Tuesday, 18 November 2008

New Natural Dye Inks: blue and bronze

Posted by Helen
Welcome to some new followers of my blog Yvette, Willington Weaver( Hi Alison) Mollys and Martine.

I have been busy making new ink colours. The inks have been a bit quiet or rather the sales of them have been quiet but have suddenly started to pick up. Every time I ran a workshop someone would buy a set of 5 or 8 and people have been coming back for more and like ripples in the pool they have been getting to a wider audience. Two local artists , amongst others, have been using them; David Brightmore and Jan Gardner. It was David who started me off on the journey of actually making inks rather than concentrated dye baths, which I had been using and tells me that he has sold some of his pictures painted with my inks and he has also been back for more.
Last week Debbie Bamford went off to the original reenactors market at Coventry taking with her my medieval inks; a medieval black, yellow and red, the black and the red being new. She sold a few and says that there was a lot of interest, but it takes time for people to buy something new: it is seems so odd to hear my medieval inks described as something new as the very name makes them sound antique and you would expect re-enactors to leap on them with cries of joy, especially as Debbie sells quill pens, but apparently not, apart from a discerning few. In the meantime having a few days free between the end of one set of workshops and the next series in Jersey I decided to bite the bullet, gird my loins and face the challenge of blue. The reason for the girding of the loins part is that I thought the only way to make a good blue was by going via saxon blue. Saxon blue is in fact indigo sulphonate which is indigo dissolved in concentrated sulphuric acid. I was a bit concerned about using this as my memories of A level Chemistry were rather in a dim and distant past , but one of the people who came to my last workshop on mitten making is Pam who teaches Chemistry . She went through safety procedures with me so on Sunday I made some indigo sulphonate wearing goggles, face mask, vinyl gloves and old clothes., stirring finely ground natural indigo slowly and carefully into a measured lot of concentrated sulphuric acid. It had to be left for two days but today it was ready for use so I experimented with making it up into an ink and here is the result.

The first is a weak concentration and the second a higher concentration . The texture on the surface is the paper's (I think) which is a heavy weight rough textured paper 425not- i.e paper that has not been either hot or cold pressed to give a smooth surface. However I was a little concerned about the look of that ink so when I made up the full amount I made sure that the thickener was very well dissolved and smooth.

My next ink is a bronze. I have long been wanting a bronze. The recipe I have for bronze ,which I found in Dominique Cardon's book Natural Dyes, and which apparently was designed for the Marquis de Pompadour, the husband of the courtesan Madame de Pompadour mistress to Louis XVth. The recipe was for brazilwood and weld and I used a variation of it for the fibres for the felt bronze bell which I made with the children of Bodfari school. I was really pleased with the colour . I have been trying to replicate this in ink but it had not worked but after a lot of experimenting using a combination of three dyes I made a bronze I liked. I am not going to say exactly what the dyes are -a girl's got to have some secrets- and after all I do sell them, but above you can see the result . The painting in the blue and bronze is a sheet of watercolour paper destined to make five covers for my dye books which continue to sell steadily. One of the things I really liked is the interaction the blue and the bronze, sometimes it went a very gorgeous green , but a tiny bit of blue on the brush made the bronze go into different bronze colours. Quite yummy in fact!

I noticed that India Flint describes herself as a mark maker which description I like very much and wished I had thought of-sigh- It occurred to me that what I do when I make my dye book covers is not painting but making marks and above is another also in bronze and blue but using different brushes and marks. Finally I have put in one of my pictures- a design for felt which never happened as when I tried to translate it into felt it did not work, but I like the painting.


  1. What fantastic blue, and bronze. Love your colours Helen. The patterns and marks that you make are wonderful. I love your blog.


  2. I like the first picture with the blue and bronze dots - somehow it's lively, but not "nervous"... I also saw the tag - thanks for that, I just have to read it all again to make sure I know what I have to do:)
    I think the reluctance to buy new products is the same for me! when I see something I like - I usually don't buy it at first, go home, think about the things I could use it for - and eventually I'll buy if I think it's something I'd enjoy. I need the time to "stew" over it first - maybe it's different for others, if they have enough money to just splash out and buy whatever they fancy. but I am on a budget and I already have lots of stash and don't just want to add to it willy-nilly.... sometimes that means that I don't buy things - and I am annoyed with myself if I cannot get them anymore. but most of the time it works better for me - I haven't had any silly buys for quite some time now:)) I think your inks just need time to catch on - when people see them more often, I am sure they will!

  3. Helen I guess there's room for two markmakers in the world, dont you think?
    I love your blue and bronze. They're so beautiful together.
    XXX martine

  4. I think you are right Bettina-actually I know you are right! I just want the crowd to beat a path to my door, fighting tooth and nail fo rmy inks-sigh- well we can all have our fantasies. In fact they are selling steadily and as I don't want to spend all my life making them that is okay!
    Glad you like paintings- they have cut up into marvellous book covers and were great fun to do!
    Hi Martine- Iagree to- I would just to have like to thought of describing myself on my blog as amrk maker first so I don't feel that I am being a mere copycat!

  5. Hello Helen, how could I have missed your blog while I'm surfing around last few weeks looking for people with the same passion. Nevertheless here I am. Seeing this posts and some others I can say that I like it already because of the colours and patterns. Will come back to read more, but right at this moment I have to go for the physiotherapist. xDorie

  6. Hi Dorie-nice to have you on board and to meet a fellow blogger with similar interests.

  7. don't mind at all sharing the appellation of mark-maker, i'm sure there are many more than just the two of us...