Quarantine Crafts: Potato & Beet Block Printing

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Like a lot of people staying inside the prevent the spread of the coronavirus I’ve been looking for some kind of creative outlet. But the problem I found was many art supply stores were sold out of many items. Thanks to Block Shop Textiles who posted a fun little tutorial on their Instagram about block printing with natural materials I was able to do some arts and crafts with things from the grocery store!

Potato stamps is something I did growing up but I forgot how easy and fun it could be. It’s super simple and I played around a bit with different materials to see what kind of colours I could get for paints. You can of course use regular paint if you have it but half the fun is trying something new with vegetables!

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All you really need are some big potatoes, beets, a knife, a pot for boiling your vegetables, thick paper and a paint brush. I also tried using turmeric to get a yellow colour, purple cabbage for a purple, and spinach for green. I managed to get great colour from the beets and turmeric but the cabbage was a bit too light and the spinach just too watery to provide any pigment. I read online that onion skins and avocado pits also give colour but I didn’t try those. You could also probably use coffee to get a nice neutral brown colour.

After getting my paints ready and cutting out my potato stamp shapes I did some test prints to play around with shapes and patterns and to see how the colours turned out.

I was able to save the paints in a mason jar in the fridge for about a week so I could come back to the project. Unfortunately the potato stamps don’t last and can only be used for a few hours before they start to get soft and absorb too much of the liquid from the vegetable paints.

So here is who you do potato block printing with natural vegetable paints!

Supplies: large potatoes, beets (or other natural items that will give you strong colour like turmeric, coffee, purple cabbage), a large sharp knife, a small sharp paring knife, thick paper (like watercolour paper, the thicker the better), paint brush, pencil or skewer for tracing shapes on the potatoes, cheese cloth or old tea towel (optional).

  1. Start by washing your beet to remove dirt, chop them into cubes and put into a medium pot. Add water to the pot to just cover the beets, you don’t want too much water or the colour won’t be as strong. Bring pot of water to boil, then reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for at least 30 minutes. The longer they cook the darker the colour will be. Take off heat and strain the liquid into a bowl. Let the beets cool slightly and then chop them up into small pieces. Using a cheese cloth, squeeze out the beets over the bowl with the beet liquid to get all the colour out. If you don’t have a cheese cloth an old tea towel will also work but you can skip this step since you’ll still have good colour from the boiled liquid. Let cool the room temperature or put in fridge in sealed container to save for future use.
  2. Repeat steps with other colours if using. For turmeric you can use whole turmeric, turmeric nibs, powder or a combination. But be careful not too add too much water or your colour won’t be strong but add enough water so it doesn’t burn. You’ll probably only need to simmer for 10-15 minutes. For coffee, brew as usual. For cabbage follow same instructions as the beets but don’t squeeze out excess colour from the boiled cabbage since it will just water it down.
  3. Cut your potatoes in half using a large knife, you want a straight, flat cut. Using a pencil or skewer trace your desired shape onto the potato to create a groove. It’s helpful to use a ruler or something with a straight edge as a guide. I used the end of a can of tomato paste to make my circle shapes. Be creative and use what’s in your house to trace your shapes. Using a small paring knife, carefully cut away the excess potato using the groove you’ve made with the pencil as a guide. To makes things easier you can cut off a bit from the bottom of the potato so it stands up. Put your potato, shape side down on a piece of paper towel to remove excess moisture.
  4. Time to get block printing! Make sure you have a clean work surface and a towel to wipes your hands. Take your potato stamp and paint on the beet paint with a paintbrush. Let excess drips run off. With a firm hand press your potato stamp to the paper and then lift it straight up to prevent splatters. Reapply paint for each press of the stamp. If you want a darker colour let dry and re-stamp in the same spot or paint over with a paint brush. Use a different paint brush for each colour of paint or water in-between uses.
  5. Let prints dry completely and then frame them up or mail them to family and friends as postcards!

Tips: To get a darker purple colour from the cabbage paint you’ll need to paint over a few times as it’s fairly liquid and not very dark but it will get darker as it dried. Simple geometric patters are easy to do and look really nice or go abstract with you shapes but be sure to commit to the composition.

Have fun printing!

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