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Dye TryingHealthy Green Artists
by Janet Chui
I've been waiting for the perfect time to write about artists obtaining their own colors from natural objects - and there's no better time than the month of April and Easter to explore this subject! If you're going to paint Easter eggs, try skipping those pre-packaged egg-dyeing kits from the store this year. Now's the perfect time for artists to play with colors in the kitchen, and maybe take some of the home-made dyes into the studio, too!
Egg-dyeing kits are usually labeled non-toxic and are a great choice for kids and adults (especially if you're going to eat those eggs), but in this age of growing food allergies, it's pertinent to become aware that some commercial food dyes and colorings can cause allergic reactions. (And Red Dye #2 also isn't vegetarian, for those who are concerned about that.) Making dyes from scratch ensures you also know all the ingredients involved, instead of dealing with mystery chemicals.
I shouldn't need to say these colors can be used to put colors on papers and cloth too. The stronger you'd like the colors to be, the more of that color source you should use, and as little water as you can get away with (but not less than 1 cup). If dyeing eggs, steep them longer in the homemade dyes (overnight, in the fridge) to get deeper colors.
You'll need: A stove, a saucepan, water, white vinegar, and the source of your dye. (If you're dyeing eggs, it's actually better to hardboil the eggs before coloring them by submerging them in the dye overnight, even if you may be putting some of them into hot or boiling dye solutions (optional).
And now, time to pretend we're chemists! We're extracting dyes from natural materials... just using water. All the colors can use vinegar added as a mordant (about 1-2 teaspons) to help deepen and set the colors. The only exception are colors from onion skins. Some colors can be extracted cold, others need to have their sources or dyestuff boiled for at least 15 minutes for stronger effect.
There's not too much difference involved in using your natural dyes for cloth or fibre, from using them for coloring food. (Though another mordant/binder, such as alum or aluminium potassium sulfate may be used for dyeing cloth so as to get more permanent results.)
To paint on paper using the dyes may be trickier; but you may recall an earlier Healthy Green Artists which linked to a recipe for making your own water-based paint. (The ingredients were water, honey, gum arabic and pigment.) The difference between dyes and pigment, at least where our homemade dyes are concerned, is that it'll be hard to make a good paint out of the our dyes without adding an opacifying agent like titanium oxide (to make it behave more like pigment). As such, for painters, our homemade colors will be more satisfactory for tinting and for unusual effects, than for painting with. Though if you find a safe and easy way to turn the dyes into paints, please share!
Enjoy the colors of spring, and have fun making your own colors from nature!
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