top of page

How I use plants in my work....

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

Claire Hankey Studio Colour Studies
Colour testing

Plants are becoming more and more important in my art practice. When I'm out and about, I'm really drawn to the foliage shapes and textures in gardens, parks and along the estuary. The photo gallery on my phone features a sea of pictures of shadows cast by trees and glimpses of light between leaf forms.

Taking photos is all well and good, so how do I actually use the plants within my work?

For colour mixing.

I start by collecting leaves and stalks then attempting to colour match them by mixing from primary colours. Sometimes, I will use pre mixed green- but always use a touch of another colour mixed in. I especially love the greens that Le Franc Bourgeois paints make- they are closer to nature than other brands. I tend to colour test with swatches, and make a note of how I've mixed them for future reference.

Claire Hankey studio
Painting with plants

As drawing tools.

Personally, I think there is nothing better than using a plant form as a brush! I use plants from my garden as well as those that can be found wild in the estuary. I also save flower heads from bouquets and have a range of quite exotic dried flowers that make wonderful mark making tools.

I love the unexpected marks that natural brushes create and use them to apply both paint and ink in my work.

To form compositions.

I look to the garden to help me to come up with ideas for compositions for painting. Nature isn't perfect- so I prefer my compositions to sometimes look disjointed and spontaneous. Whilst my work at the moment is more abstract, I'm told you can still tell that nature has inspired the work

To add texture.

Often fragments of the plants I use as brushes, become lodged into the paint and this can add unexpected texture and marks. I have used seed hands and crushes leaves at times to bring added texture to my work. I use an isolation coat between layers to make these elements permanent.

For printmaking

I use something called a gelliplate to create botanical prints. They are basically thick sheets of gelatine that allow you to make a print using acrylic paint. They are easy to use, immediate and a wonderful tool. If you are interested in gel plates, you can buy them in all different sizes from most art suppliers and of course, Amazon!

For pigments

I have just started using earth to create some of my own pigments. This is very early days in the making and I'm not sure where this will go. I've been inspired by a Cornish artist called Peter Ward I came across on instagram who grinds his own pigments from the earth and gets beautiful shades of natural colours with them. I've been trying to do the same with berries from plants in the garden to see what I can come up with.

Large abstract painting of Essex coastline.
Nocturne in Stil de Grain

In 'Nocturne in Stil de Grain' there are tiny fragments of yarrow between the layers to create areas of texture. This is a large painting 110 x 110cm and will be exhibited in Aldeburgh Contemporary Arts in January 2023.

My favourite plants to use are...

Cow Parsley, Wild Oats, Sweet Fennel, Common Mugwort, Yarrow, Common Reeds and Eucalyptus.

My favourite nature accounts on instagram at the moment are..

Cameron gardens-

Field and Nest-

If you are interested in earth pigments, do look at Pete Ward-

I hope you enjoyed reading this- do get in touch if you have any further ideas or send me a photo of your work!

In February 2023, I will be hosting another nature inspired workshop at Create 98 in Leigh on Sea. Two hours of play, experimentation with plants, inks and different papers. If you are interested in joining me- I'd love to see you. Click the link below to find out more....

Best wishes,


Below; 'Sherbet Ferns'. A subtle gel plate print incorporated into an abstract acrylic painting on canvas.

157 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page