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           Art & Innovation Research Project Report

                                 Phase 1- Woad 

In my own practice I am fascinated by variety of different materials and I am very interested in their social history, symbolism, how they combine together and what they mean to people. When conducting the research for the InCrops project those were all the factors I took into account. I feel this is especially important with materials such as woad as it has got such a rich history that can not to be ignored when one is working with it. As I believe it is the process of extracting the pigment from the plant and that magical transformation from yellow to blue when it comes in contact with air that makes it such a special material to work with.

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Woad leaves before harvesting 


 Woad in flower

There are three colours basic to the human state red, white and black. Though their interpretation of symbolism may vary, white traditionally means purity and recalls potency of milk and semen. Black is associated with earth and excreta and denotes decay and red being the most vibrant colour is the colour of blood, life and sacrifice.


The colour of blue however has always held a special place across many cultures. It maybe because  it is  overwhelmingly present in our life as it is the colour of the sky, providing an overcharging  backdrop that is echoed  and reflected in the sea, river and lakes. From space our planet looks blue. Blue carries the sense of spiritual and suggests calmness and serenity in its lighter tones and mystery as it approaches black. It has always been considered both cursed and lucky. It has cooling almost therapeutic powers but it also holds an aura of melancholy.


It is a unique colour and until recent times when colours begun to be recreated synthetically the only way blue could be gained for dyeing is through laborious process extracting the pigment indigotin from  the Indigo plant in Asia or Woad plant which is the European member of the indigo family.

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Woad balls – a traditional method of using woad

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Woad Dye Vat bath - a mix of water, woad pigment, spectralite powder and soda ash                                                           

The aim of my research was to come up with innovative use of woad products for other artists. Woad has been used to dye cloth since Iron Age and the processes and results are well rehearsed. In my own creative practice I am quite experimental and work mainly in 3D so I decided to take a more alternative approach of how to use the dye.  I have dyed a variety of materials I thought that might take the dye well. The indigo dye is different from other natural dyes in a sense that the pigment is not absorbed into the object or cloth but sits on the surface. Therefore the surface must be reasonably textured in order for the indigo pigment to settle on.

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Changing of the colour on contact with air

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Collection of dyed objects                                                                                    

I have experimented with dying shells, willow, lichen lime stone, bones, corn starch plastic, potato starch plastic, pine wood, lime wood, oak bark, willow bark, drift wood, rabbits fur, sheep and goats wool, mistletoe, hawthorn, common wormwood, cherry tree, feathers, nettle yarn, hessian, canvas, cotton scrim, onion peels, feathers, thinly sliced mahogany wood, lodestone, iron and iron shavings, silk, bamboo, seaweed, weld paper, dried flowers.  Some materials were more successful than others. Nevertheless the whole collection produced an amazing variety of shades of blue. Starting form pale blues going into deep dark blackish blue.    

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Willow wood 

Clover and birch bark


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Sheep and goat wool                                                                                               

Corn and potato starch plastic

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Goose feathers                                                     

Bird and rabbit skulls                                                                           

 Wood fibre

To summarize the research I think the most successful was the wood, rabbit’s fur, wool, feathers and bones. I feel the wood especially has got great potential. As it is a material widely used by many artists and the results that can be achieved are not only beautiful but woad also preserves the wood.


Pine wood

Rabbit’s fur

I have really enjoyed the project and although I have used natural dyes such as weld, woad and madder in my work before, having the opportunity to explore it in more depth, researching its history and context as well as practical experimenting and pushing the boundaries of the Woad dye beyond the obvious use has proven to be a great inspiration for me and I am currently developing a new body of work based on my research.

Wild Horses, 2010  by Marcela Trsova, pe
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Wild Horses, 2010, performance in Lake District, Cumbria, England, 

Silk dyed in madder and woad  


Indigo Skies, 2011
Indigo Skies, 2011
Indigo Skies, 2011

Indigo Skies, 2010                                                        

View from Borek Hill, Czech Republic                

Cotton, woad, silver, zirconium                                                 


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