is printed in the sun for a few days or several weeks.
The anthotype print develops as the rays of the sun destroys the color of the pigment, bleaching the print.
Each and every emulsion will need a different exposure time. Some emulsions need only a few hours to change color, some a few weeks. Corn poppy (Papaver rhoeas) will produce one of the most sensitive emulsions. Sir John Herschel found that the juice from merrygold and corchorus japonica was the fastest, changing color as rapidly as ten minutes in clear sunshine while Mrs Somerville found the juice from the dark red dahlia to be speedily changing colors.

5 anthotype photograms
Photograms made the classic way by placing plant material directly onto the paper, and sandwiching it there during the exposure. From left to right: Red oxeye daisy, Bellflower, Garden Lupin, Potato and Tulip by Malin Fabbri, 2008 and 2010.

The thousands of different plant emulsions will have various colorfastness, and the different strength the sun, depending on your season, weather and geographical location will also matter. One thing that can be said for certain, is that it is a matter of days or weeks, rather than minutes or hours. Patience is required.

No rinsing, fixing or other frills necessary. The print is ready to be hung on a wall and admired. But, be careful the wall the print is hung on is not exposed to the sun, or the darker areas of the print will start to fade too.

This is a short brief of how to make anthotype prints. If you want to explore this further, we strongly recommend the book Anthotypes – Explore the darkroom in your garden and make photographs using plants which has very detailed information, and also a gallery where over 100 different plants have been tested and rated. Good luck!


Malin Fabbri moved from Sweden to London to study, and earned an MA in Design at Central St. Martin’s. She has worked professionally with big media names in London, and has written two books on alternative photographic processes. In 1999 she began AlternativePhotography.com, and continues to be it’s editor.

Get the book on anthotypes
Ultimage guide to anthotypesAnthotypes – Explore the darkroom in your garden and make photographs using plants
by Malin Fabbri
 
Make prints using plants – an environmentally safe process! It is possible to print photographs using nothing but juice extracted from the petals of flowers, the peel from fruits and pigments from plants. This book will show you how it is done, and expand your creative horizons with plenty of examples from artists working with anthotypes today.
 
Strongly recommended for beginners and experts.

10 thoughts on “Anthotypes – step by step instructions to making a print using plants

  1. I just came across this website and this is good, good stuff. Thank you for taking the time to explain these processes! Alt processes are very interesting to me (having recently learned how to make tintypes). I’m looking forward to starting to make my own experiments!

  2. kann mich erinnern vor 20 oder mehr Jahren dieses Verfahren schon mal gemacht zu haben.
    Im laufe der Zeit habe ich es aber leider vergessen.Werde mich aber mal wieder daran machen und mein Glück versuchen.
    Danke für die Info

    lg. josef

  3. Hi everyone

    I have really enjoyed reading about the process of anthotypes, and I’m looking forward to experimenting with this natural photographic process. I just regret not reading it sooner and using all those fallen petals in my garden. I’m so happy to have found this site and am really enjoying learning about alternative photographic processes again.

    Many thanks

    Chrissie

  4. So I have had the idea of doing this for years and just never got around to trying it. I actually planned the whole process out in my head which was about the same as listed here but I did add a step in my head which I think could help with the color fastness and hopefully keep the prints from fading over time. The idea is borrowed from my knowledge of dyeing fabrics with vegetable dyes, where at the end of the process you add a mordant to keep the fabric from fading. These are pretty simple and can be made from ordinary kitchen ingredients like salt and vinegar. Here is a website with some basic info to begin with in case anyone wants to try that….
    http://www.tartansauthority.com/tartan/the-growth-of-tartan/tartan-production/colours-and-dyeing/kitchen-dyeing/
    I think adding something like this at the end of the printing process might fix the print, or at least hold it longer. I think it would work best with a rag or cotton fiber based paper or hell even printing directly onto fabric. Again I’m not sure how much it would protect the prints but it does a good job with fabric, so I’m thinking it couldn’t hurt with prints.

  5. Yes,I’ve also explored this route, using a mordant, but not been able to make it work. Applying more wet seems to destroy the print. Let me know if you can make it work, it would be very useful! 🙂

  6. @ Dylan: I found it’s better if it’s dry. When wet the negative can get stuck and the paper rips. The emulsion does of course start to change colour when wet as well.

  7. Would it be possible to print a photograph directly onto wood using only sunlight. Also would it be better it the wood was green, and fresh, or could it be done on seasoned wood and more or less scorched into the wood.

  8. @Sharon Crawford: I have not tried printing Anthotypes on wood. Please do try and let us know what you find out. I have printed cyanotypes this way and it works fine… 🙂

  9. I saw leaf anthotypes made by Professor Binh Danh and was hooked! I read the Anthotype book by Fabbri and I have been printing up a storm. I found hibiscus and calla lilly leaves to be the most responsive to leaf printing. Also, I have used several flowers and produced lovely soft images. It is a whole new process for me. Thank you for sharing the information.

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