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How to make handmade watercolors

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This post provides you a basic step-by-step process of making your own handmade watercolors

Watercolor paint is an alluring medium of traditional fine art, which when mixed with water creates translucent layers of color on paper. The use of watercolor dates back to prehistoric times when primitive humans made paints from charcoal, ochres, and water. They applied them with fingers, sticks, or whatever was naturally available, to communicate and document their life. Since antiquity, watercolor is used as a medium of creative self-expression

What is watercolor paint?

Watercolor paint is composed of finely ground pigment particles suspended in a water-soluble binder (generally gum arabic). Early paints were simply ground earth or clay mixed with saliva or animal fat. Fast forward thousands of years, watercolor paints today are a combination of natural and synthetic pigments that also contain additional additives which alter the paint’s appearance, the way the paint performs, and extend the shelf life.

Why handmade watercolors?

Making watercolor paints primarily from foraged pigments is central to my creative process  (read my detailed blog on foraging pigments). I have been greatly influenced by the Indian tribal artists and their folk art to use natural pigments for my creative art process. The vibrant and beautiful rich colors of nature are absolutely something to be inspired with. Using natural pigments strongly aligns with my values of using non-toxic and local materials that can return to the earth!

Gond folk art: Ochres and Indigo on watercolor paper

 

Warli folk art: Red ochre on handmade paper

 

Most commercial watercolor paints today use synthetic pigments, the manufacturing processes of many are quite detrimental to our fragile environment, and they are certainly not sustainable. Before the modern paint manufacturers, artists made their own paints and passed the artisanal skill down from master to student. Somewhere along the way, we lost that connection with our ‘sacred tools’. Putting things in perspective, we use myriad things in our day-to-day lives, and a large part of it can be easily be made by us in a ‘do-it-yourself ‘ approach!

The process of making your own watercolor paints is a transforming, enriching, and mindful process!  Making your own paints allows you to have complete control over the paint-making process, to make high-quality paint from pigments of your choice that are free of additives such as fillers, dispersants, preservatives, heavy metals, and toxins, etc.  It also enables you to manipulate your paint to have certain characteristics. As a result, each color’s unique and natural characteristics are allowed to beam!

Handmade watercolor paint- Yellow Ochre PY43

How to make your own Watercolor Paints?

Whilst the art of making watercolors per se isn’t very complicated but it does take a while to excel in this skill as it involves plenty of trial and error experiments. Following is a brief overview of my process:

What you need to make handmade watercolors

Ingredients

  • Gum Arabic
  • Ground pigment
  • Warm water (use distilled if tap water is highly alkaline)
  • Honey/Glycerine
  • Grinding slab

  • Glass muller
  • Natural preservative
  • Empty watercolor pans or bottle caps

(Watercolor paint making tools  and pigments can be purchased from Jackson’s art )

SAFETY

Before commencing with the paint-making process wear eye and respiratory protection when working with dry pigment. Do not use equipment and glasswares that are used in the paint-making process for drinking, eating, or cooking food. Never work in the kitchen or dining area. Work in a well-ventilated designated work area. Do not eat and/or drink while making paints.

Method of making handmade watercolors

Binder Solution

The fundamental step in making watercolor paint begins with the preparation of gum arabic binder solution. The following recipe works for most of the pigments but some require a bit of tweaking with ratios.

1. Dissolve the gum Arabic power: Dissolve two-part gum Arabic powder in four parts warm distilled water. Use distilled water only if the tap water in your region is highly alkaline which could interfere with the characteristics of your paint.  Pour slowly and stir continuously for 10-15 minutes.

2. Add Humectant: Add one part of honey or glycerine (humectant) into the binder mixture at this stage. Addition of humectant makes the paint more fluid and easy to work with later.  Without the honey, the pan will take a long time to re-wet and ‘release’ any color onto the brush.

3. Natural preservative: Add a couple of drops of essential oil (clove/rosemary) with antifungal and antibacterial properties to the binder solution.

4. Let the solution stand for 24-48hrs to allow complete hydration of the gum arabic particles before use.

Pigments

Pigments are crushed fine particles that allow us to experience color. Every watercolor paint that currently holds its place in my palette box was created using consciously chosen pigments after extensive research. My criteria for pigment selection take into consideration the health and environmental impact of a particular pigment, its durability, and versatility.

Today there are 100’s of pigments available to choose from for making your own unique paint palette.  I recommend earth pigments if you are just starting to learn the skill of making handmade watercolors. Earth pigments include an enormous range of colors, from warm and strong reds, yellows, to cool and gentle greens and blue. They make for safe and eco-friendly paints (read more about pigments here and here).

Mulling

Mulling is the crucial process of evenly suspending pigment particles in the binder. I use a glass a muller to finely grind the pigment. It is quite a labor-intensive process, as mulling a single batch of paint can take an hour or more depending upon the kind and amount of pigment you chose to work with.

Place desired quantity of pigment onto the surface you are using. Add an equal amount of binder to the middle of the pigment (1:1 ratio). Using a palette knife, gently fold dry pigment into the binder, mixing as much as you can (before adding more binder until all the pigment is incorporated and the mixture has a paste-like consistency).

Using a glass muller, slowly begin to grind the pigment/binder mixture in a circular motion, spreading it across the glass palette in a thin layer in order to grind the pigment as finely as possible. Using a scraper pool the pigment and binder mix into the center and repeat the process of grinding and mulling. If the paint is too stiff to mull smoothly, add more of the binding mixture. The duration of the mulling process varies depending on the pigment particle size.

Test the paint during the mulling process by swatching it on a piece of watercolor paper. Allow the paint swatch to dry before rubbing your finger over it. If the paint dust off that indicates a little more of the binder is required. If the swatch appears too shiny it indicates too much binder and more pigment should be added.

It takes a bit of experience to get the hang of the process and to know when your paint is finished!

Mulling process

Leave to cure

Once you are satisfied with your final paint test, pour the mixture into pans or bottle caps and leave them to set. If the drying pan cracks then make a note of this and add a little more gum solution next time to that particular pigment. A little cracking doesn’t affect the usability of the finished paint.

Handmade watercolor paint pans

Making your own watercolor paints is a creative process that is all about exploring, trials and errors, learning new things, and allowing yourself to grow in your own unique way. It will make you a resourceful artist, not only that, but you’ll also get well acquainted with your art supplies, which will help you in your creative process.

If you want to learn more about how to make handmade watercolors

Check out the introductory tutorial below : 

or enroll in my online course exploring the traditional process of making watercolor paints from pure pigments.

Watercolour Paintmaking Workshop

How to make organic and non-toxic Holi Colors

I was really looking forward to visiting my family this month but the US president’s proclamation prohibits anyone from visiting friends and family in the US from Schengen countries. So, I ended up re-booking my flights to travel at a later date. This would have been a wonderful opportunity for our son to celebrate one of the biggest Indian festivals with his Indian family with mirth – Holi!

Holi – The Spring Festival of Colors 

Holi is a joyous and vibrant Hindu festival that marks the arrival of spring and the beginning of a good spring harvest. Like any other Hindu festival, it signifies the triumph of good over evil. It is also a festival to forgive and forget, and to rekindle broken relationships!

I felt quite nostalgic writing this blog post. It took me back to my childhood moments when my brother and I would come back home drenched in myriad hues of Holi color, commonly called glulal.  Our faces beyond recognition, smeared with thick layers of Holi color.  Not to mention, all the delectable food mom would prepare for Holi! Hmm…just thinking about it makes my mouth water! Home always beckons!

No amount of words can describe what this festival is like in real life. You simply have to experience the colors, chaos, and celebrations for yourself.

So, to celebrate Holi this year, which falls on the 28th of March, I decided to make some organic Holi colors at home using my mom’s recipe. My mom never uses measurements, it is based on her years of experience and intuition! You can even involve your kids to be a part of this project!

How to make Holi color

Ingredients 

  • Cornstarch
  • Water
  • Dried Hibiscus flowers
  • Turmeric root and/or powder
  • Bowl for mixing
  • Other options for colors: logwood, rose flower, henna, marigold, spinach, etc.

METHOD

Red Gulal – Hibiscus Flowers 

1. Steep organic Hibiscus tea or dried flowers for 10-15 minutes in hot water to extract the dye. Do not use boiling water as it will degrade the beautiful anthocyanin-rich reddish mauve-colored dye. I played with ~100ml of dye extract.

Hibiscus sabdariffa tea

 

2.  Strain the dye extract into a mixing bowl.  Add cornstarch incrementally to the dye carefully,  making sure there are no lumps.  Add enough to have a consistency like that of a pancake batter.

A mix of Cornstarch and dye extract

 

3. Allow the batter to stand for about 5 minutes. It will firm up a bit as the water molecules get trapped in the starch molecule but it will still be gooey enough to flow.

4. Spread the mix onto a flat surface. I used a baking tray to spread the mix. Keep the layer thin so that it dries faster.

5. Allow the mixture to dry completely for a couple of days.

6. Grind some dried hibiscus flowers to a fine powder, for its use as a color intensifier.

Powdered Hibiscus flowers

 

7.Once the mixture has dried, use a blender or pestle and mortar to grind the mixture to a fine powder. I used a pestle and mortar.

8. Add finely ground Hibiscus flowers to the blended mix of cornstarch and dye extract to enhance the Holi color.

9. Store in an air-tight jar and keep an eye on the mold growth. Being organic in nature it doesn’t have a long shelf-life.

Yellow Gulal – Turmeric

For making yellow gulal, follow the method described above. In the last step, add dry organic turmeric powder to make the color more intense.

 

Holi is all about new beginnings, optimism, and togetherness.  Let us welcome Spring and all its beautiful colors this year by playing Holi with the colors of Nature! Keep yourself and your loved ones safe from the toxic and synthetic Holi colors, instead opt for organic colors this Holi!

 

 Wish you all a very happy and safe Holi!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to make Egg shell white Watercolor paint

The next time you’re cooking eggs, don’t throw away the egg shells in the bin straight away. It will surprise you that you can use them for making safe and eco-friendly creamy white watercolor paint and use it for transforming your existing color palette. It also makes for a great rainy day project to get the kids involved! 

White is not a color that is used by traditional watercolor artists. To achieve white in a watercolor painting you plan ahead, use masking fluid, wax resist or simply remember not to paint over the relevant white area of the paper. But such defined rules shouldn’t stop one from exploring and trying new things. I am not a traditional watercolor artist but I am constantly exploring ways to creating sustainable art, learning something new in the process, and applying that to my daily art practice. No matter how unconventional that might be!

Transformed color palette using Calcium Carbonate from egg shells

Egg shell white watercolor paint 

Materials required: 

  • Washed and dried egg shells
  • Pestle and mortar
  • Glass or marble slab
  • Muller (Glass or stone)
  • Palette knife
  • Gum arabic
  • Distilled water
  • Clove oil
  • Honey 

SAFETY

Wear eye protection and respiratory protection when working with powdered pigment despite egg shells being completely safe to work with. Do not use containers that are used in the paint-making process for drinking, eating, or cooking food. Work in a well-ventilated area.

Directions

1.  Wash and dry egg shells and remove any egg shell membrane; a thin white membrane that lines the egg shells.  You must also consider the source of your eggs.  I have used shells from free-range organic eggs obtained from a local farmer.

2. You could also boil the shells for about 10 minutes or so to kill any pathogens. This step is important if you buy your eggs from a store where you don’t know where they are coming from and the cleanliness of the processing facility.

I had skipped this step because we get our eggs from a known local farmer. 

3. Break the egg shells into smaller pieces with hands or by any other means.

4. Grind the egg shells into a fine powder.  I have used a pestle and mortar to grind egg shells.

5. Grind till you have a very fine powder of Calcium carbonate.

Paint making process:

Place a small quantity of pigment on the grinding slab, create a small well and add a few drops of binder solution (recipe). Using a palette knife mix the dry pigment with binder solution to a paste before beginning with the mulling process. It is important to achieve the correct balance of pigment to binder ratio: a general rule is slightly more gum than pigment.

Begin mulling in a circular motion. Mulling is a crucial process of evenly suspending pigment particles in the binder. This is an important but labor-intensive process.

Once you’ve started spreading your pigment paste using the muller and it feels too sticky, add a few drops of the binder with a pipette or dropper. Keep mulling till the paste begins to feel smooth and is ready to be poured into pans to dry.

The finished handmade egg shell white watercolor paint.

How to make handmade watercolors.

Using Egg shell white watercolor paint 

1) As a Primer

Priming an area of the paper with egg shell white paint has an interesting effect on the colors painted over it. You can either prime an area with white and let it dry, or go straight into it with wet-on-wet techniques.  You can manipulate the result by having a thorough knowledge of the characteristics of the pigments in your palette.

Foraged natural paints on watercolor paper primed with egg shell white

 

Landscape sketch on primed and non-primed surface

 

2. For opening the door to  new possibilities of color-mixing  and adding another dimension to the appearance of your watercolor art

When you mix egg shell white paint with other colors, it creates a pastel version of that color i.e the colors become opaque. However, the opacity is nowhere close to the gouache.  Colors mixed with egg shell white paint can be wonderfully useful in depicting landscapes, cloud-scapes, desserts, flowers, and much more. A thing to remember is that some pigments are naturally more opaque than others, so white will affect the opacity of colors in varying degrees.  Think of using egg shell white paint as having a transformative effect on your colors and not as a medium to lighten a color!

Below are some of my experiments exploring the characteristics of the egg shell white paint. It is really challenging to capture the real beauty of the colors mixed with egg shell white paint.

Egg shell white paint on rough cold pressed watercolor paper.

Since the colors mixed with egg shell white paint are opaque they can be used to paint on tinted surfaces including black. However, the effect achieved is quite different from commercially available gouache.

Colors mixed with egg shell white paint on black background

 

Colors mixed with egg shell white paint on toned watercolor paper

 

I hope this article inspires you to make your own egg shell white paint. Go ahead and experiment and have fun playing with a new unusual color!

If you want to learn more …

… enroll in my online course exploring the traditional process of making watercolor paints from pure pigments.

Watercolour Paintmaking Workshop

Reference links:

  1. https://www.kremer-pigmente.com/en/information/recipes/watercolor-medium/
  2. https://www.earthpigments.com/artists-watercolor-and-gouache/

 

 

 

Disclaimer:   Kindly take necessary safety precautions during the paint-making process.  When working with fine dust, it is recommended to use a respirator or dust mask. Work in a well-ventilated area. Do not use containers that are used in the paint-making process for drinking, eating, or cooking food. The author will not be held responsible for any adverse reaction that you may have in carrying out this process. All information in this blog is meant for educational and information purposes only. The content represents solely my views and personal experience. The author may change the contents of this document at any time, either in whole or in part.

 

Farewell to 2020: My year in review!

The year 2020 was unlike any other in our lifetime! It was a year filled with trials and tribulations for everyone. In hindsight, it has been a year that I will remember the most for it gave us once in a lifetime opportunity to look at life in a very profound and unique way! I reflect on 2020 by not fixating on the tribulations and personal loss but instead acknowledging their existence, honoring the thoughts and feelings that were a part of it, and intentionally focussing on areas of personal growth and gratitude. I share this reflection to show that there is always something worthy to be grateful for even in a year like 2020!

I want to sincerely thank you for being here & supporting me. It brings me a great amount of joy that I get to do & share what I love every single day.

I wish you all a Wonderful, Happy, Healthy & Fulfilled year ahead!

Warmly

Jyotsna x

 

 

 

Making ink from Berries

Have you ever wondered how ink was first made? How did the ancient civilizations make those beautiful colored inks? What were the pigments and dyes used in making inks? Many of the colorful dyes that were used by ancient civilizations came all from the natural world. These early pioneers created ink using fine carbon particles and natural pigments combined with plant gum to acts as a binding agent.

Inks have a large impact on our lives!  It is essentially a fluid substance containing a pigment or dye either in solution or suspension, or both that can be used with a pen to mark letters or characters. I have been making my own inks for quite some time now. Making ink is just another way to enjoy the beauty and excitement of our natural world. It is a fun and safe project to get the little ones involved too.  Traditional ink sources include flower petals and tree bark, and though fruit sources are less traditional, they also make for useful ink such as berries.

Making ink from berries can be an expensive affair if you buy them from your local grocery store or farmer’s market. The best and more fun option is to go foraging for berries to seek and find a delicious array of berry options in your backyard or further afield. Foraging is a great way to reconnect with nature in a really positive way. Foraging is a way to return to our roots!  Fostering this connection with nature is essential in a time when everything is so convenient.

The process of making sustainable and biodegradable ink from berries that are edible and non-poisonous is very straight forward that doesn’t require the use of any special equipment.

Foraging 

Foraging is an inherent trait of human nature,  eclipsed by the agrarian society!  There’s plenty of food growing in cities depending on where you live and the time of year.  Be sure these areas have not been sprayed with toxic pesticides or herbicides if you decided to tickle your taste buds while collecting berries for ink making. If you are unable to confidently identify a plant, then use reference books to identify them or forage with someone who is knowledgeable. It is a fantastic way to learn from the experience of others.

Elderberries (Sambucus nigra)

To identify an Elder bush/tree read here https://www.lostincolours.com/how-to-make-twig-pens-and-brushes/. Elderberries can be harvested in the late summer months ( July -Autumn). You don’t require much, a small bunch of elderberries will provide you with enough ink to last for long. Elderberries are toxic when consumed raw.

Black Mulberries (Morus nigra)

All mulberry trees produce berry-like clusters of edible fruit. The mulberry leaf is heart-shaped, and the tops of the leaves are slightly rough in texture. The red mulberry leaf is lobed has a serrated edge.

jyotsnapippal

Foraged while riding to the countryside, June 2020

Redcurrants (Ribes rubrum)

Check the foliage for single, lobed leaves that grow on alternate sides of the stem. The leaves of the redcurrant plant are a deep shade of bluish-green and are shaped a bit like a maple leaf. Identify redcurrants by their translucent red color and the many minute seeds inside each berry. The berries on a redcurrant string ripen all at once, as opposed to other types of currants that ripen from the top of the string, down.

Foraged from our communal backyard, June 2020

Raspberries (Rubus idaeus)

The most common raspberry variety, and the easiest to identify, is the red raspberry. Raspberry leaves bear three to five leaflets that spread apart, the largest one being in the center. The leaves have a serrated edge, and the bottom center spine has small hair-like thorns. The stems or canes are covered with thorns, smaller and more flexible than that of blackberries and other thorny shrubs. A whole raspberry is made up of several small berries.  Raspberries are the only bramble berry type that pulls free of the core; the center will remain hollow.

Foraged from our communal backyard, June 2020

Staghorn Sumac Berries (Rhus typhnia)

Staghorn sumac grows to about 15 feet tall and has dark green, compound pinnate leaves that have a serrated edge. Tiny green flowers in the spring are insignificant but are later replaced by large cones of fuzzy crimson berries that remain throughout the winter.  Bark on older wood is smooth and grey to brown.  I foraged sumac berries recently from the countryside that was still intact from last year.

Beware of the Poison sumac, which causes skin rashes. It is a small shrubby plant with pinnate leaves that are not serrated.

Fuzzy velvety sumac berries, June 2020

Spring flowers of staghorn sumac, June 2020

The process of ink making

  • Put a small number of berries in the mortar to be squished and their pigment-rich juice to be collected for making ink.
  •  Crush and grind each berry carefully, including the skin, where most of the pigment is present to release a maximum amount of pigment.
  • Transfer the mashed fruit and juice to a non-reactive pan for cooking.
  • Let the pulp and juice of berries simmer on low heat. The heat applied not only helps to preserve the berries but it thickens and darkens the liquid.

Mulberries simmering on low heat

  • Once the pot has cooled down the liquid can be filtered using a muslin cloth, fine sieve, or simply a coffee filter. Filter twice if organic matter is still present. The ink obtained is incredibly smooth and has a beautiful color to it.

Mulberry ink

  • The ink can also be thickened by the addition of gum arabic to it.

The science behind the ink making process from fruit

Fresh fruits are made of living, breathing cells. Even when the fruit is picked from a plant, its cells are still alive and continue to carry on metabolic processes like absorbing oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide. But when the fruit is cooked, the cells die and undergo dramatic changes that cause them to leak water and soften. The longer you heat the fruit, the more softening and water loss occurs; in other words, the more its texture changes. Simmering at lower temperatures causes the firm, insoluble substances (hemicelluloses and pectic substances) to break down, converting to water-soluble pectins, and dissolve. The fruit becomes soft and tender.

Ink from Berries 

Being organic in nature some pigments in berry inks oxidize rapidly. For instance, inks from mulberries and elderberries have a beautiful reddish-purple hue, but within seconds, they dry to a rich purple color.

Rich red juice of elderberries

 

Oxidized elderberry ink

Berry inks

Experiment with mordants 

Out of curiosity, I also experimented with changing the native color of inks by using mordants.

Elderberry ink 

The native color of elderberry ink has a reddish hue that changed to an intense purple on reaction with alum. In contrast, the addition of iron mordant made the color dull blue.

Experiment with mordants

Mulberry ink 

I did a similar experiment using mulberry ink. The addition of iron mordant changed the reddish hue of the mulberry ink to a beautiful soft grey. In contrast, alum changed the native color to an intense purple.

It was a fun little process to experiment with mordants but I prefer using inks in their native colors!

Using your ink and storage

  • Ink made from berries will not be bright and saturated as store-bought inks, but they have an organic beauty of their own.
  • Berry inks should always be kept covered and sealed in a jar to keep them from growing mold or turning rancid, the addition of a few drops of alcohol or salt helps in preserving the ink.
  • Berry inks are much lighter and may require a repeated application of layers to achieve an intense hue.
  • They have varying degrees of lightfastness, i.e,  some of them fade over time and much faster when exposed to sunlight.
  • They are a joy to use as either as a writing ink and/or drawing ink.

Give your creative work a handmade edge with inks that you made yourself from locally foraged raw and sustainable resources!

Illustrated using a variety of berry inks

 

Suggested readings:

  1. https://visual.ly/community/Infographics/history/history-ink
  2. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1147356?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

 

 

Disclaimer:  Safe, sustainable, and responsible foraging

All information in this blog is meant for educational and informational purposes only. The content represents solely my views and personal experience. Proper identification of plants is the reader’s responsibility. Never pick, eat, or even touch any wild plant without cross-referencing multiple reliable sources for positive identification. Forage with someone knowledgeable. The author does not accept any liability or responsibility for any consequences caused by foraging by relying upon the information contained within this website. 

 

 

How to make twig pens and brushes!

Elder (Sambucus nigra) or Holler as it is called in Austria grows very commonly as a shrub or small tree. Its natural habitat is on river banks and in wet woodlands.  The fruits and flowers of the Elder have long been used in traditional Austrian medicine. In fact, Elder is an absolute classic whether it is made into a syrup, roasted, or cooked into a marmalade, one or the other of these delicacies can almost always be found in an Austrian home. There is an old Austrian saying, “Tip your hat to the elder,” expressing deep respect for its innumerable virtues, as it keeps giving so much by way of medicine, food, and drink.

Flowering Elder bush, May 2020

I use black Elderberries for making ink and dyeing purposes but I had not even the slightest inkling that the stem of Elder serves as a great source of natural crafting material. The feature that makes the stem of this bush an excellent source for making art tools is its spongy pith in the center. The pith can easily be pushed out and instead of a lump of wood, you get a hollow tube with the potential to make lots of craft items. I learned about this fact fairly recently from an art coordinator (Sabine Fels)  based in Halifax, Canada, who had approached me for a collaborative project focussing on sustainable art practices.

In this blog, I will share with you a very easy way of making your own nifty art tools that are biodegradable, sustainable, and don’t cost a dime. All it requires of you is to venture out, admire, and connect with the abundance and beauty of nature!

Tools required:

  • a pair of scissors or secateur
  • bamboo skewer or an awl
  • optional:  sandpaper or an emery board
  • optional: a small sharp knife

    Required tools

How to identify Elder 

Elder can easily be identified from its following characteristic features:

Flowers

They are flat-topped clusters of tiny, creamy-white flowers that appear in late May-June with a sweet fragrance.  The flowers are mildly toxic when raw and must, therefore, be cooked before consumption. They are mostly used for making cordials or tea or fried to make fritters.

Elderflowers

Leaf

Compound and pinnate (lance-shaped) with five or seven leaflets. Leaflets are arranged opposite to each other with one single leaflet at the tip. The leaves have a serrated edge and are poisonous.

Compound Elder leaf

Bark and Stem

Young twigs of Elder are green, light, and brittle and have a creamy-white pithy tissue inside. As they mature they turn light grey-brown. Stems are often dotted with light brown bumps or warts. As the bark matures it becomes furrowed and corky. Elder wood is hard and yellow-white. The mature wood is ideal for whittling and carving, while smaller stems can be hollowed out for crafting purposes.

Foraging for Elder twigs

Once you have correctly identified an elder bush, look for twigs that are around 1-1.5cm in diameter and are not too hard as they are prone to splitting. You’ll want at least 3mm of wood around the pith. Also, avoid twigs that are thin with a greenish hue, they will be too young to be used for crafting. Prune mindfully using secateurs, scissors, or a sharp knife.

Foraged elder twigs

 Process

  1. Cut the twig to your desired length. Choose a twig that has some character with bumps, nodes, etc. It is your art tool so make something pleasing for yourself!

Twigs cut to varying length for crafting

2. Find the center of the pith and push the skewer or an improvised tool gently through it to hollow the twig. This process must be done with care so that it doesn’t cause the wood to split. It is a meditative process!

3. Once the twigs have been hollowed take sandpaper or an emery board to smoothen the ends. The twig is now ready to be used either as a dip pen or a natural brush! Note: The wood shrinks after drying.

Making art tools
DIY Art tools from an Elder stem, May 2020

One can be creative and use anything found in nature that has the potential to be used as a writing or painting tool. I make sketching ‘nibs’ from willow branch that is hard enough to last for long and can easily be chiseled for its use as a nib; bamboo skewer also makes for a great sketching/writing tool; brushes for making texture marks can be made using hay, grass, natural fibers (e.g wool, jute, cotton) or spruce needles, etc.  there are innumerable options existing in nature. In the picture below is a brush made using a small bundle of vetiver grass that I pulled out of a body scrubber.

Texture marks with dip pen and brush using DIY avocado ink, May 2020

 

Sketch using a dip pen and natural earth colors

with the leftover twigs, I also made some beads and used them for making a wind chime with glass beads and beach findings.

Elder beads painted with natural colors.

Making your own art tools is a wonderful way to experiment and explore how natural resources can be transformed! It not only allows an artist to experiment with unique tools and explore making new marks but also promotes the creative thinking process, and brings us closer to nature!

 

 

Recommended link:

  1. https://richardirvine.co.uk/2017/01/elder1/

Disclaimer: All parts of the elder tree are poisonous to some extent, so do not put them in your mouth and/or give art supplies made out of elder wood to small children.  Kindly take the necessary safety precautions when handling sharp objects. The author will not be held responsible and may change the contents of this document at any time, either in whole or in part.

 

 

 

 

Plant to Paper: The process of making Handmade paper

 The journey of a plant to paper!

What is Paper?

It is a network of plant fibers laid down as a flat sheet. Paper is a basic and immensely versatile material that has been used since long for written communication and the dissemination of information besides having numerous other applications. Paper has many names (papier, carta, kagaz, waraq, etc) depending on where you go, but everyone understands its many uses and importance. In today’s modern world there exists an endless variety of machine-made papers, in all structures, colors, and weights, but handmade paper still has its charm.

Papyrus, Auroville

I had the opportunity to learn the ancient craft of making paper last year in Auroville, India (https://www.auroville.org/). Auroville is a spiritual community, whose ethos is based on the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and his compatriot, The Mother, or Mirra Alfassa, who founded the place in the sixties.  Auroville is located approximately 10km north of Pondicherry.  Pondicherry (officially called Pudducherry) a former French colony is a perfect amalgamation of the traditional Indian sensibilities and French architecture, that offers the best of both worlds.

Children’s playground in Auroville

One of many sustainable cafés in Auroville

The two-day papermaking workshop in Auroville was held at Papyrus. Papyrus is a small scale unit created about 30 years ago in Auroville, to produce and make quality handmade paper and stationeries.
In this blog, I will be sharing with you my experience of working with different plant materials for making handmade paper. It is not a tutorial per se, but I am sure you will gain a sense of how to create your own paper from fabric rags, plants, and or recycled paper scraps.

Workshop Day 1: Preparing, cooking, and washing the plant fibers

If you ask someone what paper is made of, most would immediately say trees. However, with the process of making handmade paper, you can use other plant fibers to make an incredible range of handmade papers. In this workshop, I learned to make paper from local materials that included papyrus, cotton rags, and banana stem.

Papyrus

Cotton scraps

Denim scraps

 

Day 1 of the workshop began by learning about various materials that could be used in making paper. Our course instructor was a young volunteer ( Parita Shah ) from Chicago.  We were going to learn the process of making paper from papyrus, a locally grown plant.

Papyrus

 

Step 1: Papermaking involves first preparing the pulp, and then making the paper.  We already had the raw material cleaned, sorted, and shredded into small pieces before they were cooked with lye (pH12-14). Another alternative in this step is to used soda ash.   Both soda ash and lye are highly caustic and corrosive, hence they are useful in breaking down particularly tenacious plant fibers such as raw hemp, banana, and in our case papyrus. Using an alkali also neutralizes the pH of pulp fibers by breaking down the acidic lignins that make paper non-archival. Lye is the stronger of the two caustics. It is generally recommended to begin by cooking with soda ash and only turn to cook with lye when soda ash does not do the job.  The pot was left to simmer for about 2hrs or more.

Papyrus being cooked in lye

 

Whilst the pot was simmering we had a little tea break which I really enjoyed sipping under the shade of several trees and the red earth underneath. The day was unfolding beautifully and I was exuberant!

Jackfruit tree

 

Step 2: Once the fibers were cooked they were washed thoroughly with water to remove the alkali. This process requires a lot of water and isn’t really sustainable unless the wash water is channeled to serve some purpose. The fibers were washed several times with copious amount of water and agitation and hopefully had no traces of alkali. In my opinion,  testing the residual water with a pH strip or a pH meter to detect the presence of alkali would have been more intelligent. Alternatively,  one could have made use of citric acid or white vinegar to adjust the pH of the wash water to between 7 and 8 before pouring it down the drain. But nothing of this was done. Anyway, I didn’t want to annoy anyone with any more questions and just focus on the learning aspect.

Preparing to wash the cooked papyrus fibers

 

Step 3: The fiber was now ready to be transformed into a pulp for making paper. Within papermaking there is a lot of equipment required–  vats,  molds, deckles, buckets, hoses, presses, dryer boxes, blotters, etc, etc, etc. But above all the beater is pivotal. Unless you break down the fiber you got nothing. The action of beating/macerating elongates the fibers allowing them to flow together creating a strong woven hydrogen bond while also being able to compress down into a flat even sheet, and the way to do this is with a beater. We used a hand mallet to carry out this process. It was a long and laborious process that required a lot of patience. The rhythmic beating of wet pulp with a piece of wood was quite meditative.

Cooked and washed fibers of Papyrus

 

At the facility, we also witnessed the Hollander Beater in action. The western papermaking since 1673 CE has been reliant on this tool for its papermaking. This oval trough with a cogged wheel and a bedplate does a fantastic job on macerating fibers of all kinds.

Hollander beater

Day 1 flew by quickly and it was time to go home. I was looking forward to pulling a sheet out of the pulp the following day!

Day 2: sheet forming, couching, lifting, and drying

Day 2 of the workshop focussed on learning and practicing sheet forming, couching, and lifting using cotton pulp; and learning how to make inclusion and create unique artistic papers by placing decorative plants and flowers between layers of pulp; and finally pressing and drying of finished papers.

Step 4:  Basic papermaking involves dipping a screen stretched across a frame—known as the “mould and deckle”—into a vat of pulp.

Mould and Deckle in various forms and sizes

An agitated vat of papyrus pulp

You then lift the screen at an angle of about 45degree out of the vat and shake it so that the fibers interlock as the water drains through the screen.  This step required a little bit of practice before I could make my own sheets of paper.

Stir the pulp solution for even dispersion of fibers in water

Dip the mould and deckle at 45 degrees

Pull the frame and shake gently to interlock the fibers

 

Step 5:  The freshly made sheet of paper was then transferred onto a surface—pieces of felt and cotton—to be pressed and dried. This process is called Couching. 

The process of Couching

 

Step 6: To continue making sheets, I placed another couching material (cotton sheet) directly on top of the sheet I had just made.

Couching surfaces

Placing cotton sheet on freshly made paper

 

Step 7: It was now the time to experiment and get creative with the papermaking process. We worked with different fibers, flowers, plants, yarns, etc to include in our paper making project. This was quite a fun process! I had now understood how those beautiful flora embedded papers were made.

The first sheet of papyrus paper

Grass layered between two sheets of cotton rag paper

Bougainvillea on cotton rag paper

Step 8: After making enough sheets of paper it was now time for taking our sheets to the hydraulic press to remove excess water and to flatten the paper.

Stack of paper being placed in the hydraulic press

Hydraulic press in action

I can’t remember how much pressure was applied to remove excess water but it was impressive to see the volume of water coming out of the press.

Step 9: After the removal of water it was time to lift the sheets for drying. This part was a bit tricky. This step was performed by slightly stretching the couching sheet underneath and lifting the paper gently. It was an amazing experience lifting the sheets and getting to see what we had created!

Stretching

Lifting

Step10: The final stage of this process was drying our own unique sheets of handmade paper between layers of old newspapers.

My very own sheets of handmade paper

 

I had finally learned how to make handmade paper. I am very thankful to our course instructor and all the help we received from a very cordial staff of the Papyrus unit in Auroville. It was an enriching experience!

Being helped by the wonderful support staff of Papyrus

 

And, I  also received a  course completion certificate, which was a beautiful banana fiber paper!

Not to mention we enjoyed every moment of our stay in Auroville!

Travel sketch- Gaia’s garden,  Auroville

 

Recommended readings:

1.http://www.dsource.in/course/handmade-paper-making

2. https://www.paperslurry.com/

3. http://www.khadi.com/

 

 

Occupational hazards in the papermaking process:
1.    Some wood and plant materials can cause allergic reactions and skin irritation.

2.    The alkaline soda ash and lye are highly corrosive by skin and eye contact, inhalation, and ingestion.  Boiling solutions of these alkaline materials can be very dangerous because of the risk of spilling over, and the fact that the steam contains trapped alkali.

3.    Beaters can be severe safety hazards due to the chance of trapping hands in the blades during motion and when cleaning pulp out of the blades.  In addition, beaters can present noise hazards.

4.    The presence of a large amount of water also presents electrical hazards if it splashes onto electrical outlets or other electrical equipment.  In addition, there is the possibility of major water leaks.
Precautions :
1.    Learn to identify possible toxic or allergy-causing woods and plants in your area.
2.    If possible, do not boil fibers in alkali.  Making paper from used scraps of paper, fabric rags and or cardboard, or from rotten or mulched plant materials, eliminates the need for boiling in alkali
3.    When using lye or soda ash, wear rubber gloves, a protective apron, and safety glasses.
4.    Add alkali slowly to the water while stirring.  Adding it too fast can result in boiling and splashing.
5.    If possible, do not boil the lye or soda ash solution.  It would be safer to heat it to a lower temperature for a longer period of time. Partially, cover the lid of the container and never leave the heated alkaline solution unattended to prevent boiling over.
6.    When rinsing the pulp with fresh water to remove the alkali, remember that the wash water can be alkaline. Hence, wearing personal protective equipment is imperative.

 

 

The living pink colour from Avocado!

It was in the year 2005 I was still a graduate student finishing up my Ph.D. program in Australia when I was introduced to this exotic fruit called Avocado. I had never heard or seen this fruit before that, and honestly I never really liked the taste of it either but gradually over the years my taste buds developed a liking for avocados. If someone had asked me then what I did with food scraps? I would have simply replied—well, I discard them into the biodegradable waste bin!

But that is not the case now because as I took to the path of creating sustainable art using only natural and foraged pigments, I learned that avocado stone and its skin makes for a great source of natural ink/dye. I had to explore it for myself, so I experimented with it for making lightfast, beautiful, and non-toxic ink. However, since avocados aren’t a local fruit in Austria, and we are pretty strict about consuming regional and seasonal produce from our organic community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm, I seldom make a visit to the supermarket just to get an avocado to satisfy my taste buds with its marvelous flavor and to make gorgeous ink from its stone.

Making an avocado ink or dye is a very simple process. You require very few supplies to make an ink that is an absolute delight to the eyes!

Supplies

  • 100 ml (about 1 cup)  water (or distilled water if you want to experiment with)
  • 1 tsp baking powder (sodium bicarbonate; this is what I used )
  • gum arabic powder ( a tiny pinch for making ink)
  • stainless steel pot or any non-reactive container
  • mesh strainer (a funnel with a coffee filter or a muslin cloth)
  • a small glass bottle for ink storage

Ink making process

  • Clean the avocado stones thoroughly with your hands or use a scrubber/ brush. Featured in the image are stones from different varieties of avocado that I had collected from our travels. It’s best to use fresh stones.

Stones from different varieties of avocado. They had dried but were still good.

  • Chop the avocado stones into pieces.

    Chopped avocado stones simmering in the calcareous tap water of Styria,  Austria.

  • In a pot bring the water to a boil together with the pieces of avocado stone. When it starts to simmer, add a pinch of baking powder. This shifts the pH of the solution and you see an immediate change in the color. Despite the avocado stones being about 5 months old and all dried up I was still able to extract color out of them. Ideally, use fresh stones for a more intense hue.

  • Simmer this for about 20 or 30 minutes with the lid. Do not overcook as it destroys the color of the dye. We have an electric cooking apparatus that I switch off after boiling the solution for 5 minutes. I let the pot sit on the top and let it simmer till the heating coil cools down (approx. 20-30 minutes).
  • After some time the water turns into a beautiful dark red color.

Natural dye extract

  • Test the dye color with a small piece of watercolor paper.  If you are satisfied with the color, strain the ink using a fine mesh strainer, muslin cloth, or a coffee filter.

Filtering process

  • You could also reduce the volume of ink by simmering it a bit longer without the lid (not so energy efficient). The color will get more intense. The ink can also be thickened by leaving it to evaporate naturally for a couple of days at room temp after the addition of natural preservative or a few drops of alcohol.

Dark red dye from fresh avocado stones

  • If you’re happy with your ink then add a bit of gum arabic to thicken it. You can also use the ink without gum arabic.
  • Transfer ink into a glass bottle. You could add clove or thyme oil as a natural preservative to prevent mould growth or a few drops of ethanol if you don’t have any essential oils.

The beauty of avocado ink is that you can create a variety of colors from peach to blush pink to a deep brownish-red. The depth of the shades one achieves depends on how many pits you use and how long you leave the solution to steep.  The final color of the ink also depends on a number of variables in this process; pH and mineral content of water, and the presence of inevitable pollutants, the origin of the fruit, the variety of fruit, season, weather, fresh vs frozen stones, etc.  The variables are almost endless. One must experiment and discover!  Additionally, the range of colors one gets is also due to the presence of alkali mordant (in this case sodium bicarbonate), an important part of this recipe which helps bring out a more vibrant color.

I really enjoy delving into the world of natural colors. This also makes for a great project to get the kids involved and showing them the magic of our natural world! I love using this ink for creating sustainable art and for making note cards or gift tags for the holiday season.

Dyed paper tags/gift cards with gilded edge

 

I hope this article inspires you to transform organic waste into something of beauty!

Tutorial for naturally dyed and gilded edge gift tags

To learn about about this technique read my blog: How to make Natural Plant Inks.

If you want to learn more …

… enroll in my online course exploring the traditional process of making watercolour paints from pure pigments.

Watercolour Paintmaking Workshop

 

References:

https://hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/avocado_ars.html

https://www.itfnet.org/v1/2016/05/avocado-name-taxonomy-botany/

 

Disclaimer: Kindly take necessary safety precautions during the ink making process. Do not use containers that are used in the ink making process for drinking, eating, or cooking food. The author will not be held responsible for any adverse reaction that you may have in carrying out this process. The author may change the contents of this document at any time, either in whole or in part.

How to make natural pigments from foraged raw resources!

How to create handmade watercolor paints from foraged pigments.

What is better; paints made from foraged natural pigments or mass-produced store-bought paints?

Everything is derived from nature, unfortunately, today we are living in a world that is driven by consumerism. Imagine walking through a forest or climbing a mountain, and foraging for pigments to make your own paints just like how it was done in the bygone era, instead of going to an art supply store and purchasing a mass-produced tube of paint. It is indeed very convenient getting paint supplies from an art store but is it as salubrious as what nature has to offer us? The answer is simple No!

The labels on paint tubes never provide us with information about how something was made, the origin of raw materials, who produced it and under which conditions, what it contains and what impact did it have on our environment during the manufacturing process! Honestly speaking, no one even thinks about any of this because modern society today has become disconnected from nature!

After dabbling with store-bought colors for a little while I came to a realization that art supplies are notorious for remaining tight-lipped about the content of their paints. You don’t know what chemicals are in your paint unless they carry extreme health risks warning on the label or if you are a nerdy scientist like me who will go down to the bottom of it! These kinds of warning labels indicate they are toxic to you and should, therefore, be handled with care.  I am yet to come across a label that indicates the toxicity of the contents of a paint tube to our environment and other life forms. This means, in art studios all across the world, artists often have no inkling of what they are using to produce art or the impact of those materials on the environment. Hence, I embarked on a creative journey of making my own watercolor paints from foraged pigments and practicing sustainability in creating art as well!

“Connect with the earth”

Making a connection with pigments in their wild habitat!

Working with natural pigments is a transformative process that establishes a unifying relationship between you and the Earth. Getting familiar with pigments in their wild habitat and how to ethically forage them has the potential to profoundly shift your art practice.

The beauty of nature inspires reconnection with our own essence. It awakens the senses, allows us to tap into what is sacred in all things present in nature, and experiences our own connection to all we behold.

Beautiful cliffs of Anaga on Tenerife, Spain.

Given these realities, as a serious practitioner of creating sustainable art, I am on a journey looking for better ways to practice my art, art that does not require me to consume, pollute, or create demand on our fragile ecosystems!

In this post, I will share with you my passion for making watercolor paints from foraged pigments.  What is remarkable about this process is that each landscape is unique: your own land’s color palette will depend on its geological features.

As you forage for pigments and transform them into paints, you know exactly what goes into making a  paint, where it came from, and lastly, they can all return back to the earth without having any destructive effect!

Foraged natural pigments and paints.

The ancient craft of Pigment Making

Natural pigments are literally everywhere, and if you travel and spend time in nature, you can find a wide variety of colors.  Most of these are colors of the earth; colors of soil, clay, sand, or stone. To date, I have collected quite a few pigments from my travels in the last couple of years. It is a joy creating art with nothing but dust! Art that you can connect with!

Foraging for natural pigments in the wild?

Before you head out and begin collecting pigments you must develop consciousness and make a deep connection with the Earth. While foraging for pigments in nature make sure you are abiding by the laws and are not causing any ecological damage. Pigments can often be found in exposed edges of streams, rivers, and lakes; the water will expose clay banks and stones, making it easy to find pigments.

Exposed cliffs and source of pigments along the coast of Algarve in Portugal, 2017.

Anywhere that a lot of rocks are exposed is potentially a good site to pick up some pigment stones. Because you require pigments that are easy to process, especially when you are starting out, good pigment stones are fairly soft.  You can sometimes tell a good pigment stone by rubbing it against a hard surface.  If it produces something that looks like paint or clay on the surface, it is likely a very good candidate for making paints.

oxidized volcanic stones, Boca Cangrejo, Tenerife 2020.

Paints made from various rocks collected in Portugal and Austria

Rocks such as sandstone, shale, muscovite, etc. can also be processed, but the processing is a lot more tedious. Harder stones may be worth processing, especially if they have unique colors. Clays can make good pigments, but not always; you can dig them out, let them dry, remove any large or hard rocks or organic matter and grind them after levigation. Each geology and ecosystem has something different to offer you, and it requires a lot of experimentation.

Beechwood charcoal collected during a trail run

Materials like soot and charcoal also make for great pigment sources.  Soot produces more of a warm black, while charcoal produces a cool black.  Charcoal black is obtained by carbonizing (charring) wood. It is very stable as are all carbon blacks and is absolutely lightfast and compatible with all other pigments. I collected some wood charcoal from a bonfire on a trail run in Upper Austria and transformed it into beautiful granular black paint. However, one must remember that incomplete combustion of wood results in the formation of toxic hydrocarbons. Read here for more information.

One of the best candidates for paint is the ochres. Ochre is the specific term for a pigment that comes from iron oxides and iron-based minerals, clays, and soils. So generally, ochres are common minerals found world-wide that contain varying amounts of iron and oxygen.

Ochre from La Orotava, Tenerife.

Iron oxide rich pigment oozing from a stream called Schwarze Sulm, Deutschlandsberg, Austria.

Preparing Your Pigments

To prepare your pigments, you will need to ground the pigment candidates finely while not breathing in any dust. Before proceeding you must adhere to safety regulations.  Connect with the energies of the earth during this process and embrace the time it takes to do this. I use the following approach:

1. Breaking rocks into smaller pieces 

First, break the rocks into pieces that can be finely ground using a mortar and pestle.  I use a hammer and a thick plastic sheet on which I break the rocks. Break the rocks as fine as you can using this method.  This process must be carried outside and by wearing a respirator/NIOSH mask.

2. Grinding

Grind the pieces using a pestle and mortar until you have achieved a very fine powder. This process may be a bit difficult if you are not used to it. Therefore, before commencing make this process easy by breaking the pieces into smaller sizes with a hammer.

3.  Sifting 

Sifting is the most critical part of the pigment-making process.  The goal is to attain the finest particles possible. You can sift multiple times to get a fine grind by using a sieve with very fine mesh. I use old pantyhose to get finer particles.

The process of grinding and sifting is really an art form in itself, some are easy to do, and some are quite difficult–depending on the material. It requires patience and is a very meditative process.

An alternative method of refining pigments is through the process of levigation. Read here for more information.

4. Make paints

Finally, paints are created by mixing pigments with different additives. Depending on the additives pigments can be transformed into oil paints, pastels, acrylic paints, watercolor paints, and/or tempera.

Handmade watercolor paints are made using a binder that is made from gum arabic, honey, glycerine (optional) distilled water, and clove oil (natural preservative). Read here about the safe working practice during the paint-making process. It is all about experimenting and figuring out what works best for you.

Watercolor paints made using foraged pigments.

5. Make sustainable art

Once your paints are ready you can start creating art that expresses how you feel, something that you can connect with, art that makes you happy and is sustainable!

On location sketch from El Teide National Park, Tenerife 2020.

 

I am every bit enthralled by the process of making my own watercolor paints from the found treasures of the beautiful Earth. I hope this post has inspired you to pursue the same creative voyage!

“One must see nature as no-one has seen it before”- Cezzane

 

A short tutorial on how to make pigments: Foraging natural pigments.

A short tutorial on how to make pigments from rocks

If you want to learn more …

… enroll in my online course exploring the traditional process of making watercolor paints from pure pigments.

Watercolour Paintmaking Workshop

 

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Disclaimer: Not every natural material is harmless. This includes mineral pigments and earth colors, which may contain hazardous components. When working with fine mineral dust, it is recommended to use a respirator or dust mask. It is advised that one must consult with the local authorities about the geological features of an area.  The author may change the contents of this document at any time, either in whole or in part.

 

Reference links:

  1. https://shop.kremerpigments.com/en/rezepte/detail/diy-backyard-watercolors-from-stones?id=26
  2. https://www.connect.ecuad.ca/~vsager/FNDT%20150%20Spring%2012/earth%20pigment.html

Celebrating Easter in lockdown!

Easter falls this weekend but with the strict regulations implemented globally to control the COVID-19 pandemic, not being able to take part in a traditional Easter celebration may make some feel disheartened. We too had planned to celebrate Easter with our family in Upper Austria but with travel restrictions and lockdown still in place, Easter will be quite different for us this year!

Easter puzzles

In times like these, we may come to realize that staying at home with the entire family is something that we never had enough of. But for those of you with little children, staying at home for so long might not be as easy. After all, children will be children and they need something to do. So, with Easter just around the corner, I decided to illustrate a few puzzles to keep our son occupied and create another memory as a family.

These puzzles are ideal for age group 5 and above, young children will require assistance from an adult. I hope you enjoy spending time-solving these puzzles as a family and creating wonderful memories of time spent together!

Easter symbolizes the renewal of life. May you feel the hope of new dawn, love, peace, and happiness during this Easter!

Happy Easter!

 

Links to free download

Easter egg hunt (English/German)

Sudoku (English/German)

Sudoku solution

Easter puzzle (English)

Easter puzzle (German)

Easter puzzle solution (English /German)

 

 

COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER: This website and its content is copyright of LostinColours ©. All rights reserved. Any redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents in any form is prohibited other than the following:

  1. you may print or download for personal and non-commercial use only.
  2. you may copy the content to individual third parties for their personal use, and acknowledge the website as a source of the material.

You may not distribute or commercially exploit the content.

 

Lockdown phase: Puzzle your way through the Day!

In Austria, the coronavirus lockdown was introduced swiftly. This was just a week after coming back from our holidays in Tenerife. We were officially in quarantine from the 15th of March until further notice. We had anticipated the implementation of such measures based on the situation developing across the globe.

However, the lockdown hasn’t changed anything in our lives except that our son got holidays from his Kindergarten for an uncertain period of time. How are we dealing with this situation? Well, instead of having a daily routine plan for our son we do it otherwise, we let the day flow!

Kids love to play, so when you’re playful, you work with your children rather than against them. Hence, we love playing board games together all centered around learning in a playful manner, cooking, reading a lot of books, urban sketching at home and solving riddles and puzzles together.

The lockdown phase has inspired me to develop puzzles based on all the topics that our son loves. I absolutely cherish the extra time I get to spend with my family and I am excited about creating more happy, unforgettable memories.

Stay home, Stay Calm, Stay safe and Stay positive.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Links to free puzzle downloads:

Puzzle 1 (English)

Solution

Puzzle 2 (German)

Solution

Eat a Rainbow colouring page (English/German)

Are you planning to use these activity pages?  Please scroll down to comment, and let me know how it goes for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER: This website and its content is copyright of LostinColours ©. All rights reserved. Any redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents in any form is prohibited other than the following:

  1. you may print or download for personal and non-commercial use only.
  2. you may copy the content to individual third parties for their personal use, and acknowledge the website as the source of the material.

You may not distribute or commercially exploit the content.

Sketching and foraging for pigments in Southeast Styria

The last leg of our summer holidays last year was spent in south-eastern Styria, locally known as the Steiriches Vulkanland (Volcano land). This region was a hotspot for volcanoes – but that was 17 million years ago. Today there isn’t any lava spewing out or any scorched black earth. Nature has done its course and created a beautiful lush green landscape of rolling hills. The hillcrests in this region are covered by forest and the valleys are dominated by farmland, vineyards, and dotted with small villages.

I was instantly smitten by the beautiful landscape of this region. Our first stop was at St. Anna am Aigen. Being a fervent sketcher that I am, I  took out a very frugal sketch kit from my backpack and quickly sketched a view of the vineyards in the valley from the lookout point.

St. Anna am Aigen, Vulkanland, Austria

After sketching we went for a short stroll towards the town center. The path was strewn with volcanic stones everywhere.  After all, we were walking on the earth in Vulkanland.

Colored volcanic stones, St. Anna am Aigen, Vulkanland, Austria

I grabbed a bag full of red and yellow colored stones to bring them home and transform them into watercolor paints.  Once you start working with natural pigments, you can’t help but see them! Along highways, riverbanks, the ocean—anywhere where erosion has exposed layers of previously hidden earth, there are likely to be some flashes of color.

Watercolour paints made from foraged volcanic rocks

From St. Anna am Aigen we headed towards Bairisch Kölldorf in the district of Bad Gleichenberg. On our way, I sketched rapidly to capture the castle of Kapfenstein.  I had enough time to observe and sketch quickly from our moving car. That is the advantage of working with a limited palette of colors. It simplifies the thought process, gives you more control and allows you to paint more efficiently.

On this trip, we also visited south Burgenland. Whilst traveling in our car to the nearby town of Eisenberg, that is perched on a hill we came across a number of pumpkin fields. So,  I did another rapid sketch, this time of a pumpkin patch. The pumpkins at this time of the year had all been harvested for the production of Pumpkin seed oil, and what lay behind on the field were the golden outer shells of the fruit.

This won’t be the last of my travel sketches because we will be on the move in a few month’s time, and I will again get an opportunity to immortalize our family travels in my sketches!

“A traveler without observation is a bird without wings”-Moslih Eddin

 

Next up-foraged pigments from Austria.....coming soon!

A tiny house experience!

continuing with the Summer Holidays 2019 sketches ….!

After coming back from our wonderful holidays in Upper Austria, we decided to stay a bit in our home city of Graz before hitting the road again.

Our first stop on this trip was the headquarter of one of Austria’s best ice-cream makers, Eis Greissler in Krumbach (https://www.eis-greissler.at/manufaktur/). The weather that day wasn’t great,  it was cold,  wet and extremely windy in the Bucklige welt (land of thousand hills)

After entering the café our son insisted on having his favourite ice-cream despite the weather being so cold, whilst we treated ourselves with a hot cup of cappuccino and mini bunt cakes, which we didn’t get to eat as they made their way into our son’s grumbling stomach :-)!

After satisfying our taste-buds we explored the premises for a little while. We walked up the hill to observe the beautiful landscape. I couldn’t help but sketch despite it being very windy and cold.   The weather condition was making the paper dry too fast, so I had to be really quick with my brush strokes. The fun of travel sketching is facing all sorts of uncertainties!

 

We next visited Natursinne,  not very far from eis-greissler. We were curious to know what it was all about, but it was closed due to a private event being underway. I took the opportunity of our brief stop here to sketch this landscape.

After Bucklige welt we headed to Gutenstein, our ‘holiday’ destination. Gutenstein is nestled idyllically between Schneeberg and the Vienna basin, home to Austria’s most wooded district. We spent our night in a small sustainable tiny house located in the middle of nowhere (https://www.wohnwagon.at). The tiny house was called ‘Fanni’ and it was really beautiful. The aged wooden floorboards, indigo dyed & hand block printed curtains (Blaudruck, Burgenland), solar-powered energy, compostable toilet,  a kitchen that was equipped with all the basic needs including local organic produce.  It was the kind of house that we dream of owning ourselves one day and living a 100% sustainable life!  All that surrounded us was nature and a strong stream flowing nearby. Our son’s excitement was hard to contain and ours too :-)!

 

We settled in Fanni pretty quickly and had a hot cup of chai in the living/dining area. I sipped on the hot chai and sketched. Oh ! it was so serene and beautiful sitting by the window looking out to the forest and listening to the sound of nearby rivulet.

Our tiny house-Fanni!

Living and dining area in Fanni

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning we enjoyed drinking coffee in the garden and got ready to leave. We wished we could have stayed forever in Fanni! I had a few minutes before leaving to quickly capture the kitchen with warm sunlight filtering through the glass door. I couldn’t finish my sketch, though I captured the memory of our wonderful time spent as a family!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Steinapisting we shifted our base to Mariahilfberg, also in Gutenstein. There are several trail walks in this region. We didn’t do any serious hike but we did go into the woods to explore a bit.

The view of Schneeberg,  one of the mountains that provides drinking water supply to the city of Vienna, the world’s best drinking water! After sketching with my son we went for lunch in the only operating Gasthaus on Mariahilfberg.

Our son’s sketches of the tiny house, who is a fervent sketcher!

 

 

After having lunch I went to sketch the town Church, whilst my husband and son decided to have an ice-cream again. I am always very hesitant in sketching architecture and especially baroque. It was a very complicated scene to sketch. I became frustrated and ended up scribbling some marks.  Well, that’s what Travel Sketching is anyway, it is quick and spontaneous. It is an impression of the people and the place!

Our final destination was a trip to an organic farmhouse called Adamah Biohof in Glinzendorf near Vienna (https://adamah.at). I took the opportunity of our business visit here to sketch the herb garden on the premises of Adamah.

This was a very short trip but a memorable one!

I am glad to have picked up a habit of keeping an illustrated travel journal that not only enhances my trips but it also opens up my mind. An added bonus is our son gets very intensely involved in sketching along with me. I love his passion, for he is truly in the moment, rather than living in some odd parallel world of constant screen time, and he makes for a great sketching companion!

Sketching is, by nature, an old-fashioned way of seeing which a child seems to understand instinctively. To sketch a scene is to truly observe it.  Once we return from any trip, my mind remains full of wonder. A quick flip through my journal’s pages and it all comes alive! It’s certainly not the same as capturing a passing moment with the click of a digital camera!

 

 

Next up-sketches from South Bürgenland and East Styria.....coming soon!

 

Capturing moments in my sketchbook!

Watercolour sketching captured my heart only in the last couple of years. Before that, I didn’t know anything about sketching or how to use watercolours for that matter.  It’s magic to me that with just a few squiggly lines and some paint, I can record a slice of our life! I wonder why I never did this earlier in my life ..?

During summer holidays this year, we decided to travel within our home country, Austria. We spent most of our time in Upper Austria and a bit in lower Austria too. This was the most relaxing holiday we ever had in years!  Unlike most of our camping holidays in Croatia, where getting a good spot for your camping van is like winning a lottery and secondly, you can’t relax because the coast of Istria is visited by a throng of holidaymakers.

During our holidays, I not only spent quality time with my family,  but I also had ample time to sketch in the most peaceful and relaxed atmosphere. This blog is a collection of sketches from our Summer holidays this year.  What makes these sketches even more dear to me are that I recorded the glories of our holiday memories using my very own sustainable and eco-friendly handmade watercolours. These sketches give me a very unique and personal record of my experiences!

This is my current travel sketch kit. I work with a very limited colour palette that also allows me to understand the pigments and their characteristics. It is challenging and more fun!

The mesmerising view of lake Atter (or Attersee in German) from our cottage. It was an unforgettable time spent in a very old and cosy wooden cottage by the lakeside.

The view of Höllengebirge (mountains of hell) from our balcony.

 

The town of Steinbach am Attersee.

I went for a solo hike on the trail of Kienklausse-Taferlklausse.  I made a quick sketch to capture this beautiful trail.

I didn’t finish my solo hike to  Taferlklausse because midway through I came across a sign that read ‘wegen wald arbeit gesperrt’ i.e  the path is inaccessible due to tree lopping and trespassers will be prosecuted. Yikes! I tried reaching my husband but there was no signal on the hilltop. So, I went back to the base and called my husband to pick me up. We drove to the destination and had a picnic. This is a sketch from our picnic spot.

 

The landscape of the village of Steinbach is quite stunning but one easily forgets because of the captivating turquoise blue water of Attersee.

Sketch of a an old cottage near the public beach in the evening light of a warm summer day.

 

Sunset captured on our last day in Steinbach am Attersee! I would have missed it had my husband not stopped me from packing our bags and taking a moment to look out of the window and enjoy the sunset as a family!

After leaving Steinbach am Attersee we spent a few days at my in-laws in Gmunden. The sketching subject was Gasthof Engelhof just across the road. Owned and run by my in-laws and voted to be one of the best in the Salzkammergut region.  I have always shied away from drawing buildings but this time I gave it a go !

The next day me and my husband went on a hike to Grünberg . On reaching halfway through, I spontaneously sketched the distant landscape. I appreciate my husband’s patience since we still had a fair bit to walk to reach the top.

 

During our stay in Gmunden, we were hit by the summer heatwave. Hence, we decided to laze around the lake Traun or Traunsee ( in German). It is the deepest lake in Austria. I quickly sketched the Schloß Ort ( a very well known medieval castle) and the surrounding landscape.  After sketching I went for a swim to cool myself down in the cold lake . It was quite refreshing !

 

Our two-week-long stay in Upper Austria came to an end and we took a train back home to Graz. We love travelling by train because my son and I get plenty of time to sketch in a 4 1/2hr long journey. One of the station that falls on this scenic rail route is the world heritage town of Hallstatt. I had very little time but enough to capture it with a pencil. I put in the colours later from memory.

I am glad that I traded my camera for a humble sketchbook. Doing a sketch of a scene imprints it on my mind so much more than taking a picture. It’s not always easy to find the time to do a drawing when we’re on vacation (or any other time, for that matter!), but I’m always so glad I did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next up: Sketches from Lower Austria..coming soon