Sample Project

Fern Spirals

Fern Spirals

Discover the hidden beauty in the complex architecture of a fern.

A fern unfurls with beauty and grace, like a hand opening in invitation.

The complex architecture of a fern has its own beauty. The plant’s fractal-like structure, in which individual stems look like miniature versions of the whole, offers unique design opportunities.

A single fern frond is made up of many leaves that emerge from the central stem, growing smaller and smaller toward the top. Each fern frond has left- and right-hand leaves with slightly opposing curves. To make this spiral, you’ll need only leaves that curl to the left.

In our Fern Spiral, the dark earth of the background provides a contrast to the deep green leaves that, in itself, creates a reverse spiral. The serrated edges of the leaves lend a delicate, feathery look.

Rather than taking ferns from the wild, be sure to purchase them from any nursery or flower market.

Tools and Techniques

Fern Spirals

For this project, you’ll just need scissors.

Since most leaves have a bit of curl, press them between two objects (overnight, if possible) to flatten. You can put them inside the pages of a heavy book, or weigh them down between the pages of a newspaper.

Ferns can be pressed and dried to make lasting collages. To do this, make sure the plants you use are not damp or wet with dew. Sandwich them between layers of absorbent newspaper, add a weight to the top (heavy books, a few bricks, etc.), and remove them after three or four weeks. When the ferns are completely dry, they will be delicate and dry to the touch, and will hold their shape.

Field Guide: Gather and Compose

Fern Spirals

Gather and Compose

Choose two or three fully opened fronds in good condition to assemble for this project.

Compose: Be sure to work in a location that’s flat, smooth, and out of the wind. Dark, rich dirt provides a high-contrast background color, but you can try other contrasting surfaces. Our surface was a soft bed of fresh mulch, with a rich darkness that highlighted the lovely greens.

Field Guide: Create

Fern Spirals


Create: To make a Fern Spiral, separate the leaves from two or three full fern fronds, taking all the left-hand sections and laying them out, small to large. Begin working from the center out, starting with the smallest leaf, followed by the next largest, and so on. As you put the leaves in place, you’ll begin to notice the negative space between them emerging. At the finish, the full effect is a dark spiral of earth defined by the green spiral. Play with these effects by using more
parts, or fewer, and trying their arrangement on different surfaces.

Leave No Trace: Fern spirals will dry up and disperse naturally

About the Authors

Left to right: Rory Earnshaw, Peter Cole, Leslie Jonath

Peter Cole is an artist who works with gleaned objects he collects. From foraged rocks, shells, leaves to discarded menus, matchbooks, and miniature bears, he creates objects of wonder that reflect both natural and urban environments. He is the author of a collection of how-to environmental art books, including Snowmen and Great Pumpkins. He lives in Brooklyn with his family.

Leslie Jonath is a book packager who makes foraged art every day. In addition to having produced books on floral design, she is the author of Love Found, Everyone Loves Paris, and Give Yourself a Gold Star.

Rory Earnshaw is a Bay Area-based photographer who shoots corporate annual reports, table-top, fine art, corporate/music industry portraits, product, packaging, lifestyle, editorial, music CD’s, as well as fine art landscapes.