Inktober

I’m secretly jealous of people who post entries of their 30-day (or even 100-day!) art challenges online. The commitment is inspiring. So, I decided to do one myself. But instead of following pre-set prompts, I decided to create my own.

For Inktober, I’m brewing a bottle of ink from plants, flowers, roots, and seeds for each day of the month. Just. For. Fun. 😜

Thought about this while eating mangosteen for breakfast one day. I had a hard time cleaning the fruit stain off my fingers. So I thought–maybe I can turn this into ink! I collected the husk, and then removed the thicker peel before dumping everything into a pot. Boiled it, and then let it simmer for about two hours.

I only used 2 fruit husks for the pot on the right. The ink turned into a beautiful, rich color. I was able to make about a cup of ink.

When used as ink, it starts out as light pink. Then watch it dramatically turn to purple, then into a warm grayish tone. Reminds me of those chameleon crayola markers! I decided to keep the rest of the ink mixture to test it as fabric dye next time.

TIP: If it stains your fingers, clothes, teeth, it’s most likely a good source of color for ink/dye!

While watching the ink dry, I realized that the color of the ink will eventually oxidize and turn into whatever the plant/fruit’s dried-up color is. TIP: No matter how vibrant the colors of the plant/fruit look when they’re fresh, it’s the dried color that matters. The color of the petals, fruit’s skin, leaves when it’s dry is  most likely the color you’ll get on paper.

Next day, I walked around our neighborhood. Our little village is tiny, with only three streets, but each house and empty lot is has so many trees, flowers and plants. I grew up here, and had the best childhood & teenage years with my neighbors–we were all so close because our village is so small. Spotted these butterfly pea flowers/ternate & annatto/atsuete so I knocked on our neighbors’ doors and asked for some.

I was so intrigued by the purple flowers, so I decided to use them first. Did three batches: Cooked with salt, Cooked with vinegar+salt (about 2 Tbsp of vinegar for every cup of water + 1 spoon of rock salt), and the third: raw & steeped in water.

Took the seeds of the dried annatto fruit, steeped them in water, before boiling them. I also pounded on some orange gumamela/hibiscus flowers (like when we used to make bubbles out of them!), and cooked them in water.

Although I’m using all natural ingredients, all the cooking tools and utensils I used are strictly for crafting purposes. From my measuring spoons, mortar & pestle, and pot. The pot is actually a used ice cream tin can, haha.

To make ink, you need to add gum arabic, which is the sap from the acacia tree. If you have a tree, you can pluck the sap off the trunk, boil it, and add water. (You can start with 1 part gum arabic to 1 part water, and add about .5 more parts of water til you get a syrup-y consistency. Bottled gum arabic is also available in art stores.

I sifted the mixture through cheesecloth before bottling it up. Tested the purplish flowers–they are actually blue! The raw version creates a beautiful sky blue color, and the cooked versions create an ocean blue hue.

The annatto/atsuete creates a really beautiful orange/rust hue, and gumamela, surprisingly, turns GREEN!

I also experimented with a few more colors: turmeric (golden yellow) and bougainvillea (blush).

Also made ink from cabbage, beets, and dragonfruit. Cooked two batches of the cabbage: with and without vinegar. Vinegar changes the pH level of the ink, and makes most warm colors brighter!


Here’s the basic recipe I use:

  • 1 cup of Leaves/Fruit/Bark/Flowers/Seeds/Roots (work with one type at a time–don’t mix colors)
  • 1 to 1.5 cups Water (pH level/mineral or distilled water will also affect the hue of your ink–just experiment!)
  • 2 Tbsp White Vinegar (if you want to change the pH / color)
  • 1 Tbsp Rock Salt (acts as a fixative, and helps break down the color from the plant fiber)
  1. If it is soft enough, mash the petals/leaves/bark in water. For harder pieces, just let them steep in the water for a few minutes.
  2. Transfer the mixture in the cooking pot. (Again, I used an old aluminum ice cream container for my first few inks. But best to use an enamel coated pot.)
  3. Boil and simmer anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours (This will truly be a test of patience, because as you see the liquid turn into a bright color, you’ll want to remove it from heat and use it right away!!😜)
  4. Sift the mixture through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth (I prefer the latter) and transfer it into a smaller container.
  5. Add:
  • 1 tsp Gum Arabic (acacia tree sap)
  • 1 small drop of Clove Oil (optional, but I use this as a natural preservative)

6. Let it cool, then test / transfer into a glass bottle!

The pH level of each type of paper is different, and this may affect colors, too. I test the inks on scraps of my favorite watercolor papers, on my Gray Area pad, and on drawing paper, too.

Two weeks down, another two to go! It feels silly, but I look forward to going home and heading straight to the stove to cook whatever plants or leaves I’ve picked up. 30-day challenges like this one is license to play for a couple of hours every day! 🙂

Click here if you’d like to join my INK BREWING SESSION on October 27!