How to make natural inks from plants

Kathryn Davey

March 12, 2023

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natural dyeing
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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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Make natural inks from plants
These are natural colours made from madder root powder

Making natural paints or inks

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. If you’ve been wondering how to make paint from plants, read on for a full step-by-step tutorial.

Make natural inks from plants
Natural paint made from avocado dye

How do I make watercolor paint from plants?

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 paints & the end result ridiculously satisfying.

Make natural inks from plants
More colours from madder powder, known for shades of pink & red, I was surprised to get these tones!

How to make paint from plants

Below you’ll find a very simple tutorial on how to make paint 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, avocado stones, nettles, spinach, coffee, tea, black beans, elderberry or pokeweed berry.

how to make watercolor paint
Natural paint made from nettle leaves

What you need to make inks or paints from plants:

  • 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 watercolor paint
Making the nettle dye before simmering it into a paint

How to make watercolor paints 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!

how to make watercolor paint
The colour wheel made entirely from watercolor paint made from plants

If you would like to learn more about how to make watercolor paints or natural inks from plants, sign up for my newsletter & learn about upcoming workshops. I hope you enjoyed this post x Kathryn

Comments +

  1. Nicole says:

    Merci beaucoup pour ce tutoriel,je vais essayer avec mes petits enfants. J’aime beaucoup travailler avec des éléments naturels ! J’habite en France, à la campagne.

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