In his series of drawings called Nourishment, the artist Michael Landy collected weeds growing on the streets of London, kept them alive and then drew them life size. He then made a set of 37 etchings, some of which have found their way into the Tate collection.
‘This print depicts a creeping buttercup or Ranunculus repens. One of the most elaborate weeds in the portfolio, it extends in a wide composition with stems arching off to the left and right of the page. Several small flowers emerge from the end of the stems, in various states of decay. These slowly dying blooms indicate the passage of time during the making of the etching. Delicate, pale leaves cluster above the elaborate root ball and at the joints of the branches, while fibrous roots extend from a mass at the base of the leaves.(Rachel Taylor 2003. Tate)
Landy made his name as one of the Young British Artists when he destroyed all his personal possessions. The prints of weeds came about after this because they represented the spirit of survival.
According to Taylor, Landy’s prints are reminiscent of a process called nature prints where objects such as plants were pressed directly into soft metal to produce details not only of their shape but their surface details. Here is a page of a book on Austrian flora published in 1873. Artists Gunter Brus and Arnulf Rainer over painted some of the plates in this book to make their own work
Another book called The ferns of Great Britain and Ireland (1855) by Thomas Moore, illustrations printed by Henry Bradbury, has coloured plates.
Bradbury placed the specimens between a highly polished lead and steel plate under pressure. The resultant print was highly detailed and in this case hand painted to provide a useful identification guide. The book can be viewed here.
His contemporary Alois Auer, produced work such as this.
Nature printing came to an abrupt end in the 1890’s as photographic techniques improved. Michael Landy’s brief excursion into botanical illustration ended with the Nourishment prints and he went on to do a similar set of portraits of his friends and family.