Printmaking with Cacti

When my daughters favorite cactus died – one she chose long ago to honor her birth mother on Mothers Day – I felt horrible for her and wanted to do something to preserve some aspect of this memorial object. I decided to take cut slices of the cactus and make them into contact prints with some block ink.

This is something that is easy to do at home with all sorts of objects and materials but if you have a cactus that is not doing well and you know it is on the way out I would encourage trying something like this before you ditch it in the trash.

Pieces of this dying cactus created interesting undulating prints.

As I also had a cactus that I adored that was dying (mealy big outbreaks suck) I practiced with it prior to cutting up my kiddo’s plant. It made a variety of interesting gestural patterns that I will be able to incorporate into other collage art projects.

cactus prints made with black Speedball block printing ink

I used a medium hard brayer and some standard black block printing ink with a piece of glass from a photo frame as rolling my surface to roll out the ink. I tried to roll the brayer over the surface I had cut on my cacti but realized all too soon that it was easier if I just pushed the things into the rolled paint like a stamp pad. I’m pretty sure a stamp pad would have worked too. I then moved on to doing the same thing with various colors of acrylic paint.

cactus prints made with inexpensive Apple Barrel acrylic paint

The moisture from the cactus will smoosh into the paint and create some bleeding of your color but you can prevent that (if you want to) by blotting the cactus chunk on a paper towel before stamping it into color. Likewise, you can create dryer ghost prints (the second print made without re-inking) so you can print off the bulk of the ink or paint onto a spare piece of paper first as well.

Once I felt confident enough I sliced open the only remaining part of my daughters cactus and began to make prints. The circular globe made a good printing tool and before I knew it I’d created quite a few prints on watercolor paper and fabric.

Not all surfaces held the detail of the cactus slice in the same way. I found that a very soft printmaking paper (unknown type) was the most effective at retaining the details. Fabric allowed the moisture in the cactus to soak in and blur the ink before it dried, leaving less detail overall.

In the end I made the following work for Katie who was relieved to have some reminder of the plant with which she had become so connected.


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