How to make natural inks from plants

Kathryn Davey

March 12, 2023

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I’m a author, self-taught designer & natural dyer sharing the beauty of natural dyes and plant based colour with anyone that's interested :) 

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Hi, I'm kathryn

Make natural inks from plants

One of my favourite things to do creatively is to make natural inks from plants. Just like natural dyeing & most creative practices, the process is soothing & meditative, it’s easy to lose time while absorbed in the simmering, condensing & alchemy that follows. Sometimes I will make the dye from leftover dye baths, other times I simmer up plants just to see the colours on paper.

Make natural inks from plants
natural colour from avocado stones

The process itself is simple & involves simmering down your dye until you get a highly concentrated form of paint or ink. When your ink or paint reaches the consistency and saturation that you’re after you stabilise it with the addition of a binding agent like guar gum or gum arabic. After working with large pieces of textiles & garments for so long, it’s refreshing to work on a smaller scale & watch the paints interact on paper. As with most things ‘natural dye’, I find the process of making natural inks & the end result ridiculously satisfying.

Make natural inks from plants

Below you’ll find a very simple tutorial on creating natural inks from plants using kitchen or garden ingredients. This is a wonderful project for anyone interested in natural dyeing & a great one to try with little ones. If you are interested in trying this at home, you could experiment with a variety of colour sources such as turmeric, yellow or red onion skins, rose petals, carrot tops, avocado stones, nettles, spinach, coffee, tea, black beans, elderberry or pokeweed berry.

What you need

  • Water
  • Small pot
  • Wooden spoon
  • Dye or plant material
  • Fine sieve or coffee filter
  • Glass jar with lid to store your ink

How to make natural ink or paint from plants

  1. Gather or collect your plant material (see suggestions above).
  2. In a small pot, fill it halfway with plant material.
  3. Cover with water, making sure there’s at least 1 inch of water above the plant material.
  4. Bring to a gentle simmer, don’t let it boil & simmer.
  5. When the dye extracts & the water become rich in colour text your liquid (it’s hard to give an exact time for this as it will be different for everyone). I like to dip my paintbrush in & test on a piece of paper. Others like to use strips of paper to test the colour.
  6. When you are happy with the strength of your dye/ink/paint, remove it from the heat.
  7. Using your sieve or a coffee filter, pour your liquid into a glass jar & enjoy your work!

If you would like to learn more about this fascinating process & make natural inks from plants, I have a ‘Botanical Ink & Paintmaking Workshop’ coming up on the 10th of September. I hope you can join us, if you have questions about the workshop, be sure to get in touch. x Kathryn

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