How to make plant-based inks

Hello Messians, it’s your favorite witch Vanessa here. This is a bittersweet post for me as it is my last one as a Get Messy Creative Team member. I have been involved in the CT for the last two years and it is a huge part of my life. It is time for me to make space for new creatives to inspire you and I am sure next year’s CT will do just that. I will still be around, teaching Rituals but also being involved in the Get Messy community because I love it so much. Without further ado, let’s delve into my last post for this final Season of 2017: The Season of Nature. Maybe because as I am writing this, it is Fall and we are immersed in the Halloween spirit, but the idea of the Season of Nature immediately conjured up the idea of the Witch at her cauldron for me. What is she concocting? Why her very own inks! Want to try? Ok, let’s do this. The first step is gathering your material. You will need various bottles or containers for your inks. They can be as fancy or as plain as you like.

We will be making three kinds of ink using organic material. For each of these three inks, you will need one cup’s (250 ml) worth of organic matter. The first ink uses yellow onion skin; you will need the skin of 3-4 onions depending ontheir size. I would suggest making onion soup with the onions themselves! The second ink we will make uses avocado pits.  You will need about 10-14 pits, again depending on their size. Maybe some guacamole is in order? And finally, you will need some red cabbage. We’ll be using most of this, but you can use the leftovers for a nice coleslaw to go with the guacamole!

The Witch’s Brew Basic recipe:

For each of these inks, the method is the same. -1 cup of organic material -6 cups of water -bring to a boil -simmer uncovered until there is 1 to 1/2 cups of liquid left (this depends on how concentrated you want the color to be) Once the liquid has cooled, add 1/4 cup of vodka to make sure the ink doesn’t mold. Put your lovely new inks in their fancy bottles and your brew is done! Here is a look at the different ues the inks have given us. My favorite is the onion husks, a gorgeous golden red yellow color. I imagine lion fur at sunset! The avocado pits give a pink brown color and the red cabbage a lovely blue shade. You can use your inks in any way you would use commercial ink: for brush scripting as I did above, with a calligraphy nib (if it is concentrated enough) or as a watercolor wash. But because of the idea of the Witch’s brew, I decided to dip different types of paper in the inks to see how they would react. The paper above is a thin Japanese mulberry paper. The papers below are leftover watercolor strips of paper from my bookbinding. The best part about using these inks is that varying the paper and/or the dipping time gives totally different results. These are also handmade papers; I dipped one edge of the papers and then left them in the inks overnight. I absolutely love the soft gradient on the top part of the middle paper. In some places, I let the ink run and then pool so that when it dried it would be very concentrated. The various dipping times allowed for some spontaneity. I love how this paper looks like mountain ranges. I didn’t think I’d want all the colour on the same papers, but I ended up really loving the way the hues played off each other. Experiement with your inks, dip in them, splash them on, run them down the pages, spray them. This is half the fun! Once all these pages were dry, I cut them down to size and made a journal out of them. I will use this as a Natural Herb Journal, a place to sketch out different types of herbs and their medicinal uses. A natural journal for Nature’s remedies. I hope this inspires you to bring out your cauldrons and experiment! The recipes I used were taught to me by Misty Mawn, but you can experiment with other natural dyes like turmeric, coffee, tea and tree leaves as well.

Action items:

  • Gather your material and make your own inks following the Witch’s Brew recipe
  • Put your inks in fancy bottles or in larger bowls depending on how you want to use them
  • Use your inks for brush scripting, as a spray or as a wash
  • Experiment by dipping various papers in your inks and seeing how they react to the paper
  • Use different dipping times and techniques
  • Cut down your papers once dry and bind them into a journal

It has been an absolute honor to be a part of Get Messy’s Creative Team and I do hope that you have enjoyed my posts. 


Vanessa is an archaeologist and an artist. She oscillates between these two poles of her personality and explores the many iterations of her reality in her art journal. She loves to share her art and process with others.


  1. Divyam Bernstein

    This is the most awesome thing ever! Magic!

  2. Katie Smith

    The results are gorgeous!

  3. Melody Willoughby

    Wonderful and natural colors. Is there anything else to use instead of vodka?
    I am so excited about the Rituals class!

    • Vanessa Oliver-lloyd

      I thnk you can use any type of alcohol that is clear. It is to prevent mold.There is something called alum which people can use whenfabric is dyed, maybe that could be an alternative but I don’t know its effects on paper.

      Thank you for saying that about Rituals!

  4. Stephanie manic

    I’m so sad that you quit CT! But I think also it’s a new way for you and for us. Never never let us alone! I love your heart. I love your hands, I love your pages, your foolness, your kindness… Love also these new recipes and hope for the new class and oh, pis tant pis pour l’anglais… continue de rêver comme tu le fais si bien. Ne te laisse jamais tomber.

    • Vanessa Oliver-lloyd

      droit au coeur! Merci Stéphanie!Je vais explorer autre chose mais t’inquiètes Get Messy fait partie intégrante de ma vie! Je ne vous lâcherai jamais

  5. Heather Gibson

    This is such a cool idea Vanessa! I LOVE how your papers have turned out. I haven’t been a messian for very long but I’ve very much enjoyed your posts and I’ll miss you here on the blog and as part of the creative team. I am very much looking forward to Rituals in the New Year!

    • Vanessa Oliver-lloyd

      Thank you so much Heather, that makes me feel really happy. I am very glad we connected. And Ièm still fully committed to Get Messy so I will be popping on the blog

  6. Misty Granade

    I’m so excited about this!! I can’t wait to use enough avocados to do it! Also, I might have just ordered a red cabbage.

  7. Clare Davis Etheridge

    This really is magic! I want to race out and buy a red cabbage right now! We get black walnuts on the trails here so I will gather some of those too.

  8. Emily@squiggleandswirl

    I can’t imagine Get Messy without you, so I’m glad you are sticking around Via social media etc.. I’ve learnt so much from you, here and in Totems and I know Rituals will be Amazing!
    We have a Walnut tree in our garden so I’m going to see if this works to make walnut ink.
    Big thank you to you for all the inspiration, knowledge and sharing that is you.
    Emily xo

  9. Anke

    Love love LOVE this! I’ve kept a can of beetroot juice in my freezer since my mom wanted to toss it out (that stuff is supposed to be healthy, but she says it tastes awful). Now I know what to add to my witch’s brew 😉

  10. Tanyalee Kahler

    Love these witches brews. Have been cooking up a storm in the kitchen today and made onion skin, cabbage and eucalyptus inks. The last one was rather smelly though – have had to air the whole house out. My tip would be to make it outside on a gas cooker!

  11. Julia Bethmann

    Fun project that I am excited to try!

  12. Christina Cloud

    What a beautiful post! I would love to try this, but I want to learn how to make homemade paper to try them on!
    I’ve only been with get messy for two months, but I will miss seeing your contributions, and I almost fell over when I learned you are an archeologist! I’ve always wanted to be one and read book after book about it and dreamed!
    You must have interesting stories!
    Thank you for the great tutorial!

  13. Rebecca Johnstone

    This is amazing Vanessa! love witchy potions – what a great tutorial 🙂

  14. GillyW

    I can’t believe that I missed this tutorial, I’m now really eager to give it a try, thank you.