Another Art Retreat

Another Art Retreat

My last post was about an art retreat and normally, I would just have one a year to tell you about.  But this year, I had two only weeks apart. This is the annual retreat that my small art group does in late summer/early fall at the Kiwanis Lodge on Little Bitterroot Lake.

Landscape of Little Bitterroot Lake with pine trees in foreground and mountains in background on a cloudy day.

This is the view off the deck of the lodge. The weather was a bit cool and rainy but so much better than smoky skies from wildfires.

This year we decided to play around with making our own natural inks, printing and painting with the inks and then doing some bookmaking.

Before anyone points out that many of these types of ink are fugitive and might not last, we realize that. We were just playing around to see what happens and what colors we could get as a result. No “serious” artwork is being made from these inks.

We started by grinding up Haskap berries (Fly Honeysuckle) with a bit of water and straining the result. That is the bright red color on one of the acrylic printing plates in the foreground of the left hand photo. We also ground up beets, grass and kale and tried grinding choke cherries. The choke cherries were a disaster but Sally tried boiling them after she got home and got much better results than the fresh berries.

So Paula had gotten all of us some acrylic printing plates which we covered with ink and then let dry. We left watercolor paper in a baggie with water to get damp overnight and then printed the next morning. The two photos on the left show different prints and the photo on the right was painting haskap berry ink on to a page and soaking three squares of felt in the ink and laying these down on the paper. The ink changed colors depending on oxidization and what paper it was applied to.

Make Ink book by Jason Logan.

This is the book we referred to for various recipes and what mordants or modifiers to use with different foraged materials.

Drawing organic lines with oak gall ink on to previously printed watercolor paper.

I also added further ink (oak gall with ferrous sulfate) to one of my prints with my new fountain pens. I wanted to get used to using the fountain pens so this was good practice.

We then set about making a bunch of inks including hibiscus, acorn caps, acorn caps with ferrous sulfate, oak gall with ferrous sulfate, avocado, turmeric, blue pea flower and walnut ink. Paula also brought copper ink which takes several weeks to make but is the most beautiful blue. We put these in small individual jars with a whole clove to keep the ink from molding. These are now stored in the refrigerator in hopes of keeping them good a bit longer. These should be used fairly quickly. Paula had some that she had stored in the fridge for 6 months or so and they were mostly dull and brown and had lost their original color.

We then set about making little samples of the colors from these various inks. And then you can start adding the different inks together and see how they mix on the page. Such fun!

Table set up with blue pea flower dyes and various modifiers.

Our next set of experiments were with blue pea flower. Apparently, you can buy this as a tea. All you do is steep the blue pea flowers and then add different modifiers. The modifiers that we used were baking powder, baking soda, vinegar, cream of tartar and vinegar. The modifiers change the color of the ink.

Sampling of blue pea flower ink with a variety of modifiers.

Here is some lovely sampling of the different colors that you can get from the blue pea flower inks. They range from green to blue green to blue to purple.

Here are a couple of landscapes that I painted with blue pea flower dye. I love how they mix on the paper and the variations that you get.

You can also paint your paper with blue pea flower ink and then drop dry modifiers on top such as baking powder or baking soda. You really get some interesting effects with that.

Shibori tissue paper dyed with inks glued to watercolor papers to create bookmarks.

We did put some ink on shibori folded tissue paper that could then be overlaid on previously inked watercolor paper and glued down to make bookmarks.

Paper coasters with natural dyed organic patterns.

Paula supplied us with white paper coasters and we played with ink on those too. The left is a combination of walnut ink, acorn caps and oak gall. The right is blue pea flower and hibiscus with baking soda dropped on top while still wet.

Here a three of the books that I created at the retreat. The middle one was using a bit too thin paper which had not been ironed so it is a little sad. But I learned how to fold the triangular pages which was fun. I was using papers that I had previously printed with deconstructed screen printing.

I took my tree specimen book with me and painted one of the plastered pages with oak gall. The photo on the left shows that page which was interesting. The photo on the right is Sally’s book where she has collage parts of the page and added oak gall ink to as well.

We had the best time and thanks to Paula for most of our supplies. We also want to thank the Kalispell Kiwanis Club for letting us stay at the lodge each year!

17 thoughts on “Another Art Retreat

  1. Two retreats, what an embarrassment of riches Ruth.
    The making ink experiments look very interesting. Regarding the avocados, was it skin or stone you were using? (I assume that you consumed the flesh). How does a clove stop the mould, does it have some sort of antiseptic properties? Did you try making inks from different soils? I know that some soils are substantive dyes, so they would probably work in this sort of work. Questions, questions!
    All of your experiments look really great and must have been such fun. I love the page that you painted in your tree book, the roughness of the plaster gives a real “barky” effect. I do hope that all your tests pieces last.
    Is the next experiment to see if any of those inks will work on felt? Perhaps an addition to your Surface Design on Felt course? 😁

    1. Yes, Ann, it was quite a treat. The ink experiments were fun and you use the stone with the avocados. All you do is boil the stones in water and you get a peachy pink color. It did not work well in a non stick pan though. Clove has a high level of antifungal properties naturally. It won’t completely get rid of it, especially if not refrigerated but it helps keep the mold at bay. We did not use any soils but I have heard of doing that too. I think you have to have more grinding type equipment to do those though. Actually, my friend Sally dyed some commercial wool felt with these inks so we shall see how they do.

  2. How marvellous to have two retreats in a year to enjoy!

    I’m not overly fond of natural dyes particularly for their lack of light-fastness, but these experiments of yours look fantastic. The blues particularly, how beautiful! I suppose if you create something that’ll be “hidden” in a notebook the colour will never fade?

    One word on fountain pens: I hope you meant dip pens and not the latter, since you’ll end up ruining the nib if you use anything other than fountain pen ink on them 🙂

    1. I really enjoyed both retreats and it makes you feel that you should always be retreating 😉

      Yes, I know the natural dyes aren’t light fast but it was fun to play around. I will see if the colors fade in the notebook. My friend Paula has some painted on paper from a year ago that is just the same with no fading.

      I do hope I did buy the dip pens as that is what I wanted. There is no way to add ink so I think I’m right. They weren’t expensive so if I ruin a few nibs, I will survive 🙂

  3. So amazing – I’m excited to try the pea flower / tea.. The creations turned out so lovely.
    Thank you for sharing.

  4. Good morning and thank you, Ruth, for filling in for my blog post. Brian and I are in Grand Rapids, Michigan at a quilt show, and investigating Art Prize, an annual outdoor and indoor art event, with installations all over the city. I promise to write about the amazing things we have already seen…as the artists have been setting up the past few days! Tonight is an outdoor open-air, music-art-performance-celebration, put on by audience members facilitated by a group called Squonhk. (Watched a YouTube video yesterday to get an idea of what to expect. Check out last years Hand to Hand Summer 2022 Tour, I think you will all love it! Promises to be a wild time!!

    But, I had to stop and squeal when I read the beginning of your article, Ruth. ** I had just mentioned to Brian that I wanted to learn to make my own watercolors from natural items around me…and here’s your wonderful article!! I am eager to read the rest of it when we get back to the hotel tonight!

    Serendipity is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? I love how this group fills me up with joy!!

    Love you all, Capi

    1. You’re welcome Capi. I hope you have a nice trip. The natural inks are really quite easy to make but I would recommend finding the book as it is very helpful. This really wasn’t quite a how to post.

  5. What an interesting retreat!!!!!!!!!!! Did you try adding whatever the liquid is that goes into making alcohol inks permanent … make your “natural” dyes more permanent?

    1. Thanks Sylvia. The turmeric is mixed with alcohol so it should last. I don’t think the alcohol works with all of the “pigments” though but I haven’t read through the book either. I’m sure there is more information online if you search.

  6. The view off the deck at the lodge looks like a watercolour painting 🙂

    How lovely to be away in such a peaceful place and just be able to play. The making of the inks is fascinating and such lovely colours can be achieved.

    1. Thanks Ladies, I always love our annual retreat and the view is so relaxing. The playing and experimenting that we have done over the years has certainly changed the way that I work in a really beneficial way. The inks were fun, now I just need to use them before they go bad 😉

  7. What a fun looking event and no basket weaving involved LOL. I almost bought some pea flower gin because it changed colour when you added citrus but decided it wasn’t a good enough reason.

    1. Thanks Ann, it was delightful. I didn’t know that they made pea flower gin but that is a cool bartending trick to keep in mind 🙂

  8. Hi Ruth,
    Like Lyn and Annie, the minute I saw the view from the deck it was like my whole demeanour quietened down and was at peace. I can appreciate why your group returns annually to immerse themselves in such beauty. It is the perfect springboard for creativity!

    The blue pea flower samples are a feast for the eyes. In fact all your samples are. It was obviously a very productive retreat and I hope everyone left feeling refreshed. Looking forward to seeing how the inks react on felt.
    Helene x

    1. Thanks Helene, we look forward to our retreat every year. And we’re lucky to be able to use the space. The blue pea flower was intriguing and fun to play with. Hopefully, I will do some sampling on felt to see what happens soon.

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