Making natural paints and inks from plants

I’ve been making an exciting foray into the world of natural paints and inks. It’s not so different from natural dyeing really. You can use the same dye plants but just create a really strong dye bath by using a higher proportion of plant material to water. If the colour isn’t quite strong enough when you strain it, simmer it down until you reach the desired effect.

Natural ink made from onion skins and marigolds

For my first paints, I’ve gone with some classic dye plants. Above is red onion skin, brown onion skin and marigold flowers. I cooked these for about 2 hours, but the beauty of it is that there is no right or wrong length of time, just different colours and strengths. A lot of plant dyes will brown if you cook them at too high a heat though, so keep it at a low simmer.

Onion skin ink and iron on watercolour paper

Here I tried painting circles on watercolour paper with the red and brown onion skin paints, and adding in a drop of iron mordant (rusty iron dissolved in vinegar). It is so beautiful watching the plant dyes and the iron mix and blend. And I love having a new use for the mordants that I already use for my natural dyeing.

Avocado seed paint/ ink paper tests by Gumnut Magic

Next up was some avocado seed ink. The gorgeous peachy colour at the top was made after a short amount of cooking. The right sample is a simple brushstroke of the final colour, a beautiful earthy pink. The middle sample shows how beautifully it spreads on Japanese paper. And the bottom left two pieces have some iron mordant dropped in to modify the colour- which creates patches of gorgeous lavender purple and smoky blue.

After cooking, you do need to strain the liquid very well to remove any small particles of plant material. Use a coffee filter, or a piece of fabric folded over several times and placed within a metal strainer. Then you can use the paint as-is, or add a binder such as gum arabic to give it a more painterly consistency. Add a clove to each jar of paint or keep them in the fridge to prevent moulds from developing.

Making natural paints from onion skins, avocado seeds and marigold flowers

Here is my collection of paints so far. They look much darker and sometimes even a different colour in the jar to how they turn out on paper.

If you want more inspiration on making your own natural paints, I highly recommend the books Make Ink by Jason Logan and The Organic Artist by Nick Neddo.

If you want to come back to this idea later, you can pin the image below.

Use onion skins or marigold flowers to make paint or inkJ

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