Moving Beyond the Potato Print

Moving Beyond the Potato Print

I was raised to be practical. My childhood home was one of little means, but full of resourcefulness. My mother and aunts sewed. My father made things in a small workshop (our 1-car attached garage). In the summer months, we canned and froze seasonal foods for use during the rest of the year (and when I say “we” I mean my mother). We made use of what we had and wasted nothing.

So, when my young, creative juices were flowing and I wanted or needed something, I figured out a way to make it or create it from items we had around the house. And that’s how I managed to have “new” clothes—I sewed them from fabric remnants. Or I altered some of my father’s old work pants. Or altered my own old clothes, layering in swatches of newer textiles to update the style and fit. It worked for me.

With time, it became clear that limitations force creativeness. And as a graphic designer, I grew to embrace restrictions, because they push the mind to think deeper, to look harder, and ultimately, come up with much more interesting ideas.

This isn’t exactly why I print with vegetables. But it’s how I got here.

A couple years ago, after years on a computer screen solving clients’ challenges (and loving every minute of it) I longed for my own creative exploration and hands-on, ink in the fingernails type of artistic outlet. I’d always had a love / fascination with pattern. Perhaps it stemmed from my years of sewing, but it simply never left me. So that’s what I knew I needed to do—create patterns. And as my resourceful, practical inner voice told me to do, I started with the most basic, elementary tool used for block printing: a simple potato. 

Days later, I ran out of the sweet potatoes I’d been using. It was a cold winter afternoon and I was halfway through printing a piece of cloth when I needed more printing tools. I didn’t feel like running out to the store just for potatoes…. So I started looking around. What else do I have here? Squash. I had butternut squash. It wasn’t much later that my brain exploded. YES. Veggies. All veggies. A massive release came over my whole body. I know it sounds overly dramatic, but that’s exactly how it felt to me, with absolute clarity.

I won’t go into it now, but fresh fruits and veggies have always held this super special place in my existence. OF COURSE I should use vegetables. They’re here. They’re beautiful. They’re unique and I love them so, so much. They represent growth and nourishment and potential and empowerment. Not to mention the fact that they are compostable. It’s a tool that can be used for the day, then tossed to the compost pile. With little expense and little waste and absolutely no linoleum blocks to store, veggies became my perfect printing tool.