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A glass dropper bottle of alder cone ink and a glass dropper bottle of onion skin ink.

How to Make Your Own Ink

This is a general purpose, very basic ink recipe that can be used for a wide variety of color-yielding plant materials. I have used it for making onion skin (peach colored), alder cone (medium brown) and walnut hull (dark brown) ink.

This recipe is adapted from Jason Logan's excellent and beautiful book Make Ink, which I highly recommend! This blog post is in no way affiliated with Jason Logan or Powell's Books, I just really love this book and want to share it with you!

Makes approximately 2 cups (about eight 2 fl oz bottles), but the amount you end up with will vary depending on how long you simmer your ink to get the desired color and thickness.

Measuring cups and spoons
A pot that you can devote to ink making or other natural dye projects
Stirring spoon or stick
Fine mesh sieve
Large bowl
Glass bottles or other glass containers with tight fitting lids
Coffee filters
Gloves if you don't want stained hands

2 cups water
1 cup plant material, such as leaves, roots, cones or husks
A small amount of wintergreen or clove essential oil, or some whole cloves
Gum arabic (optional)

1. Sanitize your glass containers and your utensils by placing them in a large saucepan, covering with water, and boiling for 5 minutes. Allow to cool completely. 
2. Combine 2 cups water and 1 cup of plant material in a large pot.
3. Jason Logan suggests adding 2 tablespoons vinegar and 1 tablespoon salt at this stage, but I have never personally tried it. It is supposed to help intensify the color of your ink, but I worry it would be too corrosive. Try it if you like!
4. Heat the mixture to just below boiling and simmer for at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until you have a color you like. Dip a strip of paper into the pot to test the color every so often. Sometimes 2 hours is enough, sometimes I let it simmer all day. It just depends on the material you're using! Allow to cool before moving to the next step.
5. Once you're happy with the color and consistency, strain out the plant material by placing a fine mesh sieve over a large bowl and pouring the contents of the pot through the sieve.
6. Place a coffee filter into a medium/large funnel or a drip coffee cone that you don't mind permanently sacrificing to ink making. Place this over a jar large enough for all your liquid. Slowly pour the liquid through the filter to catch all the fine particles.
7. If you like the thickness of your ink at this stage, you can skip to the next step. If you want your ink to be a little thicker, add anywhere from 2-10 drops of gum arabic to every 2 fluid ounces of ink. Gum arabic is a thickener, so start with less, test it, and add more until it's the thickness you like.
8. Add 2-3 drops of either wintergreen or clove essential oil for each 2 fluid ounces of ink.
9. Now you have ink! Use a funnel to pour it into your sanitized bottles. You're ready to make art!