Making Inks and watercolours

I have been experimenting with plant inks since summer 2021 these are some examples.I wanted to make my own inks and watercolours to help create a sense of place in my drawings through botanical colours from my local environment, while consciously moving away from synthetic printing colours which are often unpleasant to use, toxic and harmful to people and the environment.

The most successful have been coreopsis flower, indigo and oak gall .

Coreopsis changes to a brown colour from yellow in the jar but so far the first tests have stayed yellow on the paper. Oak gall has kept well with the addition of wintergreen essential oil and storing in the fridge.Indigo powder and gum arabic seem to keep well without the addition of essential oil.

Coreopsis flowers made a strong orange colour with the addition of soda ash and gum arabic to fix the ink to the paper and avoid it becoming powdery, ferrous sulphate darkened the colour.

The flowers were just covered with water and simmered for 40 minutes, then left to stand overningt before straining and testing.

Oak Gall

Making ink from oak galls

Above is the link to my page on the Living Field about oak galls.

Oak galls are small spherical growths that form on oak trees where the gall wasp lays its eggs in the buds of the tree. The tree grows tissue around the egg which protects the wasp until it hatches, leaving a hole. Watch out for a hole in the gall before harvesting.

The end of the summer is a good time to harvest, I find the galls are easier to spot once the leaves have fallen. If you can’t find them, you can buy oak gall powder/whole oak galls online [1].

With the addition of iron, oak galls make a permanent ink. The method involves a reaction between tannic acid extracted from the galls and ferrous sulphate. The ink would once have been used with a quill and later a dipping pen.

Oak gall ink can still be seen on early manuscripts, though many are damaged due to the acidity of the tannic acid, which eats away at the natural fibres of paper, parchment or vellum [2]. To avoid such damage, recipes now use less ferrous sulphate. It is worth experimenting with washes of ink, as it turns blacker when it reacts with oxygen from the air.

New Zealand Flax seed pods were covered in rain water, simmered for 40mins and seived to make this purply brown which has stored well with the addition of gum arabic.


It is evident from this example that I need to purchase a glass muller to grind my materials more finely, although I like the grainy effect. I used commercial cochineal from dried cochineal beetles.

Himalayan Balsam

Made in the same way as before with the berries of the invasive Himalayan Balsam which are a dark purple colour. Some more experimenting to be done as the berries are a dark purple colour.

Pocket Book to store my samples

Birch Bark , Rust and Red Clay from broken brick washed up on the beach.

There are many artists and artisans working in this way and small businesses are leading the way in using locally sourced materials and natural dyes to make cloth that at the end of it’s life can be put back into the earth as a biological nutrient rather than a pollutant.

Tulips Oak Gall Onion Skin and Coreopsis inks

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