As you may know by now, I have been tinkering around with creating my own painting mediums and thought I would create a blog of my progression, what I have found works
and mistakes I've made.
I made a decision a while ago to only use environmentally friendly materials. It seemed wrong to create calm and serene illustrations inspired by nature with the very materials that damage it. I could only use digital means, but even then, that increases the need for updating computers, printers, inks, tablets etc which only end up in landfills.
The first inks I made nearly 4 years ago have lost their original colour, but a few are still going and remain my favourite colours. Nightshade berries (the blue in the image above) always amaze me with the range of colours I can obtain, with various recipes. Sadly I cannot create enough without damaging my plant to have enough to last until the next season and I am always waiting eagerly for the end of summer to come around again.
I fell in love with the idea of making my own inks in 2019 when an online acquaintance made some walnut ink and I, being the experimenter that I am, had to have a go. I traded some of my apples with a lady who had walnuts and set to it. It was the most beautiful rich brown, like treacle, and I haven't turned back since. It was the answer I was looking for. How wonderful would it be to create my nature-inspired illustrations with nature itself?
I decided I would only use items that are growing in my garden, most of which are wildflowers found all over Pembrokeshire. It felt wrong to be picking flowers out where they grow naturally, what is in the wild, should stay in the wild.
So in January 2020, as I began my yearly clearing of the garden ready for the spring, I set about collecting things that could potentially become ink. The first job of the year is always gaining control over the bramble. As soon as they see the sun, they're off and can cover the ground rather quickly. While digging some of these up, I discovered the roots are a lovely dark orange.
And what started with this, soon became this.
So why go to all this trouble? By learning how to make ink, I learned more about my immediate environment. From leaf shapes in species of wildflowers to what insects feed off them, the life cycles of plants and fungi, as these are fleeting, and what time of year they are around and where. The whole experiment has brought me closer to the land than ever before, and I now feel I can truly express the beauty of the countryside and nature in my illustrations. Not only how it makes me feel, but also the repeating patterns and colours. It has made me think deeply about my place in the universe and how all living things are connected, but more about this as we go along.
The first mistake I made was treating them like normal inks, they are a whole new experience in painting and take some getting used to. But like watercolours you can layer them carefully to create detail and a sense of depth. At first, I experimented with adding acids and alkalines to obtain different colours within the same ink base, noting down each colour and later on, what happens next. But when I discovered that with an alkaline added, the nightshade berry ink fades from being an intense blue to a shade of beige (in exactly 4 days!) I stopped and decided to leave the colours as they first appeared
This was my first painting done in mostly natural ink (only the gold was bought from a shop). The green in the image was achieved by adding bicarbonate of soda to the nightshade berry ink. I was devasted to find one day that all the green and anything nearby, where it had seeped into the paper and surrounding colours, turned beige, losing most of that beautiful blue.
**I recommend if you do make nightshade berry ink, wear gloves and a mask, it's called deadly nightshade for a reason, so please be careful and always check what you are handling**
Another problem I had with this plant particularly, was that I had taken too many berries, so the following season, I had fewer plants and fewer berries, an important lesson to learn. I now always pick my flowers and berries as they begin to decay and whatever feeds off them has no use for them anymore and always, always leave enough for the plant to survive. Sometimes this means I don't have a great deal of ink, tough! It is incredibly important that we only take what is required after the rest of nature has finished with it. The mark we leave on nature could be devastating, look at the state of bees for example.
Nowadays I have begun to celebrate the fact that these colours fade in time, some quicker than others, some don't even make it to the paper! (ah! bluebells, how you made me cry).
It is interesting to watch what happens and to use that within the paintings I produce. It takes time and a great deal of experimentation but that's part of the fun, isn't it? Now that I have been doing this for a couple of years I feel I have got to grips with the medium and beginning to enjoy the fruits (pun intended) of my labour.
Next week I will give you the recipe that I use for making ink, though you can ask Google, there are plenty of recipes out there. I will also let you know what happens next and where this experimentation has led me.
Until then, be careful, safe picking and have fun experimenting.