Natural paints – tea and coffee

Natural paints - tea and coffee

Those of you who have knocked over wine glasses or have dropped cherries on your white shirts will know from experience that nature has provided us with plenty of pigments. To put it more commonly, these things leave ugly marks on textile. And on paper…

I have long been toying with the idea of trying the different natural pigments that painters of the past used, or to learn what is the biology behind the Milk Maid, for example, but I haven’t had the opportunity to delve into this complicated subject yet. So for the moment, I stayed on safe grounds and decided to experiment with a cup of tea and coffee.

Painting with coffee

The whole idea of painting with coffee came from a cold cup of espresso that had previously been left on the kitchen table. After a bit of research I realised I’m not the first person to try this, coffee is an excellent substance to paint with as long as you are not too fussy about colours.

Coffee gave no surprises: it leaves a light brown mark on the paper, with the edges darkening during the drying process, which gives the surfaces some nice contrast. We can’t have much control over how much pigment gets on the brushes, so I managed to darken the picture by adding further layers – which is not a great challenge for those who are experienced with watercolours, but you might experience difficulty merging the different layers.

I think that stronger coffee (more coffee, less water) will leave a darker mark on the paper, but that is just a supposition, I haven’t tried it yet.

Doing it the English way, a.k.a. time for tea

Having succeeded with coffee I had a go with my English Breakfast tea, but that left such a light mark on the paper as if I’d been painting with clear water, even though I had left the tealeaves swirling in hot water for hours and I used a lot of leaves with very little water.

So, I decided to have a go with my fruit infusion (no complaints there, I drink English breakfast every morning, while fruit teas are only popular among my friends). So, with my coffee experiences behind me, I added two spoonfuls of fruit infusion to about 0,5 dl of water, then left it “brewing” for half an hour.

It was definitely worth the effort, it is super exciting to paint with fruit tea! The dark red liquid leaves a bright pink mark on the paper, which slowly turns violet during the drying process. Here too, you can darken the colour by adding further layers.

Natural paints - tea and coffee

Colour mixing!

I wouldn’t be a real painter(-to-be) if I hadn’t tried how these two lovely colours mix together. Since I haven’t had the patience to add enough coffee layers to give the necessary contrast, I achieved the darker tones by adding tea.

Natural paints - tea and coffee

Tea and coffee mix well if both layers are still wet. Unlike watercolours, once the layer of tea/coffee is dry, it is very difficult to dissolve them again, so if you decide to paint with these substances, you have to make very quick decisions – although both tea and coffee dry slower than watercolours.

Have you tried painting with natural materials? What were your experiences?

Natural paints - tea and coffee


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