How To Make Natural Colours Using Seasonal Ingredients: The Colour Red From Beetroots and Berries

Guest Article by Jacques Williamos


Do you remember the time before mobile phones, microwave ovens and the World Wide Web? You do? How did you entertain yourself? Did you switch on the television or did you go for bicycle rides when the weather was fine?

We had a back lane leading from our garden past all the ranks of Edwardian houses to a small shopping street. The lane for me, was magical. I’d take solo walks, skipping the gravel up with my shoes, watch the dust resettle and hope the displaced carpet of tiny stones would uncover broken pieces of patterned tiles, ceramic or even shells. There was always a story in there of the origins of these broken, forgotten pieces. I also liked to pluck pink rose petals from my garden and try and turn them into homemade perfume, so my fascination for colours, scents and patterns created by nature started long before my teenage years.


The portraits are fun and unique because of the products I use; the models play a part too! So, let’s take the colour spectrum of reds for example. How many food items can you think of that are red? What happens when you cook them? Do they turn the water a lovely shade of blue or purple or pink?

Portrait of Katie May - photo by Mitchell Williams
Portrait of Katie May – photo by Mitchell Williams


image_6I drew out my subject using artist fine liner pens which don’t bleed when a wash of water is added. I love using brush pens which have their own water reservoirs in the handles.

Then I decided on the colour palette I am going to use. As it’s summer in the UK, it’s easier to find berried fruits such as blackberries and blackcurrants, however it proved more difficult to buy red cabbage – I love the colour that I can paint with from boiling up red cabbage!

With my groceries laid out on a plate, I started by finely dicing a large beetroot. The cubes are then added to a centimetre of water and brought to the boil. I let the water simmer for about five minutes and then separate the liquid from the beetroot. The colour is gloriously red.



Likewise, the blackberries and blackcurrants are cooked in a similar way; a handful of each, depending on how dark the shade needs to be. I used five large berries and more currants as they’re smaller.

The surprise lies in the red onion skins One would expect a lovely red shade, but just using the skins of one onion, cooking these in the same amount of water as above, produces a rich orange liquid. I love the fact that when you paint it on, it dries a delicate golden colour.



Natural inks last longer when stored in the fridge and the portrait colours depend on foods in season,but whatever they are, they make the kitchen smell divine. I’m looking forward to the winter in Britain when walnuts are readily available and I can make my own black ink from scratch. In the meantime, I’m content with coffee, paprika and tumeric to add to the colour palette.


Jacques takes commissions for these retro-eco portraits. All she requires is a clear photograph and she can turn it into a vintage portrait painted in natural products, so if you’re interested please contact Jacques via her Facebook page or could drop her an email at

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