Dye prints with Dartmoor summer plant material.

My dear friend, ex-OCA student and total guru on all things Dartmoor, Julia saw my plea for info on FB about the plant samples I had collected outside HMP Dartmoor and sent me this:

Row 1  hawkweed or hawkbit / willowherb (Epilobium) / dock (Rumex)
Row 2 Redshank (Polygonum persica) / either buckler or male fern / polypody fern (polypodium vulgare
Row 3 blackberry (Rubus) / hogweed (heracleum) probably / cotoneaster I think!
Row 4 Polystrichum moss probably / Knapweed (centaurea nigra) / either bent grass or meadow grass – at a guess!

in response to this:

Dye specimens 144dpi  .png
Figure 1



for which I shall be eternally grateful.

Apart from the plant material I also collected some soil for my print making.

This is the view from the entrance to HMP Dartmoor which has the trees from which I gathered my material and my monthly leaves (to the right).

View from the gates of HMP D 2000px  .jpg
Figure 2


Making the dye:

I boiled all the plant material except the Dock, Redshank and Cotoneaster berries in water to which I had added 1T malt vinegar, salt and the juice of 2 lemons in the hope that they would fix the dye somehow.

I then put the 3 remaining ingredients plus the soil in a pestle and mortar and started grinding away.  I used these three ingredients to give some texture to the paste.

When the mixture had boiled for about 20 mins, I separated the liquid & blended the solids & this is what emerged:


August dye colour 72dpi DSC00667.png
Figure 3
August dye blend 72dpi DSC00669.png
Figure 4



Th ground paste looked like this:

August dye cotoneaster berries and pinks ground with Dartmoor soil DSC00672 72dpi .png
Figure 5


I was quite surprised because , although the dye was a pink colour in the basin and on the paper:

Paper soaking in dye 72dpi DSC00746.png
Figure 6

when it emerged from the basin, it turned green almost instantly:

August dye dries green 72dpi DSC00670.png
Figure 7

I printed from the paste onto medium cartridge paper and photographed the images when they were dry:

August dye 3 72 dpi DSC00675.png
Figure 8
August dye 5 72dpi DSC00679.png
Figure 9: This was printed on dyed paper.
August dye 19 72 dpi DSC00697.png
Figure 10
August dye 22 72dpi DSC00701.png
Figure 11
August dye 27 72dpi DSC00720.png
Figure 12

I then photographed the reflected LED light on the wet prints:

August dye 30 72dpi DSC00756.png
Figure 13
August dye 31 72dpi DSC00754.png
Figure 14
August dye 29 72dpi DSC00758.png
Figure 15: This was a print on a dyed paper.

and the photograph becomes the object rather than the print.

Finally, I made a negative from a B & W image and put them on top of the dyed sheets and have left them in the greenhouse exposed to the sun’s rays.  Of course this has now ensured that we will have no sun until next summer!

Group BW 72dpi -1.png
Figure 16: The B&W version of some plant material.
Group BW negative  72dpi 1.png
Figure 17: The negative of the image printed on an acetate sheet which is sitting on top of the dyed paper in my greenhouse.

I moved the combination of negative on dyed sheets and in doing so, shifted the alignment.  The inevitable ensued: no print on the dyed sheet but …  fabulous imprint on the glass:

Fern on glass 72dpi  DSC00786.png
Fig 18
Daisies on glass 72dpi DSC00784.png
Fig 19

While the dyed paper remained resolutely unaffected:

Fern on dyed paper 72dpi DSC00790.png
Fig 20

Too impatient to try the solar gram again, I reverted to the cyanotype.  I overexposed the first one leaving it out in 3pm sun for 2 hours, and just about got it partially right with the second one which I exposed for 2 minutes in an overcast 3pm absence of sun.  I had tested the UV quality by seeing how long it took my husband’s glasses to turn brown – almost instantly – in those conditions.

Fig 21: Exposed to full sunlight for 2 hours.
Fig 22: Exposed to a cloudy sky for 2 minutes.But, the concentration of hydrogen peroxide was higher in this wash-out because I tipped in more than in the one above.

Reflections on the experiment:

I was quite disappointed with the lighting conditions in the space where I photographed the prints because I could not get the white balance right as the light was coming in from 2 different sources & consequently the print backgrounds. e.g. Figures 8 & 10, are not a consistent colour.  I could redo them and control the lighting better but the colours of the dye would have changed.

On the other hand, I had some accidental effects which are rather pleasing as in Figures 12  & 13 where there is a two-tone effect.  The ‘gold’ effect in Figures 13 – 15 are created by the LED lights reflecting off the wet paste on the prints.  These images make the photo a different object from the print which is quite a discovery for me.

The change in dye colour was also disappointing particularly since the stain on the paper towel has not changed 24 hours later – I don’t understand that.

Paper towel stain 72dpi DSC00707.png
Fig 23

On a second experiment 2 days later with the same material, I added salt crystals to the fresh prints in an attempt to fix the dye, even though I had added salt and vinegar to the pot while making the dye, but it had no fixative effect.

Aug dye w salt close up 72dpi DSC00778.png

Notes on making dyes:

Fellow student Gesa Helms recently sent me a link to “How to make dyes from scratch” (Citylab) which has a fascinating take on dye foraging and making stating: “Jason Logan says we have become disconnected from it (ink), much like we are from our food. In fact, he compares the ink revolution he hopes to inspire to the locally sourced food movement.: (Citylab)

“It’s like when you have a carrot and you learn about the farmer who grew it and all the soil conditions,” he says. “It tastes better, but it also has a depth of story, and I think all my inks have a little story with them.”

That story is often attached to a sense of place.”  This is also the thinking behind my Dartmoor dyes: in combination the ingredients which come from immediately outside HMP Dartmoor make up the dye and carry a part of the history of the prison with them:”“It’s really fun to pick a spot in your neighborhood and think about what ingredients, if you were to distill them, might be the essence of that place,”(Citylab)


Fabriss, M.: 2012.  Anthotypes. Alternative Photography.



8 thoughts on “Dye prints with Dartmoor summer plant material.

  1. I as so sorry not to have seen your work on Saturday that I thought I’d pop in here to see it and so glad I did. So many different outcomes from such simple materials. I really love fig22. I could see that as a cushion on my sofa!

    I was interested in the mix you used and wondered what the effect would be if you added cheap vodka to the mix rather than water. Also the fact that the one dye changed colour in your experiment but not on that paper towel, could that have been to do with the different makeup of the different papers. The experiments could go on and on!

    Just learnt yesterday that Gloucester is closing permanently on 14th October so hoping for fairly quick feedback on my assignment in case I need to go and taken more photos,


    1. Thanks, Anne. I was going to suggest on FB that you have a look at the website because I don’t know how Polly wants to structure the day. I wrote to her last Monday & asked if she could let me know by today but she hasn’t. I was going to try vodka, strangely following the Fabriss book suggestion & I might still because I still have the mixes left over from the August Dartmoor dye. Gloucester, Shepton Mallet and Shrewsbury were all going to close in April this year as that was when the Jail Tours lease was going to expire so I was very surprised to see that they were still open. At Shrewsbury they were removing all the metal fittings while we were there in February and most of the razor wire was gone.
      You missed nothing of my presentation on Saturday because not only was I dog tired but it was 4.25 & I was aware that we were going to be asked to move so I felt I had to rush through it & was more muddled than before. I shall give it a break for a while, continue my experiments & do something else for a few months. I need to get funding for my exhibition!!! I am glad you enjoyed going through the work – there are so many strands to it that I might have to drop some of them.


      1. I think the issue at Gloucester is that planning permission could not be finalised because the archaeologists are still working. They have finished in the inside section and ready to start on the exercise yard where the old castle was and there are still reportedly remains buried. I have got what I need though but may just go back one more time to take more inside shots now that I have decided how to present the work.


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