How to make natural ink from Sumac

A natural ink Sumac recipe for the in-between time of spring.

It is that time of year where the snow is melting and hints of green life are starting to appear, but plants that provide us with ink are in low supply. This is when the long-suffering Sumac can provide us with a pop of colour.

Sumac grows in abundance; the berries and leaves are high in tannins and they can be used for ink all year round. Tannins are a group of chemicals that are pale-yellow to light-brown that are found in plant cells, especially in leaves, bark and fruit. Tannins discourage fruit-eating animals from eating the fruit until the seeds are mature and ready for dispersal. As the fruit ripens, the tannin content lessens. The tannins in sumac berries and leaves help create durable, long lasting colours.
Sumac berries also store well. The berries can be harvested in the summer when they are ripe and then stored indefinitely in paper bags. Always remember to leave the area where you forage as untouched as possible and to leave ample berries behind, as Sumac serves primarily as a winter emergency food for wildlife.

A few notes about this recipe. Water or vinegar can be used as a base of this ink but I have used vinegar to help intensify the colour. Please refer to my previous blog post if you have questions about alum, gum arabic or how to preserve your ink https://melissamaryjenkins.com/2020/06/05/answering-your-questions-about-natural-inks/ .

Ingredients:

3 cups cleaning vinegar (vinegar intensifies the colour)

3 cups fresh sumac berries and leaves (use your hands to remove the berries from the stems)

2 tsp alum

1 tsp gum Arabic powder

1 clove

Materials: *keep these materials ONLY for making inks *

stainless steel or glass (these are nonreactive materials) pot, lid, bowl, jar, stirring spoon and fork

fine mesh strainer

cheese cloth (enough to line the strainer)

rubber gloves

glass jar with tight fitting lid

small funnel

Directions:

-simmer the berries in vinegar and alum, stirring as needed until you reach the desired colour (about ½ an hour) be sure to keep the

*ensure that you are in a well-ventilated area and keep a lid on the pot to avoid breathing in the fumes.

-turn off the heat and leave overnight (not necessary but may help form a darker color)

-line the strainer with cheesecloth and place over the bowl

-pour the berries and ink into the fine mesh strainer and allow the ink to drain

-using your rubber gloves, gather the cheese cloth around the berries and squeeze out any excess ink

-dispose of the strained sumac and wash out the cheesecloth

-place the filter in the lid of a glass jar and line the filter with the cheesecloth

-pour the ink into the filter (repeat if necessary to remove any little bits of plant matter)

-whisk in gum Arabic a little at a time with a fork until dissolved

*if it is not dissolving, heat the ink again but don’t bring to a boil*

-when cool, add in a clove

-make sure that there is no air space inside the bottle (to help prevent mold growth)

-secure the lid and refrigerate to help preserve

-shake before use

* the pink sumac ink dries to a brownish pink colour on watercolour paper and remains peachy/pink on natural fabrics/paper

NOTES

Alum acts a mordant

Gum Arabic thickens, helps with controlling ink flow, binds the ink to the paper and helps preserve

adding a Clove helps to prevents mold

r e s o n a n c e

a minimal, black & white abstract art series created from handcrafted black ink

“The sound was rich, wild and resonant.”

This line from Hazel Prior’s novel Ellie and the Harp Maker sparked in me an entire series of paintings.

The rich part of this series is the black ink that I handcrafted from creating my own lampblack. Lampblack is a black pigment made from soot. Using this black pigment, I composed a recipe to form a rich, black archival ink that is a delight to watch flow across the page.

The “resonance” series is built around the concept of resonance.

lexico.com defines resonance as:

  • The quality in a sound of being deep, full, and reverberating.
  • The power to evoke enduring images, memories, and emotions.

“The sound was rich, wild and resonant” resonated or struck a chord with me because sound and music is such an integral part of my process. I listen to “flowing” music that reminds me of water as I spread the ink on the paper. Fluidity of my mind and body is essential to ensuring that the thread that I lay down doesn’t appear jagged. When I add in the many tiny marks, I listen to folk music and add the marks to the beat of the songs. This helps me to enjoy the tedious task and, in a way, become a part of the rhythm of the painting.

I also resonate with the wild aspect of this line from Prior’s novel. Being outside in the wild completes my soul. Another line from Ellie and the Harp Maker that I resonated with is: “A walk in the wilds is what I need.” It is as though the “wild” speaks to me through the sound of the wind through the trees saying: “you are complete.” So much so, that my paintings reflect the wilds around my studio. As I lay down the ink, I envision the rolling hills and the trees that dot the horizon as marks on the page. The lines of thread are the paths I take through the hills and forests as I resonate in the wild.

It is my hope that this new series that I have entitled RESONANCE urges you to quietly reflect on “small truths”:

“The kinds of truth that art gives us many, many times are small truths. They don’t have the resonance of an encyclical from the Pope stating an eternal truth, but they partake of the quality of eternity. There is a sort of timeless delight in them.” -Seamus Heaney

May this artwork compel you to “partake of the quality of eternity.” May it help to quench that space in our souls that can’t be captured, like a glorious yet fleeting sunset. May it help you capture that magical emotion that we wish to enclose with our hands and hide in our hearts. And may you be inspired to discover the wilds of your world.

The “resonance” series will be released in my Etsy shop Wednesday, May 27 at 12 pm EST. Use the coupon code RESONANCE to receive a 10% discount.