Painting with Natural Inks such as Coffee Syrup, Vegetables and Fruits

Guest Article by Jacques Williamos

Hi everyone.  I’m a mixed media eco-artist.  Jacques is the shortened form of Jacqueline, which my father began calling me when I was little.  I’ve been drawing from as long as I remember and was lucky enough to win third prize in a national schools’ art competition when I was seven during the Silver Jubilee celebrations.  My prize award was a packet of modelling clay and a painting set and the opportunity to meet the Queen and Prince Philip.

Gelliprinted feathers and overlay of hand cut stencil of ducks; detail added with white and black fine liners

My interest and passion for inks began when I was sixteen and I studied printmaking.  I asked my dad to buy me a set of mapping pens (the refillable draughtsman pens for architectural drawing, which were very expensive at the time).  He said if I wanted them that badly I’d have to save up for them – which I did, and proved my point that I wanted to draw!

Gelliprinted elephant dancing in bubbles (recycled bubblewrap)
Gelliprinted elephant dancing in bubbles (recycled bubblewrap)

Switching between black and white drawing, to making stencils, printing and doodling led me to remember the times my brother would leave deliberate coffee rings from his mugs of coffee on my drawings and so developed eco-painting and printing that I love doing today.

Who would have thought my older brother’s idiosyncrasies (intended to annoy me) would one day lead to me actually painting with natural inks from coffee syrup, vegetables and fruits found in the kitchen and out in the garden?

cockatiel 2

Collage of 'recycled' Gelliprint remnants
Collage of ‘recycled’ Gelliprint remnants

Only last year, after being signed off from work with ‘extreme work-related stress’ did I turn my focus fully onto developing and fulfilling a long term dream. Being jobless for a few months meant I had time to draw. Oddly, it was also a time that I decided to go on a little trip to the seaside to see and photograph some sand sculptures; my family didn’t want to go. I was determined to make the most of my time off and found myself meandering off-route along a pretty lane I’d not been down before. I followed the stream running alongside the small track and found to my delight, an antique store and picture restorers.  I picked up some free offcuts of mounting board and explored the shop. A conversation followed between myself and the antique dealer where I spoke about my long desire to own my own printing press. Kindly, he offered to search online for me of some up and coming auctions and checked prices that they were selling at. I’d half-expected him to say that the cost would be beyond my budget. Unusually, and quite unexpectedly, an auction was about to take the very next day and he suggested if I was interested to go and view the cast iron printing press. It was too good to be true. Would I really get my own press? It had an estimate of £30, so a reachable amount.

Cone roses - inspired by a nature walk
Cone roses – inspired by a nature walk

The auction rooms were nearer to my home than the antique store, so I headed back the way I’d driven, never seeing the sand sculptures. So if I hadn’t driven down the wrong road on that particular day, I might still be wishing for a printing press.

Cone roses - inspired by a nature walk
Cone roses – inspired by a nature walk

The press enables me to create lino print impressions and I combine this with diluting a tiny amount of coffee granules and paint areas left clear of printing ink.  I also enjoy printing from my Gelliplate (a flexible plate that can be used to create monoprints or single impressions) by pressing natural products into the surface such as leaves, flowers and feathers to create images around hand cut stencils, which I then embellish or draw on using uni pens then add colour.  That’s the beauty of using natural inks too, as they are delicate in colour and add a gently wash over black and white drawings, while allowing for the detail to show through.

Plaster roses and natural leaf Gelliprint
Plaster roses and natural leaf Gelliprint

Last year, I created a natural ink colour wheel to try out and record as many different produce I could find.  Some colours were obviously weaker than others, and some surprised me. I boiled red onionskins and this left a residue of orange-red water, but when you paint with it, the colour dries a green-yellow.  Red cabbage produces a gorgeous lilac if you dip a tissue in the liquid it’s cooked in, but when left until cool, becomes a darker blue.  The delightful thing is, the colours haven’t faded.  Painting with coffee leaves a light aroma that’s yummy, but does fade in time, however the rich colour remains beautiful.

Eco-Cow - natural inked cow using carrot, turmeric, red onion water, tea and black calligraphy pen
Eco-Cow – natural inked cow using carrot, turmeric, red onion water, tea and black calligraphy pen

So, what do I paint or print? I love animals and nature; we have a young cat, a guinea pig and a dwarf rabbit. When I’m not sketching them, I turn to trees and the outdoors. Every flower; every petal; every leaf inspires me, although some are more difficult to capture than others!  I use objects and items that other people might throw away: bubble wrap, washers, buttons, feathers, empty chocolate box cartons, bottles, broken shoes, to name a few. Every print is unique.



Currently, I’m working on a children’s illustrated book; writing is another passion of mine and it is my intention to combine the two in the form of a story book, and who knows, I might even be printing it myself on the printing press that I happened to come across one sunny day last summer.

Tea painted elephant parade folding greeting card
Tea painted elephant parade folding greeting card


Connect with Jacques Williams Facebook PagePinterest and her Blog Doodling Bunnies

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