Another Dipping Disaster

Pokeberries grow throughout most of the United States.

I haven’t yet found any pokeberries. Here’s what they look like…just in case you might want to try ink-making.

The recipe — taken from an old pioneer cookbook — is very simple:

2/3 cup pokeberries

1/2 teaspoon vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

Just crush the berries in a strainer, catching the juice in a bowl. Add the vinegar and salt to the juice. Could it be any easier?

Now, even though I didn’t have any pokeberries, why should I let a little thing like that stop me? Pokeberries aren’t the only berry around, and it just so happened that I was planning to make blueberry-ginger jam on Tuesday morning.

But, actually, I didn’t have fresh blueberries, either. The store was out when I did my shopping. And then I remembered that I had frozen berries — a mixture of blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries. Delicious for jam, and why not see what sort of ink I could get from those berries?

So, I thawed out the berries, strained them, saved the juice, added the vinegar and salt, and it was a very simple process. But then came the moment of truth. It was time to get out my dip pens and see what my ink looked like.

With pencil, I quickly sketched a bird in a tree, making the drawing on a sheet of Canson “Mix Media” paper.ย  When I tried inking it… it didn’t work. I tried a small nib first, and later tried a larger nib. At best I got only a couple barely distinguishable marks on the page.

I’m not sure what’s wrong with the ink. In the container, it looks gorgeous — a deep shade of magenta. But it’s just not working with my dip pens.

In the end, I grabbed a small watercolor brush and completed the picture with it.

Bird in Tree - Homemade Ink (4)

It was a fun morning’s experiment, and I really did enjoy painting with the ink. I loved all the little color variations I was getting. I took this photo immediately after finishing the painting. I have a feeling that despite the vinegar (which is supposed to keep the ink colorfast) this will probably fade quickly to a few shades of gray.

NOTE: Yep! Here is what it looks like now that the ink has dried:

After the Ink Dried (2)
The pinks all faded to a bluish-gray.

Even though the dipping didn’t work, I’m more excited about ink-making now than before. Obviously my ink wasn’t quite right in some way, and I’m sure, like anything else, my results will get better with practice.

I have found a more sophisticated “modern day” ink recipe using gum arabic and alum among other ingredients. I really prefer doing it the “old-fashioned” way, so I’ll be looking around the art forums for more information. I’ll also be scrounging around the woods, too, in search of those elusive pokeberries.

And if you do have pokeberries and decide to try this for yourself, please remember that those berries might be toxic. Please, don’t take any chances!

Oh, by the way, my mixed berry jam with ginger is delicious!



  1. I wonder if you need to concentrate the juice a lot more to get a very dense colour. Think of what a mess you can make with just one drop of coloured India ink… I imagine the pigment concentration in that is very high compared with your berry juice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Probably so. I am going to give it another try. It was really fun, and I like using it. The whole point though was to use it with my dip pens. I’m still looking for pokeberries, too. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Good theory, but I’m finding recipes for blueberry and other decidedly not-toxic berries, so I guess my failure had another cause. I’m going to try it again. Maybe I just didn’t squish my berries enough to get all the juicy pigment out.

      Liked by 1 person

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