designer | researcher | educator

Blake Garden

Blake Garden Artist in Residence

AN EXPLORATION OF NATURE THROUGH COLOR
2019

For this artist residency I celebrate the colors and the plant variety in Blake Garden. Using colors extracted from plants in the garden, I examine the histories and narratives that lie within them. I also use materials to be composted such as plant trimmings and food waste. Hues are extracted under various natural and created conditions. Altering the conditions of how color is extracted, manipulated, and used is a way of questioning our perception of colors of the landscape. This work explores the intersection of perception, color, and untold stories of the garden.

 
Blake Garden overlook in Fall 2018. Photo by Sahoko Yui.

Blake Garden overlook in Fall 2018. Photo by Sahoko Yui.

Colors of Northern California. Colors from plants and food waste from Blake Garden, Yolo Press Farms, and my home. First row: sour grass, Oregon grape fruits, Queen Anne’s lace, mustard leaves, sweet gum. Second row: eucalyptus leaves, tulips, mustard leaves, dogwood, poinsettia leaves, ironwood bark, oak falls. Third row: loquat leaves, coffee grounds, pomegranate rinds, dates, blood oranges, onion skins, rosemary leaves, avocado pits. Some of them have iron, baking soda, and/or lemon added to them.

Colors of Northern California. Colors from plants and food waste from Blake Garden, Yolo Press Farms, and my home. First row: sour grass, Oregon grape fruits, Queen Anne’s lace, mustard leaves, sweet gum. Second row: eucalyptus leaves, tulips, mustard leaves, dogwood, poinsettia leaves, ironwood bark, oak falls. Third row: loquat leaves, coffee grounds, pomegranate rinds, dates, blood oranges, onion skins, rosemary leaves, avocado pits. Some of them have iron, baking soda, and/or lemon added to them.

From top left: Redwood sorrel, Snowbell leaves, Heavenly bamboo fruit, Mustard leaves, Rockrose, Snowbell flowers, Echium flowers, Redwood leaves.

From top left: Redwood sorrel, Snowbell leaves, Heavenly bamboo fruit, Mustard leaves, Rockrose, Snowbell flowers, Echium flowers, Redwood leaves.

Colors of Blake Garden. First row (left to right): mustard leaves with lemon juice, mustard leaves with baking soda, mustard leaves with iron. Second row: mustard leaves, dogwood bark, dogwood bark with iron. Third row: oxalis, oxalis with baking soda, oxalis with iron. Fourth row: loquat leaves, loquat leaves with iron, rosemary leaves.

Colors of Blake Garden. First row (left to right): mustard leaves with lemon juice, mustard leaves with baking soda, mustard leaves with iron. Second row: mustard leaves, dogwood bark, dogwood bark with iron. Third row: oxalis, oxalis with baking soda, oxalis with iron. Fourth row: loquat leaves, loquat leaves with iron, rosemary leaves.

Yellow Sorrel (Oxalis Stricta) flowers after the rain. Oxalis flowers can be placed in water to produce a bright yellow color. Adding iron and baking soda slightly changes the color. From left to right: oxalis, oxalis + alum, oxalis + iron, oxalis + baking soda.

Yellow Sorrel (Oxalis Stricta) flowers after the rain. Oxalis flowers can be placed in water to produce a bright yellow color. Adding iron and baking soda slightly changes the color. From left to right: oxalis, oxalis + alum, oxalis + iron, oxalis + baking soda.

In this project I ask the following questions:

What are some of the ancient ways that colors were made from plant material and food waste?

What sort of colors will emerge from using the plant material in the garden and food waste

What sort of stories are revealed through exploring the colors of the garden?

 

The ten acre garden is located in Kensington within the Berkeley hills, approximately 5 miles north of the UC Berkeley campus. It is managed by UC Berkeley’s Landscape Architecture Department and is used as a teaching facility. Previously it was owned by the Blake family (1922 - 1962) who transported dozens of plants from their former residence to the garden. Much of the original design has been preserved and is maintained. The spectacular panoramic views, the outstanding plant collection, and the variety of spaces make it an ideal place for teaching, learning, and experimentation.

Since 2015 I have taught the UC Berkeley course LA 1: Drawing a Green Future. The course investigates drawing as a method to learn how to perceive, observe, and represent the environment. The class encourages visual thinking as a formative tool for problem solving that provides a means to envision a sustainable future. The first project of the class is a land art project where I ask students to read literature about landscape perception and reflect on their own view of nature. The students use Blake Garden to reveal invisible qualities of the natural landscape.

 

Key findings:

  • There are four main variables that affect the color from plants: plant freshness, time, heat, and ratio of water:plants.

Next steps:

  • Test spring flowers that are currently in bloom.

  • Test plants using water with different ph levels. I have worked with a local ecologist to collect brackish water from San Pablo Bay.

  • Experiment with painting on different types of paper.

Click here see my Instagram page for more photos.

Read more on the UC Berkeley Blake Garden website.

The process includes boiling plants using rain water collected from this winter. After boiling I experiment with some additives - such as alum, baking soda, iron, sodium carbonate - and track the color change. In some cases the color is different in the jar and the paper. For example, the mustard plant ‘juncea’ (below). Once boiled it produces a magenta color. When this color is used on paper, it is dries as a blue color.

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I have been exploring painting with the colors produced from the plants. The paintings below use a mix of colors from plants in Blake Garden and food waste from my kitchen.

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