Coaxing inspiring art out of the weeds

Resilience. One of those watchwords for the year 2020. Staying at home for me meant creating cyanotypes, often with whatever was around. So I had to coax my inspirations out of my nemesis — the ground cover weed Creeping Charlie. In the Midwest, this European transplant is definitely resilient.

Vertical monoprint collage reflections skyscraper building sunrise plants cyanotype vintage maps Elizabeth Busey 24 x 18 inch
Resilience at Daybreak. Monoprint collage with cyanotypes and vintage maps, 24 x 18in, $600 ($770 framed.)

Sun makes prints of Creeping Charlie sharp or soft

Scientists say that Glechoma hederacea or Creeping Charlie grows well in shady areas, but in my yard it thrives in the sunshine. On days when I am creating cyanotypes from transparency negatives of my digital images, I make sure to spend some times with the weeds. 

Ripping out this rapidly spreading ground cover by the handful, I store it in the shade so I can quickly place a sensitized piece of paper on a metal table in the sunshine. The process can take from 2 1/2 to 5 minutes depending on the percentage of cloud cover. For sharper edges, a cloudless sky is needed so that the edges of the plant’s shadow print crisply.  A partly cloudy day produces softer shapes that can be quite beautiful, but more difficult to identify.

Handfuls of ground cover Creeping Charlie are placed on a sensitized paper and exposed to sunlight.

Following in the footsteps of Anna Atkins

My creation of plant photograms is fast and loose, because of the heat of the sun and how quickly the plants can wilt. I feel certain that botanist and pioneering photographer Anna Atkins, took much more time creating her imagery. I highly recommend Sun Gardens — Cyanotypes by Anna Atkins —  a recent celebration of her life and work. Atkin’s treatment of her botanical subjects seem like abstract art to me, working with line and rhythm, as well as background and foreground. All in that particular blue-green color.

I use large pieces of paper for creating long, undulating Creeping Charlie cyanotypes. Length is important for my skyscraper reflection inspired monoprint collages. You can read about my obsessions with reflections in glass buildings here.

Vertical monoprint collage reflections skyscraper building plants blues greens cyanotype vintage maps Elizabeth Busey 24 x 18 inch
First Faint Seeds of Life. Monoprint collage with cyanotypes and vintage maps, 24 x 18in, $600 ($770 framed.)

Making my peace with Charlie

After many years of doing battle with Creeping Charlie, I think I have finally made peace with its presence in my yard. My husband’s vigorous use of a weed eater keeps it from engulfing the shrub beds. According to one organic gardening site, the plant is high in vitamin C, can be cooked in soups or served raw as a salad green. It was used for treatment of lung problems and as an anti-inflammatory.  I now see my yard as a secret stash of sustenance and healing, as well as a source of art inspiration. Welcome, Creeping Charlie. Thanks for being resilient.


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