Printing on pavements

In a previous post I mentioned that I was working on a piece for an exhibition being organised by the South London Women Artists in February, on the theme “What is Urban?”.

My interpretation of this theme started from the view that although we refer to urban areas as “concrete jungles”, the urban environment is but a thin veneer. Without armies of gardeners and maintenance workers, cities would turn wild very quickly as nature reclaims the land. In his book The World Without Us, Alan Weisman claims that if humans suddenly disappeared, residential neighbourhoods would become forests within 500 years.

leaves on pavement

Even if this urban veneer is regularly maintained, nature finds a way to leave her mark on it. In the autumn, pavements that are more commonly pocked with the remains of carelessly discarded gum become the canvas for leaf prints, as the leaching tannins from the leaves are pounded into the concrete by scurrying commuters and shoppers.

leaves on pavement 2pavement prints6pavement prints12pavement prints13

So I decided to try to recreate these ephemeral marks on pavements, by arranging dead autumn leaves on paving stones, soaking them and stamping on them. Although rather removed from my work as a textile artist, it does relate to my experiments of using leaves to make eco prints on fabric.

23 nov 1

Inevitably, trying to reproduce a natural process in a more controlled fashion has proved quite challenging. When I started in November, we were going through a period of wet weather, so I left the stones uncovered and just went out every day to stamp on the leaves.

However, when the weather became drier, the leaves quickly dried out and started blowing away! So I had to water them again, cover them in plastic weighted down with stones, and then stamp on top.

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And on a couple of occasions I went out to find that local urban foxes had left their own organic deposits on the stones! 😦

In my initial experiments with different types of leaves, I had assumed that oak leaves, being relatively high in tannin, would give good prints (they often work well on fabric). However, this proved not to be the case on concrete – it was maple leaves that worked best.

I also tried adding vinegar and bicarbonate of soda (separately!) to the soaking water to see if they help the tannins to leach faster. To be honest, I haven’t noticed a huge difference with either of them.

I had to get my final submission for the exhibition in before I go on holiday tomorrow, so today I unwrapped a couple of the stones to take some photos to send with my application. They are actually quite difficult to photograph, as the prints show up differently depending on the angle of the light, but here are a few examples.

11 jan-3 stones

Unlike the random prints I previously photographed on pavements, which were darker than the stone, these prints are often lighter, resulting in a strangely ghostly photographic effect.

Kim Winter 1-1000px Kim Winter 2-1000px Kim Winter 3-1000px Kim Winter 4-1000px

I have no idea why this is, and I was a bit disappointed at first, but the effect is growing on me. And in the close-up shots you can see a surprising amount of detail.

So I’ve given them a last water, re-covered with plastic and stamped on them for the last time before I go to India for a month.

The next challenge will be getting them to the gallery at the end of February and arranging them without doing my back in – they are very heavy!

I won’t be blogging again till I get back from India, as I won’t have the time or technology while I’m on the move. But I’ll certainly be telling you about the mud resist indigo block printing when I get back – adieu till then!

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13 thoughts on “Printing on pavements”

  1. This is fascinating. Would love to see them in exhibition. Have you seen the work of Janet Ledsham who rots leaves and then incorporates them into felt? She made a beautiful cloak.

  2. It’s funny that left alone, the prints happen by themselves, but when you try and repeat the process, it doesn’t work the same. I like the effects you got. Have fun in India and I’m looking forward to the post about mud resists 🙂

  3. That is very cool! I wonder if the street dirt/oil/car exhaust had anything to do with the leaves leaving (!) darker prints on the actual sidewalk. We don’t have sidewalks in my little town but will look for those prints elsewhere.

    1. Thanks Nancy – I’m sure environment has something to do with it, along with water composition etc. Interestingly, when I was researching the phenomenon on the internet, almost every link was to a question asking how to remove leaf stains. I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder. 🙂

  4. Beautiful and I love how you got there …. will see if i can come up to the exhibition with a friend soon. I laughed about the fox poo! a few more of those and a lot more would grow on those slabs ;-)))) X

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