Dartmoor dyes

August, 2018

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:

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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).

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Figure 2: Coming out from HMP Dartmoor ©️A.Goodchild

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:

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Figure 3

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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:

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Figure 6

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

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Figure 7

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

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Figure 8: ©️A.goodchild

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Fig 9:©️A.goodchild

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Fig 10:©️A.goodchild

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Fig 11:©️A.goodchild

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Fig 12:©️A.goodchild

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

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Fig 13:©️A.goodchild

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Fig 14:©️A.goodchild

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Fig 15:©️A.goodchild

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!

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Fig 16:©️A.goodchild

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Fig 17:©️A.goodchild

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:

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Fig 18:©️A.goodchild

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Fig 19:©️A.goodchild

While the dyed paper remained resolutely unaffected:

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Fig 20:©️A.goodchild

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.:©️A.goodchild

Fig 22: Exposed to a cloudy sky for 2 minutes.:©️A.goodchild

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.

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Fig 23:©️A.goodchild

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.

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Fig 24:©️A.goodchild

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.



Autumn botanicals at Princetown, outside HM Prison Dartmoor

The method was the sae as the Summer trip: go to the gates of HM Prison Dartmoor, collect what botanicals are accessible, keep them in a ziplock bag with a wet towel in it and take them home. Photograph them, put them in a pot and boil with water and salt to fix the dye.

Autumn botanicals

Prints made from the dye look like this when photographed and processed in Photoshop:

Winter botanicals collected in January 2019

The last botanical dye painting: Spring 2019

April, 2019

The collection is now complete: I have the Spring collection of botanicals which closes the circle of the seasons for my prison project “One Year”. 

I collected the plant samples last Tuesday outside HMP Dartmoor, put them in plastic bags and then photographed all the different plants:

Initially, I photographed them against a black backdrop which was quite dramatic:

Then I realised it would not be in keeping with the other seasons’ images so I had to replace the black with white:

They both have their charms. It took for ever to change all the backgrounds.

Then came the stewing which I was dreading because the last time I did this in the Winter, the whole house had the foul smell of forest-floor brews for days. This time, however, there was a really lovely, fresh smell emanating from the kitchen & I realised that the only remarkable difference was that this time there were stinging nettle branches in the mix. It has made me go & forage for some more samples & see if I can make some freshly-brewed tea!

The mix boiled for ages, partly because I had forgotten about it, and then I let it go cold so that I could blend it & make my traditional blobs with it and then photograph them.

When I was blending the mix, I realised that the pine cones would not oblige so I had to pull them out:

Cooked cones.

The resulting blobs, made with my smartphone, threw up a pretty consistent dye colour on cartridge paper:

I love the sculptural qualities of this one which for me assumes mythical properties.
I used kitchen towel to dry the blobs I had put on a transparency sheet to photograph it on my scanner. When I saw that the pattern of the paper had transferred to the cartridge paper, I sprinkled black pepper over it to capture the pattern, which I quite liked as it reminded me of the work of Catherine Pickop which we saw at the London Art Fair in January.

I took this scanned image of some blobs but they don’t scan well, imo.

Scanned blobs.


I am glad I have now finished the seasonal blobs and that they have turned out so well. The blobs too have come out quite well in terms of changing colours brought about by the different botanicals available at different times of the year.

Summer 2018
Autumn 2018
Winter 2019
Spring 2019

I am always surprised that I try to make sense of my photographed blobs rather than just accept them as photographic evidence of my research into a place in time / time in a place. For example, the image below to me looks remarkably like a rabbit. I have very primitive print-making skills which means that my visual perception does not allow me to imaging how to put down a ‘blob’ so that when it is seen on a printed surface, it is a back-to-front version of the blob. For that reason, and because, as a result of my experience with printed rather than a digital photograph, I love print making, I am starting a printmaking course in Cornwall in October!!

Spring Rabbit.