Printed Biodiversity

“I’m bio- we’re all bio!”

“Biodiversity- that’s when you lift up a log and there’s lots and lots of creepy crawlies?”

Haytor View Primary School Students

Supporting Haytor View Primary School in Newton Abbot to design and make the fabric to line the canopy above the tail lift on the back of Chrysalis was four weeks of wild creativity, spanning the final hour of the school day with an entire year one class, and also an after school session with a much smaller group involving siblings and family members of the class, once a week.

With the class acting as designer-makers, we completed an entire design process:

Material Investigation

Beginning with an initial investigation into materials, asking “what do we need the materials to do?”, we explored the concept of durability and also the ecological principles that underpin the project. Through watching ‘A Plastic Ocean’ we had an all class discussion about the problematic nature of plastic, it's often multi-century eventual breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces that end up in the food systems of all creatures- humans not excluded. This was weighed up with the fact that we actually need the canopy at the back of Chrysalis to be durable- to last, remaining on the outside of the vehicle, even during transportation.

The class tried out mark making on a wide range of fabrics, both natural and synthetic, using a range of pens and ink, and began to test the materials to see which qualities they held- Would they hold ink? Were they easy to draw on? What did they feel like? Were they shiny, rough, tough?

Coming back together as a class to make the complex decision as to what kind of fibre we would use for the canopy, the class settled on the fact that they thought that the synthetic fabrics were smoother and more durable than the natural fabrics, though overall they liked the natural fabrics, and their environmental implications more. After speaking about the possibility of using synthetic fabrics produced from plastic bottles that would both have the qualities of synthetic fabrics that they valued- strength, smoothness, easy to print- and also the recycled credentials that they were passionate about.

Design Exploration

Having already explored possible themes for the canopy design with the after school group, the decision was made collectively to work with the theme of critically endangered beetles, butterflies, moths, cicadas and bees. We watched a short animated film on the dangers of biodiversity loss, especially in relation to the Tansy Beetle, and discussed the meaning of biodiversity as the class understood it.

The class were given the opportunity to pick a colour photograph of a critically endangered insect that they were interested in, and to carefully draw it in pencil on a piece of paper, noticing its detail and complexity, along with its shape and form- a real lesson in taking notice. A rare opportunity for observational drawing for the class, a hush descended on the room. Many children drew several of the insects, enjoying the variety of shapes and forms in the photos, and sharing what they knew about the insects already, including stories of coming into contact with them in real life. The after school group continued this work by looking at local plants and leaves and drawing them from life in pencil on pieces of paper.

Making the Printing Blocks

The class reviewed their drawings from the previous week, and had the opportunity to choose which of their drawings they would like to develop as a stamp. They copied their designs onto smaller pieces of paper, experimenting with how much detail they could retain and perfecting the forms before repeating the drawings onto small foam blocks in permanent marker.

The class discussed their belief in ensuring that the beauty and wonder that they felt looking at the bugs translated to the canopy, so that future groups experiencing Chrysalis would have a sense of how precious the insects were and would be moved to make efforts to take care of them.

The blocks were then carefully cut out, retaining as much detail from the original drawing as possible, and attached onto small cross sections of a tree branch, to enable them to be easily held by small hands and used as stamps.

The leaf stamps, which would make up the background of the canopy, were taken to the Great Parks Make Day on the 28th March and used by members of the public to stamp out a wilderness of greenery ready for the addition of insects by the class.

Printing and Refining

Ink was mixed using Indian Ink, and the class took turns in carefully printing with their blocks onto the fabric, choosing the placement of their stamps with consideration of the insect that they were printing- where do they live- on leaves? Under leaves? In the air? Do they live in groups? Largely alone?

The group also took time in documenting the process- recording what we did week by week in small concertina books. Finally, the after school group added detail to the printed insects with fabric pens, drawing in antennae, legs, hairs and flight paths through the sky.

Week one: Testing the materials (left). Week one: Exploring the qualities of the fabric (right).

Week four: Inking up the stamps (left). Week four: Printing with the blocks (right).

Week Four: The final fabric for the canopy

The short films that we watched:


To see what’s being made right now for Chrysalis with community groups across South Devon, have a look at the Instagram account.



The Making of Chrysalis

Chrysalis will be a new mobile arts, culture and learning space made in 2018 - 2019 by the hands and imagination of people who live or work in the Bio Region of South Devon.