More ink

So here as promised is my update on inkmaking from my dye stash this winter – and what a winter: over 100cm of snow so far. Nothing for it but to huddle over the dye pot and carry on making ink.

First, a little info on one of the modifiers ( or colour shifters) I used for varying the ink colours made so far with buckthorn, grape, walnut and roselle. One of the chief charms of these inks for me is the fact that they can vary in colour depending on the substrate’s pH and/or on the natural dye modifiers ( colour shifters) that the artist chooses to apply. Examples of common modifiers are vinegar ( or lemon juice), soda ash and iron.

The greens, yellows and the blue in the image above are painted on with the green buckthorn: pinks develop when acid is applied, in this instance, a lemon. Yellows appear with ammonia. The other ink colours mentioned above look like this (below) when acid is touched to them:

Above is the inked paper before the lemon was printed on it.The blues are grape, the browns are walnut and iron gall ink.

Next, I thought it was time for yellows and oranges to extend the ink palette so back I went to The Stash to check out the options among my native plant colours. It happened that some years ago I had picked up some Osage orange wood sawdust/shavings at a local shop. This plant is native to the southern states of the US but was introduced elsewhere as hedge material – it is thick and has wicked thorns, too. (Osage is often termed invasive now). The deep orangey-yellow heartwood can be used for dye. So though not a local native, it works as one for me, and also because its name makes a connection to the Osage First Nation and to my interest in First Nations dye traditions

After soaking the wood shavings in water for a few weeks (I forgot to write what kind of water I put in the jar – I think it was tap water with pH about 6.5), I cooked them with distilled water added in the slow cooker for several hours on and off; then I strained out the shavings, filtered the liquid and cooked it down to 25% of the original dye bath volume. At the last, I added a teaspoon or so of soda ash to bump up the yellows to orangey. The result is as shown below:

Osage orange ink, ink swatch, Osage shavings, filter paper

Upon this sunny elixir, I bestowed the name ” Osage Orange Tomcat” – you can guess why? But really, because I was inspired by the Paul Klee exhibit at the National Gallery in Ottawa. Klee did a wee painting of his orange tomcat that I love (Klee is my big fave and I love orange kitties, too)

Here are some more pics of the ink collection so far: the light yellow is what the Osage looks like when swatched before cooking.
Squint to see the labels! These are the inks as a collection
Various pinks from rosehips, sumac and roselle

Inks swatched out on various papers. The pH of the papers can alter the colours of the inks in a delightful way! Pink roselle turns blue on certain papers as does purple grape.
Inks on kozo paper which tends to keep the original colour and to mute it somewhat. (And the snow stays white no matter what) Colours L to R: Osage orange, Osage yellow, buckthorn green, rosehip red-brown, dead tulip pink, roselle pink, grape purple, walnut and grape grey, walnut brown, burnt dahlia and osage (what? ) and iron gall with sumac and walnut.
The filter papers from sumac berry

And to finish, a little book and some cards made with the inks:

Mulitflora ink on paper, handcarved stamps
Indigo ink and eco print on handembossed paper covers, coptic binding

That is probably enough for this post! I am finding this project very, shall we say, absorbing…Paradoxically, though my stash of dyes and dye plants is getting smaller, a different one is now taking its place…


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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.

Walnuts Continued



It’s finally time to get to that benignly-neglected walnut stash that has been fermenting in a dark cupboard in my studio since the summer of 2015.

At Canadian Thanksgiving in early October, I posted a few photos here of a quick dye/ink made with a few freshly foraged green walnuts that obliged by producing the above-pictured measure of dye.

I learned from my research, however, that the best walnut colours in terms of fastness  can be had from walnuts that have soaked for a year, water-covered, in wooden casks. Now my green walnuts had been soaking for three years in big glass jars, so neither extra tannins ( from the wood) nor oxygen (which is believed to optimize the dye characteristics) entered the glass jar as happens with wood casks.  One might expect bad smells and molds after all that time, too, but there were none of either. My three-year walnut liquid had simply  become a thick dark brown potage smelling slightly of the fall forest. I wonder if fermentation prevents the mold that walnut ink is reputed to harbour? Time will tell.

To make this batch of  walnut colour, I put half a potful of the mushy brown ferment (along with the still-hard nuts in their shells) in the slow cooker, covered the sludge with water and heated this for an hour or so at  80 – 90 C. After straining and filtering the liquid, I cooked it down by half until it was sort of a bit syrupy. The dye looks like this on watercolour paper:

The dye liquid, cooked down, was then put into wee bottles ( with some gum arabic added to ink it up) and  finished with walnut-dyed tags and labels:

Off to the craft fair next weekend in Chelsea, Quebec! And taking some buckthorn ink along, too:

Next ink colour to try is wild grape, waiting its turn in the stash, Might even have some ready to go with the walnut and buckthorn for next weekend! Naturally, the ink so-obtained can work as paint, also;  you can even add some other binder – an acrylic glazing liquid might be nice.

A la prochaine, mes amis/amies