Pasts & Futures | Exhibition

Artful Documentation: Creative Communication of Process Journals

Colleen Schindler-Lynch


Documentation is a hugely important component of any dye process. Samples of materials/specimens and resulting dye examples are usually catalogued and can include information such as time of year and location of the botanical for further specificity as the life stages of a plant or the PH levels in soil can contribute to slight differences in dye outcomes. However, documentation can be visually engaging and more than just a recipe. Artful documentation combines the practical information necessary to repeat various dye recipes for future application and it considers aesthetic value in the presentation of that information.

Inspired by a botanical journal I discovered, created by my great-grandmother, it catalogued various plants from Southwestern Ontario, Thamesville/Ridgetown to be specific. Drawings accompanied actual specimens that were meticulously affixed to the pages. Sadly, this book was lost but I have carried its attention to detail, careful and artful communication of knowledge forward and as a result, created a collection of dye resource books documenting creative dye-based projects that are also beautiful artefacts of their own.

This submission of four resource binders is meant to create discussion about what documentation can look like. Cataloguing is essential for future replication; however, these books of knowledge can also be beautiful things to behold. The care and consideration exhibited in artful documentation allows a different understanding and relationship with the process and materials created and explored.

The first example is a more traditional binder, containing recipes and dye samples along with botanical renderings and further information about a particular material. The other three, in the form of pop-up books, represents my family. Entitled, The Legacy Collection, it was created after my father died and combines natural dyes created from plants in the Windsor area (where my mother’s family traces their roots to the 1700s) with cotton lace representing my father’s family, who immigrated to Canada, only one hundred years ago, from Ireland. I gathered cuttings of Spruce, Cedar, Juniper and Dogwood from ditches and woodlots around Essex county. Involving my mother in the process, we spent time stripping the foliage, cutting up the branches and separating berries which was a very rewarding experience, talking about family history in the area. I then combined the dye stuffs with three mordants, Iron, Alum and Copper. I used a series of cotton lace trims and dyed all of them with the above mordants. I created pop-up books for each category in an effort to remind viewers that the dye colours are connected to something that was once a physical thing. Presented here are the books but not the recipes which were written on separate pages and cross-referenced to the various specimens.