Artists often try to reproduce the rich colors of nature in their work. Our DIY project using plants and other natural ingredients to make ink takes that process one step further—by showing you how, with a few simple steps, you can capture many beautiful shades from Nature in your artwork.
- Cooking pot (This process can stain cookware, so you’ll want to use an old, unwanted pot and utensils or pick up a pot at your local thrift store.)
- Berries, flowers and vegetables from your garden. Colorful spices and foodstuffs from your larder (see hints for some ideas below).
- Small metal mesh strainer
- Coffee filters
- White vinegar
- Thyme or wintergreen essential oil (preservative)
- Gum Arabic (a thickener, found at art supply stores)
- Bottles for storing ink
Steps for Making Ink
1. Slice the plant materials into smaller pieces.
2. Place the collected plant material, water, white vinegar and salt into the pot using the following ratio per cup of water:
- 1/2 cup plant material
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- Dash salt
3. Heat to a simmer, never allowing the mixture to boil, and let cook for at least an hour. Check the color and continue cooking until it reaches the depth and shade you want. Test by dipping a strip of white paper in the pot. Continued boiling will evaporate water and result in a more concentrated color.
4. When the ink reaches the desired color, cool then strain into a wide mouthed jar, measuring cup, or bowl through a coffee filter placed into a funnel or mesh strainer.
5. Pour the ink into bottles, leaving some air space at the top.
6. Add one-part gum Arabic and ten drops essential oil for every ten parts ink. Mix well. Seal bottle tightly when storing. Gum Arabic slightly thickens the watery ink to prevent it from bleeding on the paper as well as hold stronger color.
Experiment with different materials from the garden or the larder. To get you started, here’s a list of common ingredients you probably already either have or can easily get at your local grocery or farmer’s market.
Avocado pit = pink
Beets = magenta pink
Black walnut shells = deep magenta to black
Black raspberry = purple
Blueberry = blue
Carrot = yellow
Coffee = rich brown
Red cabbage = purple
Red or pink roses = pink
Red onion skin = green
Spinach = yellow green
Turmeric = yellow
Yellow onion skins = orange
- If a natural material stains your hands when you pick it up, it’s likely to make a good source for DIY ink.
- Combining two different plants can yield surprising and aesthetically pleasing results. Be sure to take notes while experimenting, to remember your favorite blends.
- When harvesting wild plant materials, be sure to leave plenty of each plant behind to ensure that a healthy population remains for future harvests.
- Spring and summer are great times to experiment with different colors of flowers.
- Use natural ink in paintings, pens or anywhere that calls for regular ink!
- The pH of the water you use can slightly affect the final color of some inks. Work with distilled water to start with a pH as close to neutral as possible.
- The pH of the paper you use can affect ink color as well. Be sure to test the color before you start a complicated calligraphy or painting project to be sure the final, dry color gives you the results you were expecting. Using acid-free papers (available through art supply stores) will give the best results.
Pressed flowers are a beautiful compliment to greeting cards, gift tags, journal pages or bookmarks penned with natural inks. Learn how to press flowers in our article, Drying, Pressing and Preserving Flowers.