For centuries, botanists have attempted to document the complexities of plant life by drawing realistic representations of them. This practice has changed a bit with the advent of photography, but other traditional methods, such as nature printing—which involves making images of plant specimens using ink, gum, or plaster—continue to fascinate people even today.
London-based Rachel Deine is one artist who is helping to revive interest in this centuries-old tradition of nature printing through her beautiful plaster casts of various plants, vegetables, and fruits, carefully arranged to reveal the tiniest detail of each leaf and root.
These intricately detailed tiles, which range in size from 6 inches to several feet, are made by pressing plant matter into clay. These are set with a wooden frame, and the plants are removed from the frames before pouring plaster, concrete or iron powder, and resin into the depressions that are left behind. These are left to cure, and then the clay peeled off to expose the final compositions of plant life, frozen in time.
Looking at these delicate yet sturdy pieces of art, it’s as if these once-living plants are immortalized, down to the complex patchwork of veins or serrated leaves.
Unlike a two-dimensional drawing, the choice of this tactile medium invites us to look closer and to even touch the plants, which are captured in a way that evokes both scientific wonder and childlike awe at nature’s inherent beauty. Sometimes the tiles are gently hand-painted with colors, to further highlight the details.
As Dein explained to us in an email:
“Overall, my work is about demonstrating how beautiful nature is. By casting plants I’m attempting to preserve the ephemeral, pointing to the mortality of all living things, and trying to slow down the inevitable. I’ve always found comfort in nature.” , its tenacity despite man’s efforts to subjugate it — like tarmac with plants still coming up through the cracks, and numerous other examples.”
Dein’s artistic career began with experimenting with various art forms and techniques. One day, during an introductory class to glass blowing, she tried out pouring molten glass on shapes that were pressed into sand. This method of glass casting piqued her interest, and on her own, she began casting things using plaster and clay—a joyful discovery that later influenced her artistic trajectory.
Dein then spent five years working as a prop maker at the English National Opera, The Globe Theatre, and The Royal Opera House. But she never forgot the wonder and amazement she experienced with her initial cast artworks.
Since those early years, plaster casting has become Dein’s primary mode of creative expression in recent years, thanks to several serendipitous events, early exhibitions and commissions that introduced her work to the wider public. She’s now a fixture at the Chelsea Flower Show, having exhibited there for nearly a, which will happen this year on May 24. In addition, her work has appeared in a collection of wallpaper made in the US, as well as in private homes and galleries.
Currently, Dein is working on casting plants for Nunnington Hall, a National Trust property in Yorkshire, which will culminate with an exhibition at Nunnington during the spring season of 2023.
Though Dein’s artwork seems deceptively simple, its honest authenticity of recording what is naturally there directly connects the viewer to nature’s bounty, through sight and touch. While she admits she is not an overtly political person, Dein is doing her part by working to create art that will hopefully have a lasting impact on viewers when it comes to their relationship with nature, saying that:
“Perhaps now nearly 30 years on from when I found my voice as an artist to express things, it’s less reassuring that now humans are truly having a negative, irreversible effect on our planet. But it’s still relevant to work with nature as a subject matter , as connecting with Nature makes us care more about Nature. And drawing attention to Nature encourages those around me to care, and therefore be proactive in helping stop climate change.”