Baleful Botany


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I almost didn’t enter this Spoonflower Design Challenge. These contests encourage creativity by inviting artists to submit surface designs centered around fun themes. However, this week’s theme is Poisonous Plants, which didn’t mesh with my desire to create fabric and wallpaper patterns with positive vibes. I’m so glad that I changed my mind, though. This was simply the most fun, and evolved into a design that I absolutely love.

Lily of the Valley was my starting point. I had the idea for creating tiny skulls in place of the bell-shaped flowers. I was pretty happy with this initial design and immediately settled on a black background to make the colors pop and to enhance the inherent darkness of the theme.

I’m not terribly familiar with poisonous plants. Other than Foxglove and certain mushrooms (technically fungi and not plants, I am aware), I was unsure where to start. I’m certain the Google search algorithm has now profiled me as a possible murderess.

I prefer minimal color palettes, so my research focused on plants that would be in keeping with the green and rose hues already established with the Lily of the Valley design. I introduced some cream and mustard shades for the Rosary Pea pods. I also allowed a little grayish lilac in the mix to accommodate the Belladonna flower and to use for shadows.

Color was not my only consideration. I also looked for plants that would hint at eyes or faces to be in keeping with the style of the Lily of the Valley skulls.

The poisonous plants I ultimately settled on for this surface design are:

  • Lily of the Valley – The leaves, roots and flowers contain cardiac glycosides. These gastrointestinal irritants may be responsible for a variety of cardiac arrhythmias and can be fatal.
  • Fly Agaric Mushrooms – One of the most common mushrooms seen in art due to its colorful spotted cap. It’s poisonous, but purportedly can be consumed for its hallucinogenic effects if properly prepared. From what I read, I don’t recommend trying it at home.
  • Belladonna – Also known as “Deadly Nightshade.” All parts of the plant are toxic, but the sweet, black berries pose the highest danger.
  • Rosary Peas – So named because the seeds are often used to make beaded jewelry. All parts of the plant contain Abrin, a poison causing many, many unpleasant symptoms that may result in death.
  • English Yew – Also know as Common Yew, or European Yew. These ornamental shrubs contain numerous toxic compounds that are extremely harmful to humans and animals.

With this lineup of unpleasant flora and fungi determined, I filled in the design. Since I envisioned this as a rather large-scale pattern, I set it up as a half-drop repeat to keep if from being too lineal.

Once I was happy with the result, I printed it in a few different scales and decided I liked them all. For the purpose of the design challenge I opted for a 12″ repeat in the hopes the fine details – such as the eyes on on the yew berries – could be seen when previewed as a fat quarter.

At the onset of this project I visualized reusing some of these elements for Halloween fabrics, but after showing a few friends and colleagues I knew that this was destined to become it’s own collection. I’m busily developing a few ideas to expand on these designs, and I’ve already ordered a swatch printed on performance linen for very talented local designer to reupholster an antique settee. I will be sure to update you with her finished project!



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