Free Art! Plants vs. Birds

I’ve had a link to the Botanicus Digital Library bookmarked for quite awhile now. It’s a project from the  Missouri Botanical Garden Library to digitize scientific literature and make it available on the internet. Some of the texts they’ve digitized have really pretty pictures in them. Probably they had loftier goals than beautifying people’s walls in mind when they started the project, but, well….when you put free pretty things on the internet, that’s what happens, right?

I can’t remember where I first came across it, but there are lots of examples out there of people using prints from the site, mostly from this book of plants. I like the plants but, when I decided I wanted some bird prints for my bedroom, I went back to the site to see if they had any to offer. And they do!

There is, for example, The natural history of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands: containing the figures of birds, beasts, fishes, serpents, insects, and plants: particularly the forest-trees, shrubs, and other plants, not hitherto described, or very incorrectly figured by authors. Together with their descriptions in English and French. To which are added, observations on the air, soil, and waters: with remarks upon agriculture, grain, pulse, roots, & c. 

Catchy title, isn’t it?

That one has some lovely birds in it, but this is the one I used. I have no idea how I found it, actually. It doesn’t come up when you search “bird” because it’s in Dutch (I think). But I have it saved on my hard drive, so I found it somehow. Lucky you, if you’re looking for bird pictures and don’t know Dutch! A surprising number of the pictures feature birds devouring insects. Eww….maybe educational, but not pretty! But there are plenty of birds untainted by references to their unappealing diets, too.

I can’t figure out any way to download individual pictures from the site (nor can I figure out any way to print directly from the site). So, as far as I can tell, what you need to do is download the entire title that you need, then you can open it as a pdf and print your pretty pictures.

I did print out some plates from the plant book for Milo and August’s room. I used brown cardstock….not entirely sure how I feel about that choice, but I can always change it out later. These projects, by the way, are what part of our mountain of Ribba frames were for.

They got dandelions, raspberries, and some kind of conifer thing.

And then we moved on to birds. Had I had a girl (ha! right! like that would ever happen!) I was thinking of a vintage-y nursery with birds. But since I’m still the only girl around here, I get the birds (and Dave gets to share them).

I wanted to hang them all in a row above the bed. Dave pointed out that this would be more or less impossible (or at least beyond our humble picture hanging abilities) with the wire hangers that come with the Ribba frames, because getting all the wire exactly the same on each frame would be….tricky at best. So we attached little picture hangers like this to each frame instead (first drilling pilot holes, then nailing them). We talked our moody printer into printing five bird prints out for us (we used white cardstock this time) and put them in the frames.

We used a level and hung up a line of frog tape to help get everything nice and straight. Then figured out the spacing and made marks on the tape for the nails:

Then the tape came down and the pictures went up!

Here’s the realism version of how our bedroom looks now:

Can you spot the baby?

And here’s after I made the bed and moved a bunch of crap out of the shot:

I think this purple guy is my favorite:

And I’m not sure about this blue one. But, again, easy to change!

I’m also still (again?) totally conflicted about whether to paint the headboard gray or not. I do not love it with the duvet cover. But I like it fine with everything else, and I’m sort of terrified of screwing it up if I try to paint it. What say my readers?

vintage bird printables

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Free Art! Plants vs. Birds — 67 Comments

    • Aren’t they great? I keep meaning to spend more time on there seeing what else I can find, but the site’s a little hard to navigate, so it takes some time. Let me know if you find anything good!

  1. Love the prints! You are crazy crafty with the computer.

    I actually think I would paint and re-distress the headboard. With chalk paint and a sander, you couldn’t possibly mess it up. You like my fireplace all right, doncha? That took me like 20 minutes.

  2. I like the headboard the way it is. Gray pillow shams?
    The pictures look great with the wall color. I like the brown cardstock in the boys’ room also.

  3. Just a side note: Yes, the book with the birds is dutch.
    (The title reads: Collection of foreign (outlandish) and curious/strange BIRDS along with some foreign/strange ANIMALS and FLOATING LEAVES)

    But the headlines on each picture are all german. I’ve read a bit of the introduction but couldn’t see, why this is a mixed-languages book… Maybe the dutch version of a german one and they didn’t wanted to paint all the birds again?!

    The title of the german book just says “Medicinal Plants”. And the german term “Medizinal” is definitely old – no one uses this today! Sounds a bit funny to me 🙂

    Love, Midsommarflicka

    • Interesting! I had thought German from looking at just the captions on the pictures, but then the information with the book said it was published in Amsterdam, which is why I guessed Dutch. The title is funny…”floating leaves” LOL. Thanks for the information 🙂

  4. Wow, great idea and they look fab. Also, too LOVE the colour of your walls… what paint is that? I think you should go for it with the headboard. Grey would look absolutely stunning with that dark blue and maybe add a contemporary touch (with grey being very on trend). Plus if you hate it, you can always repaint… at least that’s my attitude! x

  5. Nice bird pictures (and they look great with your wall color)! I had to laugh at the co-sleeper since I spent quite a bit of time with one attached to our bed! Thanks for the links. Although I think the dandelion is my favorite.

  6. We love this reuse of images from Missouri Botanical Garden (MOBOT)! I work at MOBOT on a project called the Biodiversity Heritage Library which has taken content from Botanicus and combined with books from other botanical and nat history museums for over 40 million pages of digitized texts and images. You can find more images by browsing through our books/journals or can view a selection of over 60,000 images via our flickr stream All of our images in Flickr are free and reusable for non-commercial uses so feel free to decorate your walls with our images!

    • On this site, you do have to go through the whole book and find the pictures you want. This is the one I used: . If you go to the left and look at the pages, the ones that are pictures start with “tab.” To get them to print, I had to download the book as a pdf and then print the pages I wanted. If you’re not wedded to these particular birds, though, an easier source to use for vintage animal/nature illustrations is here: You can search for what you want (make sure to search only within biodiversity library’s stream….that will be an option on a pull down window under the search bar) and then download and print only the images you want. HTH!

  7. this is really late in coming but have you thought of tea dyeing the duvet. Might tone it down a bit and help it to blend with the headboard

    • Thanks for the suggestion, Shirley! The bedroom’s gone through a couple different bedding changes since this post….right now there’s a duvet on there that has some earthier colors that go with the headboard more 🙂

  8. Pingback: 25 Free Vintage Bird Printable Images | Gwendolynn Hicks Blog

  9. This looks like such a great idea, but all I see is text. Is there a way to access the pictures without having to peruse all that German text?

  10. Definitely paint the headboard! After all, it’s just paint! If you’re not in love with it, try a different color!

    • This is an older post, and the headboard is still the same way today….I’m good with it for now, but who knows how I’ll feel in a month 😉

  11. I love the headboard, and the colors you used in this room! Thanks for the cool bird prints, they are awesome!

  12. Oh. my. GOSH!!! Thank you so much for the link to this amazingly fabulous, splendiferous site! I have found the most amazing illustrations and cannot wait to make a gorgeous statement wall with them. You’re my hero right now, Dear!

  13. Why am I the only one that can’t find the printables? I’ve looked through about 1000 pages of old books on your link and I cannot find these pictures. I’m going to have a mental breakdown!

    • In the book I used (it’s linked to directly in the paragraph under “catchy title, isn’t it?”), the pages that I used start with “tab” (on the menu of page numbers on the left hand top corner). In the other one that I linked to (the one with the really long title) the pages that have pictures start with “t.” For some of the other books, if I remember right, they’ll say “plate.” This is the book I used: Hope that helps!

  14. Thanks for the printables! I would use a chalk paint and paint the headboard white, which would pop off of that wall. Then add some accent pillows to your bed, maybe a pattern with the grey and some of the colors that you like from the pictures.

    • It’s been a couple of years since this post, and the bed’s still sitting there being the same color–might be about time to revisit the issue! thanks for stopping by 🙂

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