Now where was I?

Time to catch up after almost a full year away, dear readers. So instead of lots of words, I have lots of photos- all about making dye-based inks from plants that I grow in my garden or forage here in Ottawa (Zone 4 -ish, USDA). BTW, I have lots more ink pics on my Instagram so do check that out.

During the last year, I have worked to put together a limited palette of colours that represent some of the most easily accessible local and native plants; then to try the inks out on various papers and with just one project on fabric ( silk dupion and vintage linen).

I tossed around ideas for packaging the little bottles attractively but usefully – some ideas worked, some didn’t. So after a year of review and experimentation, and with the help of my notes, this year I hope I can say something a bit more definite about how I can expect my inks to work, how the colours last, how they mix, which substrates are best for them…all of that! The basic palette I have developed consists of hibiscus pink/blue, grape purple/blue/grey, buckthorn green/yellow, osage orange-yellow, walnut sepia-brown, indigo blue, avocado reds and blends of these to make greys, blacks and other neutrals. And of course, this year, I plan to make some new colours using other plants and new blends of the basic palette.

Meanwhile, while waiting for the new growing season, I have been invited to give a few presentations and demos etc. That experience, I hope, will give me insight into what artists would like to know about natural inks. In general, I advise artists that the current wisdom on the preparation and use of natural dyes and the selection of appropriate dye plants applies also to these dye-based inks.

Indigo on paper

Indigo indigofera on paper
Avocado reds, buckthorn greens, indigo,osage yellows, grape purples, hibiscus blues/pinks
Grandson drawing in one of my arty journals at the Christmas craft fair. Little packs of inks with swatched labels.

Above. Three ink paintings from my series ” Contained/Uncontained”. Directly below: Lemon juice and baking soda swiped over inks to shift colours.

Inks and paintings on panel and on Artist Book covers. And cute dropper bottles

Above: Tiny ink paintings on panel from my “Contained/Uncontained” series.Below: Swatching various ink colours onto papers and fabrics.
Ink colour varies depending on the papers used. The pH of the paper itself can shift the ink colours. FUN!
So swatching tells you a lot.

Couldn’t resist the pic of grandson’s kitty, supervising. And note the little bottle of English woad ink and a pan of handmade watercolours, gifts from an artist friend  in Tennessee who made these. Plus the ceramic palette (egg dish) I got from the Dollar Store.

The last series of photos shows inks printed onto silk and vintage linen using ink filter and swatch papers as dye carriers.

I have found that the bottles with droppers are more practical to use than the screw-topped ones which look cute and pack up nicely but are a tad tippy;  you also have to pour the ink out of the bottle to get at it which can be wasteful.

Ink filter papers and ink swatch papers used as dye carriers to print on silk and vintage linen.

30 thoughts on “Now where was I?

  1. Those colours are just gorgeous. You must make something with the filters, they are beautiful too. I don’t have time to do any dyeing or much art at the moment as my husband is very ill with cancer, but seeing this post reLky brightened up my morning. Thank you so much. I need things to brighten me just now.

  2. Lovely colours, and clearly a huge amount of work! But I guess they’ll all be fairly fugitive, or have you found a way to fix them? Such a shame if they fade too fast, after the trouble you’ve gone through to make them. Wonderful results though.

    1. O Alison, I am afraid I overstated the fugitive side of natural dyes! I realized that I need to provide more context regarding when I tell people to use acrylics if I see they are nervous about natural dyes. That advice of mine usually comes when people do not really feel they can with natural dyes because of a perceived burden of study and experimentation. I find that If you love the research, the history, the experiments and the excitement of shifting colour targets, you chose natural dyes – but even then, it should not be either-or, acrylics or natural dyes.

  3. Lovely! Nice to have you back! I am inspired! Thank you for sharing your beautiful work and the beauty of the plants!

  4. it was well-worth waiting a year to see all these … what an amazing range of colors you have pulled

    and I especially like the Contained/Uncontained series … in particular the third of three toward the beginning (although I suspect I would fall in love with each of the panels in turn were you to show them one by one) … even the swatches are a wonder

    thank you for the time taken out to share all of it here!

    1. Thank you, Liz! It has been so long since I blogged that WordPress has changed its editor and now I am no longer familiar with it! Gotta do some homework

  5. The colours you have extracted are wonderful! I especially like the pieces you’ve created with black as borders around the colours, it really makes them pop!

  6. Just so beautiful, Wendy. You have extracted nature’s essence! I always look forward to your posts about your new creations. Summer here in Australia & lots of native plants with which to experiment. I have made some lovely pink/red ink from coastal salt bush berries. Thank you for sharing your knowledge & pics of your gorgeous artwork.

  7. Well that was worth the wait! Beautiful colours and great experimentation with the inks. I hope you are going to publish your findings for us to purchase it? You also defended the ‘fugitive’ problem really well as I have been grappling with this issue with my eco-printing……….now I can just relax and give the same answerLOL.

    1. Thank you,Anni! It seems that the F word (ha ha) might need a bit more unpacking. Thank you for your comments and now I will for sure get my thoughts together on this. A book, you say? Well, maybe starting with a few blog posts..
      Best wishes

  8. I’m working on a medieval manuscript and one of the most difficult issues is the cross-over between colours that could be made into inks, into paints, and those used to dye cloth. Everyone treats the manuscript-pigments OR the cloth-dyes, and don’t talk about which fixatives or mordants allowed the same substance to be used for more than one purpose. Your post has really helped contribute to this area of learning… thanks so much.

    1. Hi there! Thanks for your comment. Check out this link for reliable info from a respected source on the use and abuse of mordants and colour modifiers – I hope you find it useful in your work. The sources of colour in manuscripts is a fascinating subject of study.



  9. Thanks for your insight and for sharing your beautiful work. I’m in the process of making my own inks and paints with plant and earth pigments. Where can I purchase some of yours?

    1. Hello Trish,

      Thank you so much! I am sure you will love making your own inks. I do sell my inks from my studio or at arts events.I like to keep them in the fridge between events so I do not put them in shops where one does not know how they will be stored. They have been properly processed and with preservatives added but they are, after all, natural plant liquids not acrylics so one has be more protective against too much heat and light.
      You can contact me directly and we can chat about the inks you might like. My email is wendydotfeldbergatsympaticodotca. You can also send me a direct message (DM me) if you have an Instagram account. I would be really pleased to send you some inks!



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