Iris green, continued

Continued from the previous post.



For this amount of iris petals – a heaping dinner plate full – I used about a tablespoon of alum. (As it turns out, that was a bit too much. I’m still learning.) Put it into a small saucepan and cover it with distilled water, about a quarter inch deep. The alum should dissolve within a few minutes. If it doesn’t, then you may need to add a bit more water – but when used in an ink, it’s generally better to start with too little water rather than too much, to avoid diluting the color too much. You can always thin the cocktail later if the color demands it (this often happens with buckthorn yellow, which is really strong). If you’re making a lake pigment it doesn’t matter.

Iris green dye

Iris green dye

Once you’ve got your alum dissolved, go ahead and add just a bit of it to the iris dye. Swirl the jar around, and If you’ve put in enough of the alum, you should see the color change from purple to a cool blue (if it doesn’t do this, try adding a bit more of the alum). The picture on the right shows the difference – compare this with the violet color of the liquid in the previous post. Transparent colors can often shift hues in more concentrated amounts like this, and this is a very transparent color. It will be green when you brush it onto watercolor paper.

I like to use wine as a binder for inks if I mean them to keep, as recommended by Theophilus in his Essay Upon Divers Arts; the sugars in the wine bind the ink to the paper, while the alcohol gives a bit of preservative function. (If I’m going to use the ink right away, then glair makes for a wonderful binder instead.) The wine I have used so far is an ordinary cooking wine that contains a salt and some kind of preservative in addition to the wine. You can cook the iris petals directly in wine instead of the distilled water if you want to; this may affect the resulting hue.

If your green turns out too delicate, you can steep it on the stove some more to evaporate off some of the water, or simply leave it in an open container for a while. This was done with sap green and iris green, and is called inspissation (thickening by heating or evaporation – and there’s your new geek word for the day). Here’s where my adding too much alum became apparent: as I inspissated the liquid, the oversaturated alum began crystallizing out. Well, I learned what an alum crystal looks like!

Iris green ink sketch

Iris green ink sketch

Iris green will also make a lake pigment, but I’m not convinced it’s completely insoluble. The iris juice – especially without the wine – will spoil eventually. It’s not a bad idea to keep whatever you don’t use right away in the refrigerator.

So, if you’ve got some irises in the garden, you can make a nice bright green ink easily with a little alum and/or cooking wine. To the right is a little sketch done in this color, once again from a Steve McCurry photo; not a very good likeness, but you can see what the color looks like. Post any questions if you’ve got ’em!


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11 Responses to “Iris green, continued”

  1. How to make a lake pigment « Sunsikell Says:

    […] dye, the magic can begin. Dissolve some alum in water on the stove (a pic of this can be seen here), then pour the warm alum solution into the dye jar. With some dyes, such as weld, this will […]

  2. Announcement: blue iris rhizomes available « Sunsikell Says:

    […] are the irises I’ve used to create the iris green ink, which you can read about here, here, here and here. I don’t know exactly how many I’ve got, but it must be several dozen at […]

  3. Chrissy Says:

    How much wine did you use? when did you add it? and was it a white wine? Would a red wine affect the color?

  4. sunsikell Says:

    Hi Chrissy! I just cooked them straight up in wine, not letting the temperature get to the boiling point. Makes a strange red-colored liquor, which nevertheless turns green once you brush it out on paper. The ink isn’t any better this way, but the benefit is that it doesn’t mold. I’ve got some that’s been sitting in a bottle on the shelf since last summer, and it’s still good. I’ve also got some walnut ink I made this way, and same thing. I used white cooking wine, figuring the extra sugar and salt would help with the binding.

  5. sunsikell Says:

    Update: After the above comments, I tried brushing out the iris green in wine that has been sitting around since summer. It has actually lost quite a bit of color in the meantime. It’s still partly green, but also fairly brown, especially in thicker applications. The acidity of the wine, perhaps? The salt component? The ambient light (it’s been in a clear bottle)? Dunno – I’ll have to do some more experimenting at some point, but in the meantime using the wine actually might not be the best solution for long-term storage. Or it might simply be my foolhardiness in storing what is certainly a fugitive color in a clear bottle in a normally-lit room. Inker beware!

  6. dyefeltsool Says:

    Thanks for the fantastic post. I was dyeing with purple irises and had used an alum mordant with my silk. The dye came out more green/blue then purple and I didn’t really understand why. I was also interested in making an ink with the irises and so, after I found this post, I now have a notion of why my silk dyed that way and a recipe for ink! Thanks again.

    • llawrence Says:

      Thanks for commenting Beth! I’m glad the post helped you out a bit. Some of the dye colors you’re posting on your blog are great – love the turmeric and especially the black bean dye – lovely!

  7. Victoria Says:

    Buenas tardes ya aqui. Mi nombre es Victoria y te escribo desde España. Ha sido maravilloso encontrar tu sitio. Soy Arteterapeuta y estoy ahora experimentando con la creación de pigmentos vegetales para mi trabajo, concretamente intento la elaboración de tintas de flor de iris que en este momento estan floreciendo aqui.Mi intención es que la tinta sea azul o azul-violeta. Por tus comentarios entiendo que no debo usar alumbre, pues se convertiria en verde iris. ¿Que mordiente o conservante podria usar para hacer la tinta azul de iris?

    • llawrence Says:

      Victoria asked: how to get blue-violet from iris petals?

      Victoria, thank you for your comment. I have gotten a blue-green color from irises when I added only a little alum, but it has not been reliable. (See the the article at the bottom of the post at For a more violet-blue you might also explore various berries like raspberries or blackberries or huckleberries.

      Victoria, gracias por tu comentario. He conseguido un color azul-verde de iris cuando agregué solamente un pequeño alumbre, pero no ha sido confiable. (Ver el artículo en la parte inferior de la publicación en Para un violeta más azul también puede explorar varias bayas como frambuesas o moras o arándanos. Lo siento si la traducción es mala.

  8. Victoria Says:

    Hola querido sunsikell!! Muy contenta de que me hayas respondido. En las pruebas que estoy haciendo con iris veo que conseguir el color azul es difícil. Aunque trabaje con flor azul, el color se va hacia el verde, amarillo o marrón. Ahora pienso que lo mejor será sencillamente probar con índigo, glasto o hierba pastel, pero claro ya no se trata de flores.
    En todo caso compartir contigo que la única forma en la que conseguí el azul fue con el jugo crudo exudado por las flores de iris. El proceso requiere tiempo y paciencia, y muchas flores!!. Pero pude pintar satisfactoriamente usando este jugo como acuarela, al que añadí unas gotas de ácido (simplemente zumo de limón) y hasta el momento el color permanece sin cambios!.

    También probaré con los frutos que me comentas.
    Ya os cuento.
    un saludo desde España.

    • llawrence Says:

      Victoria, that was a good idea, adding the lemon juice to keep the color from turning green. Next time I make some iris ink I’ll have to try that. Thanks for the comment!

      Victoria, que era una buena idea, añadiendo el jugo de limón para mantener el color de convertirse en verde. La próxima vez que haga una tinta de iris tendre que intentarlo. ¡Gracias por el comentario!

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