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Welcome to my art blog from Tasmania, Australia. I post a little on my various art projects while also working in plant genetics. For more, please try the links to my various art pages or email me at silvergumstudio@yahoo.com.au. Thank you for visiting!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Team project: science meets art in an eco-printed silk field guide to the Tasmanian eucalypts

Friday 23rd March was National Eucalypt Day - not Australia's best-known day of celebration, but a very important day nonetheless.  Where would Australians (human and otherwise) be without our astonishingly diverse, continent-wide, beautiful and unique tree genus?  As part of the nation-wide celebrations, librarians and scientists at the University of Tasmania ran activities and created displays of books, herbarium specimens, live eucalypts, gumnuts, oils, wood, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, and a video of Jeff Wilmott playing Waltzing Matilda on a gum leaf (do check out these links, they're worth it).  My friends and colleagues in the eucalypt research group, Dot and Beck, were organisers and asked me if I'd like to run an activity.  I thought it would be great to introduce people to eco-printing with eucalypt leaves - a perfect group activity combining art and science.  And what better experiment could there be than to attempt to create an eco-printed version of Eucaflip, the very popular field-guide to the Tasmanian eucalypts produced by our resident experts, Robert Wiltshire and Brad Potts? 
Eucaflip features panels with life-sized photos of leaves of all 29 (not counting the recently described E. nebulosa) species of Tasmanian Eucalyptus.  I knew from experience that leaves from a few of these species would produce prints on silk using nothing but their natural dye chemistry, released by heat.  I was very excited at the prospect of testing all the species and getting other people involved.  Dot and Beck put out the call to the School of Natural Sciences, with magnificent results.  On the day, thanks to the generosity and knowledge of eucalypt enthusiasts within the School, we had leafy branches from 25 Tasmanian species.  I cut strips of fine and thick silk to match the size of Eucaflip, and laid out the four lengthwise panels of Eucaflip on four picnic tables outside the Plant Science tea room.  We carried down all the branches and invited interested people to form four teams to create one panel each.

First, for each panel, we laid out leaves on a strip of fine, flat wet silk (I bought recycled Japanese kimono lining silk) to match the species' order and position in Eucaflip.
Setting up leaves on fine silk
Next, we created a sandwich by layering a strip of thicker, textured wet silk on top.  I hoped that the fine silk would receive detailed leaf prints, and the thicker silk would help to prevent bleed-through of dyes.

Making a sandwich with heavy silk on top
We then carefully rolled up the silk sandwich around a piece of dowelling.  I generally just use a stick, but for this project I wanted to maximise the chances of getting precise prints, so a nice wide smooth piece of dowelling gave a better roll-up.

The rollup

I asked the groups to tie up their bundles so they could recognise them later.  Now it was time for me to run home and boil the bundles for over two hours in plain water in two stainless steel saucepans.  I was sorry to miss the eucalypt walk around campus that took place during this time - another popular activity.  I checked the pots anxiously every five minutes, wondering if it would work.  We made the bundles at morning tea, and I was due back at afternoon tea for people to reveal their experimental results.

Well... it worked!  There was great excitement as people unrolled their steaming bundles and matched the leaf prints to the species.  The fine silk took very precise prints.  Some of the series printed much more strongly than others - for example, the alpine white gums, black gums and yellow gums gave lovely red prints.  The peppermints and ashes gave faint, ghostly grey or green prints.
The big reveal

Matching the print to the species

I'm VERY excited.

So is Rob Wiltshire (back right, in blue shirt)

The four panels of Eucaflip, eco-printed onto silk using only natural Eucalyptus leaf chemistry!
I have made the heavier silk strips into a book, with typed herbarium style labels for the species.  I want to make the fine silk prints into  vertical banners.  The School wants to do it all again with EVERY Tasmanian eucalypt species, as a second-year prac.   And I ask myself:  Why stop there?  After all, Australia has about 700 species of Eucalyptus.  Why not join with people around Australia next time, and do them all?
EucaPrint, in the eucalypt lab.  You can see some eucalypt chaff on the bench.

The alpine white gums page
Prints from the black gums and the unique shrub-form alpine yellow gum, Eucalyptus vernicosa

Thank you to everyone who took the excellent photos - I apologise for not crediting them as I am not sure who took which.

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