How to make dyes and stains for artworks

I fell upon dyeing and staining when I rewashed my paint rags instead of throwing them out, the pigments stayed in.

You know when you spill something on your clothes, and it will be hard to get out – there we go perfect dye or tint. Try left over coffee and tea. Try soaking beetroot skins and turmeric. On natural dyes there are books if you find you wish to further pursue the craft however its good to just muck about with your left-over vegies and beverages first. Playing and making a mess is a good start.

Try boiling  your vegetable or plant with water or vinegar or a combination of both. Try rusty nails soaked in vinegar. Or just leave soaking in the sun for a few days.

A person who made beautiful scarves used gum leaves and seaweeds and said ‘ just wet your cloths or papers and tie them up with the leaves until dry let the magic the magic just happens’

If you want them to dry flat I dry on on no porous board using a large paint brush to get the bubbles out. Or, use baking paper and pressing between books. I have used this for small squares for making covers for handmade books.

If you do not have the time and are rummaging around in the food cupboard you may come across food dye for cakes – they are a perfect starting point and have a beautiful hue.

To learn the art of dyeing process, an excellent book is The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes by Sasha Duerr – published by Timber press 2010

Shadow puppets

These shadow puppets where made from hand dyed and glued papers and cut out from a template during a workshop at Brunswick Neighbourhood House in 2019 for the Sea is Sinking Installation. The handles are meat skewers glued with tag paper.

Home screens can be made from sheets hung in a light filled window or put the puppet in front of a lamp pointing to a wall or intense midday sun outside. Play and experiment.

Paper Pulp

Office paper, scrap paper any paper lying around your home. Cut into strips smaller the better. Or if you have a paper shredder that is better still.

Put the shredded paper in a large pot and fill with water and boil. Leave soak over night. Add a bit of salt and eucalyptus oil to stop bacteria and mold.

Get a food blender or paint blender and swirl the paper around until all the fibers break up into small bits.

Drain through a cotton sheet or or fine mesh cloth.

when drained squeeze as much water out as possible.

Now it should look friable and break away in your hand

Add handmade wheat starch glue, powdered paint or vegetable dye and mush and squeeze until desired consistency. I grab a hand full in my hand and squeeze lightly if it holds its ready to start creating. Add glue if need be along the way. You also may need to keep squeezing water out if it wasn’t done enough the first time. Practice makes perfect on making pulp.

Dry your creations on a sunny window sill and/or bake in the oven on LOW.

Vegetable Dye Paint

Ingredients: Vegetable dye, homemade glue, salt, eucalyptus oil 

Mix ingredients to desired consistency – it can be very runny to quite stiff it will be dependent on the materials you will be using.

If you add calcium carbonate turns the paint from translucent to flat (non see through).

This paint is very accessible, affordable for children and is non toxic.

If you want to get into it more further reading / good reference material is Green Guide for artists by Karen Michel  Quarry press 2009 and Artists hand book a complete professional guide to materials and techniques by Pip Seymour Arcturus Press 2003 or go to my blog page on types of paint you can make.

What is a preservative?  Helps stop the growth of mould and bacteria. Some other preservatives other than essential oils is sugar and salt have been used throughout the ages as a preservative for foods often used in bottling of vegetables.

What is mould? Is a fungi such as a mushroom. Mould can be a health hazard causing you to sneeze or irritate the eyes. What is bacteria? Some of the first forms of life and can divide and grow very quickly however some bacteria can be harmful to humans.

Homemade Archival Glue

Ingredients and utensils: 1. Wheat flour ( rice or corn flour can be used) I prefer wheat as the gluten gives stronger adhesion. 2. 1 1/2 litres of water 3. Eucalyptus oil (you can use any essential oil if it has anti-bacterial properties) 4. 1 medium sized pot 5. wooden spoon 6. a stove

Method: Mix all ingredients together when cold – it goes a milky colour no lumps. Turn on heat and stir continously it will thicken. When it thickens keep stirring – stir for as long as you can 3 -10minutes while boiling this strengthens the glue. Done pour into a container let cool. Can keep for up to a week in a cool dark spot.

The consistency of the glue will be dependent on the task. If binding paper, making paint you want a runny consistency. If making 3D objects its better if its stiffer – and dependent on what you are using it for – as the range of glue can be runny like drinking custard to tacky when you put your two fingers together there is a bit of resistance. The more you stir and cook the stronger the binding is.

You can play with adding:   Adding sugar the glue adds a gloss however it can become brittle. Gelatin ( from either kelp or animal hooves) – brings strength to the glue however it will yellow and can shrink the paper. Honey gives elasticity to the glue.

Traditional uses: Japanese scrolls – binding paper and silk together.  Persian/ Mongolian miniature art used a binder for watercolours to assist the non-bleeding of colours. Glue is used throughout South east Asia and is archivally sound. For contemporary works can be used in 3D art construction of puppets, Crankies, and all paper art, and installations.

What is the binding element in wheat, corn or rice? Starch is a carbohydrate – made up of Carbon Hydrogen and Oxygen