Chameleon inks

Happy new year to all my readers and welcome to new readers since last post.

Do you have plans for artmaking this year?

My art plans for 2019 are substantially the same as in 2018: Get some art work done, Wendy. Sigh. And throw out some of that stuff in the studio. Or at least use it up.

I did manage to reduce my Hallowed Dye Hoard in 2018 but there is plenty left. ( ” Dye Hoard”? That sounds familiar…)

As I realized recently, there is depressingly enough dye material in my stash to colour several of Christo’s next giant wrapping installations. So I am actually quite excited to keep on filling wee bottles of ink with extracts made from the plants, powders and potions still residing in cupboard and freezer.

Wow, there are some great inkmakers at play, I have discovered. I have so much enjoyed, for example, following and learning from Jason Logan of the Toronto Ink Company and Tim McLaughlin at that dye-heaven, Maiwa in Vancouver where I buy my dye stuff.

Meawhile, I am truly trying hard to resist collecting any new art studio materials except for items like cute bottles to put ink in. Readers, the cute factor must be maintained even at the expense of stash reduction.

So up to now, various eccentric and alchemical inks concocted from dye plants such as walnut ( sepia brown), buckthorn (green), wild grape (purple/blue) and coreopsis (orange-red laked powdered pigment) have been bottled up in my studio. Plant inks, by their nature, are chameleon-like, meaning they can change colour depending on the acidity or alkalinity of the surfaces they land on. Natural dyers are familiar with the colour-changing actions of dye modifiers such as ammonia, iron, vinegar, copper acetate and others. Plant based inks behave similarly in the company of these modifiers. I took note that encounters with such modifiers can take place by design (the artist’s) or by chance ( the paper’s or cloth’s). So dear reader, I accept that when I make art with plant ink, I need to be resolved to let the plant ink have its way a lot of the time.

Now the wee bottles of ink may want to run amok if left as they come out of the extraction process.

So far, however, none has exploded or grown scary-beastie-like forms in the short weeks since they came to be. That is because they contain a little restrainting substance, in the form of a natural preservative.

To encourage – but not guarantee – longevity of the plant colour extracts, I add preservatives such as whole cloves and/or wintergreen oil as recommended by experienced and ( please note) still living plant-ink makers. Am thinking that tea tree oil and aspirin might work, too, to extend the life of the ink and to help it stay mould-free. ( Though most inkmakers say just keep calm, remove any impertinent mould and carry on) . Alcohol is used by some makers as preservative but inkartists can complain of feathering when the ink is used for calligraphy and when the alcohol is present at a preservation-useful 15%. Vinegar has its uses as a preservative ( it is said) but it also lowers pH, thus can change the ink colour. Which may be what you want more than you care about how long the ink lasts) . I add gum arabic also to help flow and texture.

I think it best to keep plant inks in the fridge where it is cool and dark. But that might be overkill for some. For myself, I approach inkmaking like jam or jellymaking and so sterlize the bottles and equipment.

Best be upfront about this ink adventure: anything made with water and plants together will have a propensity to live its own life, if you get my drift.

And now for the pictures which you may have skipped the text for.. maybe go back and read the text later?

I will divide up my recent ink pics over a few posts. ( you can find lots on my Instagram, too) Today we have red/pink ink made from roselle or hibiscus sabdariffa. In Jamaica, where it is known as “sorrel”, this flower is dried and used in a refreshing drink like lemonade.( FYI: You can buy the dried blossoms in Caribbean and Mid East food shops. ) The red colour can be hard to keep stable but traditional natural dyers have done it on textiles with special plant mordants. ( Check Cardon for info – see my refs page). Since Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, here are my as-yet-unsubstantiated efforts with roselle colours as ink. ( Apologies – no pics of the dried plant – my stash is now ink)


After an hour simmering in distilled water, a little vinegar and some alum, dried roselle calyces are strained and the extract is ready to be boiled down to a concentrate to make the ink
Two eco print paper bundles were simmered in the roselle dye pot, pre extract. One bundle had dried safflower petals inserted between the papers
The second ecoprint bundle of folded paper cooked in the dye pot had chokecherry leaves inserted between the folds. The greens and blues are from the chokecherry. The roselle made the purple-pink around.
This is how the red roselle extract colours papers of various composition. Blue for some and red-pink for others depending on the paper pH.
Here is the roselle ( R) with [R to L) walnut, grape, buckthorn and irongall-sumac on Saint Armand artisanal paper


So that is is for this post on my chameleon inks! Up next- sumac berries. I will also post a pic of my latest and re-opened references for readers wishing to have a go themselves.

Blessings on the work of your hands this year, dear readers.

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wendyfe

I am an artist working in mixed media textiles and Artists' Books with a focus on vintage cloth reworked with stitching, natural dyeing, eco printing and rust printing . My work can be seen at www.wendyfeldberg.ca.

8 thoughts on “Chameleon inks”

  1. Thank you for posting your experiment and result. Always super interesting to learn from you. PS: I did buy Jason Logan’s book after reading your last post and really enjoys it. Happy creative new year!

  2. “Remove any impertinent mould and carry on” – love this. I managed to save my homegrown Japanese indigo this summer by doing that. Glad I didn’t chuck it out! Informative post as always, Wendy. Carry on!

  3. Jenny Dean and other Dye Divas give this advice re mold, Louisa, as do some purveyors of walnut ink which is often said to mold. Great that you took the risk with the indigo – the artist in you!

  4. Happy new year Wendy (it’s not too late to say this is it?)!

    I always see bags of dried sorrel flowers in my local market and wondered about dyeing with it – will have to give it a go!

  5. I am thinking you may be in for suprises, Kim! I would guess to mordant the fabric – protein or silk with alum. My cotton drip-catcher cloth has been laundered many times and it holds the roselle colour- which makes me wonder about the action of the detergent chemicals re alkalinity. On the other hand, papers treated with acid go blue with roselle. And then there are the purple passages…

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