Artist creates ink from invasive weeds

With invasive plants clogging up parks around the world, what’s to be done about the little (and big) vine-y rascals?
One artist, Patterson Clark, is crushing stems, leaves and roots of a long list of the fast-growing weeds and vines and extracting inks from them. He derives gorgeous hues: gray, mushroom-y notes from the garlic mustard root’s crown; a flat, bottle-green of bush honeysuckle bark; and pure, sunny yellow from leatherleaf mahonia bark, sometimes called leatherleaf holly. Not to mention the coral-y tone with origins in the thorny, land-wrapping stems of multiflora rose; the dark, watercolor-y rust that comes from Asiatic bittersweet roots; or the pure, chalkboard black of soot from burned weeds.

Clark, a science graphics editor with the Washington Post, has degrees in both biology and art/design and has created art from invasive plants for 10 years. He also glues fibers from multiflora rose’s inner bark, European stinging nettle, porcelainberry and white mulberry into bamboo stems to put together paintbrushes. The frames for his prints also come from invasive tree species, as Nature Conservancy magazine reported.

On his website, Clark notes that along with combining art and science by using nature and invasive plants, his slow, building process is important to the experience: “The large hand cut pieces are dissected from sheet after sheet of paper in careful scientific fashion with a scalpel knife, sometimes taking months to complete, the slow act of cutting repeating the long time-based processes that dominate nature: growth and decay. Paper, my chosen material, embodies the paradoxical qualities that we see in nature: its fragility and durability, its strength and delicacy.”

After seeing the history and progression of the Japanese Knotweed UK law – land managers around North America tend to welcome volunteers who tear out invasive plants to make room for greater biodiversity and local plants that use the land more efficiently. Each year, for instance, many parks encourage visitors to pick garlic mustard and make pesto from it. You might want to check with public land managers near you to see if they need volunteers. If you’d like to see more of Clark’s work using invasive plants, go to his website here.

By Catherine Arnold for
Image: Patterson Clark

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