How to prepare bark cloth using charcoal and leaves

Artwork by Jjuuko Hoods, 2011.

In this creative technique, Jjuuko Hoods will show you how to prepare a piece of bark cloth with a mixture of charcoal powder, sweet potato leaves and acrylic paints.

By courtesy of Jjuuko Hoods, visual artist


Bark cloth is a material with a lot of space between the fibers. When you paint on it, the material will suck a lot of paints. However, by preparing it first, it will both add an interesting texture and demand less paints when creating your art work.

Jjuuko’s choice of material – the charcoal and the leaves – are both natural, which helps to retain the material’s organic features.

Step 1: Grind charcoal and mix with sweet potato leaves

First, grind some charcoal so it becomes fine powder. Get some leaves from a sweet potato plant, and bind it together with the charcoal powder. This mixture will block the space you find in the bark cloth.

You can crush the mixture with a stone, so it becomes soft and soggy, like the consistency Jjuuko is demonstrating here. When it holds together, the mix is right.
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Step 2: Add paints to the mixture

This blend of charcoal and leaves might now be wiped onto the bark cloth. However, because of the charcoal, it is too black. Therefore, Jjuuko adds some brown colour to make it a bit lighter, giving it almost the same colour as the bark cloth itself.

Again, when the consistency is like this – demonstrated here – the mix can be applied to the bark cloth.
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Step 3: Apply the mixture to the bark cloth and leave to dry

Get your piece of bark cloth, like this one that is one by one metre. Start to smear the mixture onto the surface in circular movements.

When you are done with the whole piece, you can either shake away the excess leaves, or leave them to dry on the surface to add some more texture to your painting.

Let it dry in the sun for around 30 minutes.  After drying, you can brush away the dry remains of the mix. Eventually, it would look like this.
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Step 4: Paint your artwork on the dry bark cloth

Now, you can feel both the smoothness and the texture in the bark cloth. When the surface is dry, you can paint your artwork on the bark cloth.

Sketch first, if you’d like. Compared to normal canvasses, the colours will remain their colour when you paint it on the prepared bark cloth, so you don’t really have to prime the surface first. If you use acrylics, the paint will dry quite fast.
[cincopa AQDAamKkRUjw] At the end, sign your art work … and the piece is ready.