Making a large DIY botanical press
I use plant specimens a lot in my printmaking. The plants don’t necessarily need to be bone dry (in fact, dried plants don’t survive my etching press very well) but they do need to be flat-ish for the best results. This applies to both monotype printing (making plant imprints directly onto paper using a press or a gel plate) and in making plates for solar plate etching (where a 2-D image of the plant is exposed onto the surface of the plate).
Until now, I’ve relied on a teeny flower press from my childhood, and on a bunch of old chemistry textbooks from my undergraduate days. But with the volume (and individual size) of material I collect, these methods simply haven’t provided enough ‘pressing space’. So, I finally built my own botanical press!
At my local hardware store I bought a piece of laminated acacia timber, threaded bolts, and wing nuts. I had the piece of timber cut in half by the guys in the store, so I had two identical pieces, each 600 x 300 mm in size. In retrospect, I should have chosen a harder timber. But hopefully, this one will do its job sufficiently for a couple of years to come.
I wanted to make my press not just functional, but also a bit unique and beautiful. So, I used some happy wanderer (Hardenbergia) leaves as templates to draw two vines on the top board. I then engraved the design using my dremel tool.
The next steps involved sanding down the edges of the boards and drilling holes into the four corners (with the boards on top of each other to align the holes). The holes included recesses in the lower board for the bolt heads. Finally, the bolts were secured with an epoxy to stop them from spinning when tightening. [Admission: I outsourced these steps to my helpful husband. With a newborn at home, I simply lacked the energy and time myself.]
To give a uniform colour – the sanding process made the board edges a lot lighter in colour – I applied a walnut coloured stain I had left over from a previous project. I then sprayed the outer board surfaces with two coats of a clear satin varnish.
Sadly, the stain had also gone straight into the grooves of the Hardenbergia design. It was barely visible against the dark surface. So, with my super-sharp Pfeil linocutting tools, I simply carved the stain/varnish out of the existing grooves, leaving a nice light-coloured image. Finally, I applied a third coat of varnish to the boards.
While the timber boards were drying, I scavenged around for cardboard and something I could use as blotting paper. I only had enough cardboard for three panels to fit the press, so I’ll have to add to the stack in the future. But I had a full roll of IKEA’s MÅLA kids’ drawing paper roll. I use this wonderfully versatile paper for everything from test printing new lino plates to cleaning up left over inks. It makes the perfect blotting paper, and I cut several sheets to size.
Here’s the final product! I can’t wait to finally be able to press some larger and longer sized plants such as fern leaves and wild grasses.
The bolts I used are super-long (75 mm). So even considering the thickness of the boards (18 mm each) and cardboard/paper layers, I’ve got plenty of vertical space to start processing a lot of plant materials.
So now all that’s left to do is to start exploring and collecting materials, and then to have even more fun with printing!