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When life hands you weeds, make weed art

Artistic Agenda (Image 1 of 8)

Washington, D.C.–based artist Patterson Clark transforms nonnative invasive vegetation into sculptures, prints and other works of art. In harvesting the plants, he not only obtains raw materials for his work, but also helps clear space for native species to thrive.

Rich Palette (Image 2 of 8)

Berries, blossoms, leaves and bark stand in neat rows on a storage shelf in Clark’s studio, located in the basement of his D.C. row house. The materials, extracted from a variety of exotic species, offer a rich palette of colors and textures for printmaking.

Ivy Stew (Image 3 of 8)

After harvesting Irish ivy from a nearby park, Clark boils the vines to loosen the bark. He then strips the bark from the wood using a tool he invented for the purpose.

Vines to Pulp (Image 4 of 8)

A consumer-grade garbage shredder makes quick work of chopping dried, debarked ivy vines into small pieces. Clark feeds the pieces into a Hollander beater, which transforms the wood chips into a slurry of pulp.

Fiber Film (Image 5 of 8)

Clark immerses a fine mesh screen mounted on a frame into the slurry. As the water drains, it leaves behind a thin film of fibers that will dry into a cream-colored paper. After a day and a half, the paper is ready for printing.

Exotic Ink (Image 6 of 8)

Green dye derived from the ivy’s leaves is mixed with a thickener to create a honey-like texture just right for block printing.

Just Right (Image 7 of 8)

After applying ink using blocks he carved from invasive Norway maple, Patterson examines the imprint. In addition to ivy, this particular piece also used inks made from multiflora rose, another exotic species, and soot from burning exotic plants.

Ivy Swarm (Image 8 of 8)

The first “Ivy Swarm” print is finally complete. Clark is donating 20 percent of proceeds from sale of the prints to Rock Creek Conservancy, a nonprofit organization working to protect and restore the parkland from which Clark harvested the ivy.


To most of us, nonnative plants like garlic mustard and honeysuckle are at best irksome invaders — and often sources of ecological and economic woe as well, as they outcompete native species and consume massive investments of time and money in the form of efforts to keep them under control. But to Patterson Clark, they are the seedbed of a unique art form.

Clark, a Washington, D.C.–based multimedia artist and graphics editor, makes wood carvings, paper, ink and printing blocks from invasive weeds in his community, then recombines the elements to create a work of art that reflects on the very materials it contains.

In this podcast and photo gallery, environmental scientist Jen Baldwin follows Clark as he makes paper from Irish ivy, then uses inks from the ivy, multiflora rose, and weed soot and a Norway maple print block to produce prints for his “Ivy Swarm” series.

“This is an environmental gesture,” Patterson tells Baldwin, “where I’m drawing attention to the inherent value of these unwanted plants so that, ideally, I could build a small economic engine that could roll through the forest, increasing biodiversity by removing exotic invasive vegetation.”  View Ensia homepage  

Editor’s note: Jen Baldwin produced this podcast as a participant in the Ensia Mentor Program. Her mentor for the project was science writer and photographer Rich Press.

Add Your Comments
  • Mara Dec. 7th, 2017
    This is a great idea. After reading Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast: A Field Guide by Peter Del Tredici, I’m beginning to wonder if a lot of solutions to our problems aren’t right under our nose. Weeds, it seems, have an awful lot to offer and I wonder why they aren’t being used more. I’m guessing it has to do with harvesting them. As we all are well aware, they don’t usually grow in any organized way like other more well behaved plants do. But the other more well behaved plants require maintenance whereas most weeds just require human proximity.
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