Between Writing and Painting

Imagery has the power to induce words, especially when created by an artist with something on his or her mind. Sadly, I was never able to draw. Words, meanwhile, have the power to create imagery, especially when in the hands of an adept writer. Even though I can write, Nature’s silent intricacies always seemed to require more than a thousand for every picture. I often wished I could just let Nature do the talking. Thus, I was elated when I found the art of Nature printing.

Honeysuckle Leaf

Nature printing is the careful pressing of inked objects onto paper to make direct-impression records of the subjects. Explorers used the process to create detailed and accurate records of the unusual plant life they found in their travels. The Japanese gave the name Gyotaku to their technique for creating images of fish. Just as the painter must develop skill to replicate a subject with practiced paint application and brush strokes, the nature printer must coax the details from the subject with practiced ink application and pressure.

In the writing world, I greatly favor the work of John Muir, who roamed the North American wilderness and used words to share his discoveries with the public. He was an expert at a conveying a verbal image of a place. It wasn’t uncommon when he used more than four pages to describe a single Sierra waterfall.

Muir was so moved by Nature’s creations, he felt compelled to give back, to give voice to the silent so that other humans might notice. He knew that if people cared, they’d be empowered to preserve and protect. And if we did that, the human race might return some favor to Nature for giving us all that we need to survive.

While my goal is the same as Muir’s, even if I could come close to writing as well as he, in today’s hurried world, most audiences prefer I just get to the picture. Today we have tamed the wilderness; there is little left that hasn’t already been visited, inspected, documented, and photographed. That glorious waterfall Muir wrote about fell into the Hetch Hetchy valley. The arduous journey to it has been reduced to a nonstop flight. Besides, once a part of Yosemite National Park, the entire valley was eliminated from park status and drowned when the Tuolumne River was dammed to supply San Francisco with water and light. Muir tried to ease his resulting grief when he wrote, “They will see what I meant in time.”

It is time we see, and it is my intention to renew the awe that was once America untrodden. There is still plenty of room for discovery, every day, in every corner. We don’t need to venture farther; we just need to look closer. Nature is grand at the tiniest scale.

In truth, I am not the artist here. I am just the translator, much like Muir was. With great care I press subject to paper in hopes that the result might awaken the spirit of gratitude that is so deep there are no words.

This Isn’t About Dead Cows

I had to decide: Should I change the name, Natural Renderings? In the end, I chose to stay with it, because the words perfectly describe my art. Why should I let a minor-but-repulsive association keep me from using it? After all, each print is a direct interpretation, rendition, depiction, translation, and perspective representation of a real object in Nature. It is not, however, a melting process, like the one used in agriculture.

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

As a writer, I appreciate the variety of meanings words can have in this crazy English language. Like many others, the verb “to render” has numerous and conflicted definitions. Of the first 15 mentions in my Random House College Dictionary, my product matches every one. I cause to become. I make. I perform, furnish, show, and present for consideration. I pay as due what I believe is a reciprocal gift to Nature. I formally deliver my humble translation of Nature’s words into a painting or drawing whereby I interpret the drama that is the living ecosystem. And I am engaged in this art to give in return; to give back, restore; and to give up, surrender, always to Nature. It is only when the discussion turns to coating with plaster or getting oil from fat and blubber do the word’s meaning fail.

I will stick with the name and accept this entanglement to the “natural renderings” of animal mortality and waste, in part because I refuse to sidestep the paradox. Outside the dictionary, the very word “Nature” conjures a multitude of conflicting meanings depending on the person doing the thinking. Some are gracious and some are repulsive. I believe we can take, but unlike others, I am bounded by the need to give in return. What I harvest with respect another will grab with greed. Where I see a being with a purpose, they see a thing useful only to themselves.

No, this isn’t about turning cattle carcasses into fertilizer. It’s about capturing a moment in a living being’s life–one that’s willing to sacrifice itself to the page–so that it might help others notice what I see.

My Process

Here are a few technical notes about the prints I produce:

Medium: Hand-pressed, direct-from-nature prints.

Paper:  I strive to always use acid-free paper that is made in the USA and contains as much post-consumer recycled content as possible. Additionally, some prints are on sheets that I have recycled and hand pressed in my studio.

Ink: Nontoxic, soy-based inks that carry the AP Seal . Made in the USA.

Print numbers: All prints are originals, meaning the object directly touched the page. When an object yields more than one print, each original is tagged with its place in that print session (i.e., 1/3 for the first in a run that yielded three).

Material collection Location: Most objects were found in the woodlands, fields, and roadsides of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Honorable Harvest: I try my best to follow the native American principles for an Honorable Harvest. I follow the rules that were shared with me by the author Robin Wall Kimmerer. You can read the list in her post at AllCreation.org. These include:

  • Never take the first. Never take the last.
  • Harvest in a way that minimizes harm. 
  • Take only what you need and leave some for others.
  • Use everything that you take. 

While the Honorable Harvest is a spiritual way, the rules make good sense from a scientific standpoint.