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Make Your Mark

Learn how to create personalized, natural inks from foraged ingredients, and add a organic flare to your writing or art.

| April/May 2020


Natural ink isn’t that complicated. You can throw almost any pigment-rich base ingredient into an old pot with vinegar and salt, boil it, and then add a couple of drops of gum arabic binder, and voila! You’ll have ink. Think of ink as any colored water that’s permanent on paper.

No matter which recipe you use, the final amount of ink you make will depend on how long you cook your ink and how much liquid your foraged material contains. However, your goal shouldn’t be a set amount of ink, but rather a color and consistency that feels right to you. If your ink is too thin, keep cooking. If your ink gets too thick, add a bit more water. Ruining an ink is pretty hard, and sometimes an overly faint or thick ink can become a favorite.

Ink-Making 101

These are the materials I recommend every ink-maker have on hand. You won’t need every single one for every recipe, but the more tools you have available, the more techniques you can try.

  • Large bowls
  • Colorful base ingredient (berries, rocks, charcoal, nuts, roots, or leaves)
  • Potato masher
  • Mortar and pestle
  • Old pot
  • White vinegar (cleaning grade, if possible)
  • Salt
  • Stirring spoon
  • Thick white paper, for testing
  • Fine-mesh strainer or colander
  • Funnel
  • Coffee filters
  • Gum arabic (found at most art supply stores)
  • Wintergreen oil or whole cloves
  • Glass container with tight-fitting lid
  • Sticker paper, for labels
  • Dropper
  • Rubber gloves
  • Rags

Here are the steps for making your own ink, using whatever materials you wish to experiment with. If you’d prefer to follow a proven recipe, see “Wild Grape Ink” below.


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