Printing on bark

I have a white birch tree (betula papyrifera) which produces pads of papery curls of bark. I am always looking for ways of breaking out of the constraints of A4 white cartridge paper, and so of course, I had to try printing on bark. To prepare the bark, I:

  • carefully pealed of wads without going too deep to avoid hitting live material
  • peeled the layers apart
  • cleaned them of loose dust, spiders etc
  • pressed under weight for a month between kitchen paper, which I changed every so often, to flatten and dry.

After cleaning and drying, my pieces of bark were mostly fairly small and still pretty curly.

'Travelling' sketchbook

‘Travelling’ sketchbook

I wanted to print a design that related to my garden and the bark, so a beetle seemed natural. I sketched various sorts of beetles from a reference book, and then created a generic beetle design that I thought I might be able to cut. I selected vinyl for its fine edges. Cutting this 1 1/2 inch by 1 inch block required good light and reading specs.

I wasn’t sure how the bark would accept ink, so I proofed my block in both oil and water based inks. On the left hand proof, I also tried over laying a fingerprint in iridescent green. I had hoped this would look less exact and contrived than painted hand colouring, but I  didn’t like it.

Printing such a small plate crisply was surprisingly hard. When I was confident I could do it, I tried it out on the bark, both the inside surface and the outside.


Oil based ink


Water based in ink differing viscocity


The bark is still very curly even after long pressing, so I have mounted it on home-made paper using pva. This home-made paper has a more organic feel than commercial paper.


I think bark makes for an interesting, if small, printing surface and was fun to try out; a small object of curiosity.

The idea could be developed:

  • find other ways of mounting the bark
  • this would be great in two colours, if I could register it – challenging
  • create 3d objects with printed ‘trompe d’oeil’, a beetle in a match box say (very Christopher Robin!)
  • use bark as chine colle
  • add slivers of bark to pulp for hand-made paper
  • pin the bark down in a box frame, like Victorian butterfly collections.

About SteveCussons

I am mature student studying art with The Open College of the Arts.
This entry was posted in Experiment Printing On Bark, Experimental Printmaking, Part 2 Introduction to Relief Printing - Linocuts, Printmaking 1 and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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