Going Wild: Berry Season

August saw the return of a natural source of colour for which I waited an entire year, having narrowly missed them last year: berries! I spent several days over the past few weeks, following my foraging routes in the hopes of finding ripe elderberry (خمان) within my reach. I just managed to scrounge enough together to make a decent amount of ink – until, for a change, I took the bus to the studio last week.

I walked off the bus and right into the arms of an elder bent under the weight of more inky-black umbels I could possibly carry. Well played, cosmos. I got more than enough to make a large supply of ink and still freeze several cups of berries to make a flu-preventing syrup.

Elderberries are toxic when raw (so don’t try to eat them off the tree!) and I notice that their ink is more durable than any edible berry: I suspect there is a correlation that would be best explained by someone knowledgeable in chemistry. The first ink sample I made was very pale as I had a small amount of berries and added too much water. I added iron mordant to make it darker, and at first was underwhelmed by the result (left): it seemed to make no difference at all with the ink remaining a stubborn pale pink. But 10 minutes later, when it was fully dry (right), it was a whole other story!






A more concentrated ink doesn’t even require mordant, and darkens nicely to a purple-black. My samples are up on a sunlit wall and it will take a few months of such exposure before I can be sure that this ink is reasonably lightfast. I do notice that it changes in the inkpot, however, darkening on its own, so that you can never really predict what you’re going to get – and that to me is one of the attractions of working with nature, all is constant change and surprise.

Blackberries (توت برّي) are also in season, so I made blackberry ink as well. I already know their colour fades quickly, so I used iron mordant to make it more lasting. This turned it a nice royal blue colour that threw me back to high school days, when it was regulation to use fountain pens with this exact shade of blue. The photo below is from my art foraging course, where we made and tested blackberry ink in the field (literally). The fresh juice at the top of the paper is quite pink, while the addition of iron mordant resulted in this lovely blue below. As the hue faded over a few days, the grey remained, so that this sample is today a desaturated version of itself – still dark, but without that hint of purple.

I got quite excited about these two inks and have been writing various compositions with them, using various natural tools. In this work in progress, the elderberry ink is pink when still wet:

I then used blackberry ink for the reverse motifs, which looks greyer and plays off the two hues nicely. Here’s a close-up, and the inks will naturally keep changing with time.

And here’s the finished piece, a pattern study.

As I finish this post, I just chanced upon another berry…

Mahonia or Oregon-grape is not native at all but it pops up in ornamental borders and it yields a wonderful red-purple colour that dries purple. The ink is barely dry so I can’t tell you yet what it looks like after some time. But I did spot a few more bushes that are going to get a visit from me while they’re still fruiting 😉