Lisa Madson and the Magic Cauldron

by Mary Jasch

Lisa Madson, artist and art teacher, fires up the grill in her studio—her backyard patio—to create her art. Madson transfers the colorful impressions of flowers, leaves, grass and bark and other bits of nature onto heavy-duty watercolor paper; much as nature, over time, leaves images of animals and plants on rock.


It’s called eco-dyeing, a form of printmaking in which she is currently immersed. The process is simple and began in Japan when fishermen dyed fish and pressed them against paper, transferring their images to paper. Madson uses natural elements in a steam bath to alter the colors of her images.

Above: Walnut Fall
Below: Skylands Visitor cover art

On this day, she soaks the paper in alum to remove the sizing, then loads everything into a broiler pan: first her brew consisting of rusty water made with old nails and metal, some organic carbon like the soot in a woodstove chimney, and black walnuts. She spreads flowers and leaves on paper, folds it and lays it on top of the broiler pan’s grate and puts a lid on it till it steams itself out. After the paper dries she may add to it by painting it with watercolors, then coats with a natural varnish—beeswax and resin—to enhance the color and contrast. Madson works from her outdoor studio into late fall unless, unlike the postman, it rains, snow or freezes.

Madson’s mother taught her how to draw. Her father was a surveyor and builder of Interstate Route 80 and taught her mapping and geology, and he brought home fossils. She studied art at Montclair State University, worked in galleries, then took family time off, though she always belonged to the Nature Printing Society. Back in art again and teaching at two schools, she says, “It’s been really nice to jump in with both feet. My kids are grown. My life is back.”

Her plans for the future? “To explore to the fullest extent what I can do with eco-dyeing and print-making. And just exploring an interesting process with beautiful results, I want to share it with people.”

Contact Lisa via email...

Here are more artists who inspire their own inherent talents with other gifts from nature...

This story was first published: Autumn, 2017