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  • Writer's pictureIsla

How to Get Started With Natural Inks

Updated: Aug 29, 2021

It's not nearly as complicated or as time-consuming as people think, and I can show you how to try your own hand at making ink!

I started with nothing more than a picture in my head, a pretty little dream, and a very inaccurate Martha Stewart article. It recommended you cook everything for at least an hour to get a “rich, deep color”. Don’t do that. It says to add salt and white vinegar. Don’t do that. And it says use foraged leaves, berries, or flowers. PLEASE don’t do that. That’s a recipe for an emergency room trip.

My recommendation is to start with plants that you can eat.

That way you don’t have to go out and buy a separate pot and there’s no chance you’ll eat something you shouldn’t. After all, you might hate using natural ink. Or you might not be ready to murder your husband, either way.

a bottle of light yellow ink with swatches and a pink rose

These are some of the recipes I started with, and you can too with a simple trip to the grocery store.

What you’ll need:

A small/medium pot with water A spatula/large spoon Some gum arabic (you can find it on Amazon or in arts and crafts stores in powder and liquid form) Something to stir with Small strips of watercolor paper Watertight containers Labels/watercolor strips + string Pigment source (I recommend starting with dried avocado seeds or onion peels)

First, get your pigment ready

Second put it in the pot and fill up just enough water for it to lift if it floats or cover up if it sinks. Some of the water will evaporate off, but the more water you put in the pot, the more diluted the ink will be, so keep water to a minimum.

Third get it to boiling and after a minute or two, test your watercolor strips by dipping it into the ink for a second or two to test the color.

Pour the ink (very carefully!) into an air-tight container.

Add gum arabic (about one tsp per cup) and mix it in.

Add a few drops of clove or wintergreen essential oil to preserve it.

I like to store mine in a cool place just to be sure that it will be preserved for as long as possible.

“No one passes out health warnings at Michaels, there's no training involved before you start dumping things down the drain.”

ink swatches, a bottle, and dried flowers

I wanted a clean studio, a green studio. Maybe it’s just as impractical as dumping used water through pantyhose, I don’t know, but I knew I wanted to try. That’s when I really started to discover the possibilities of natural ink.

I wanted a clean studio, a green studio.”

Natural ink is not like paint. It reacts differently every day. It spoils; it’s volatile and unpredictable. And it’s beautiful.

a painting of a woman using blue ink is surrounded by swatches

It melts and blends together like flowers spotting a field.

It sways and blooms, not like a chemical spill, but like a flower, slow, soft, and delicate.

The colors are unearthly, not quite one thing or another. Some colors I have trouble describing because they're outside of the typical color wheel. Green but not green, gray but not gray, blue but not blue.

The colors change as they are laid down or as the settle into the paper, just like the elegant shift of seasons.

Little spots of petals and pigment dot the landscape like stars.

The colors mix and shift in unpredictable ways, they bleed into each other like fjords and twisted oak branches. They react to the air, the temperature, the energy in the room, it seems. There are a million different ways to make ink and every batch is different.

If you crave adventure, then natural inks are for you.”

a bottle of natural ink sits beside dried flowers, swatches of different colors, and a piece of paper showing the color change over time when using eggplant ink

If you want predictability, then natural inks are not for you. If you want precision and consistency, natural inks are not for you.

But if you crave adventure, if you long to be closer to the earth and all its beauty, if you’re willing to explore the unknown and delight in the good (and bad) that comes with it, then natural inks are for you.

If you have any questions, please comment below!

If you want to learn more about why I use natural inks, head over here to read more!

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