by Traci Bautista March 17, 2022

NOTE: this post was originally shared with my community via email and written on February 2019.

Over the past year and a half, one of my goals has been to explore and learn as much as I can about colors from nature. I made a commitment to design my own DIY MFA/residency program which includes research and writing along with gathering books and resources to study natural color, botanical inks, and foraged pigments. Experimentation and detailed documentation of my formulas, findings, ideas, and journal reflections are a huge part of the creative process, along with learning from artists who specialize in a variety of natural color techniques.

In 2019, I continue this education to further my studies as I have been developing NEW WILD ink & botanical paints for my #tracibautistaCOLOR product line.

I am looking forward to sharing more about my process and inspiring your creativity. I encourage you to keep records of your artistic journey by writing daily journal notes or a bit about your creative explorations and artistic process. Here’s a peek into one of my recent journal entries...

January 28, 2019...foraging, ink-making and exploring the Albany Bulb

This past weekend I spent the day deepening my knowledge about the local landscape, foraging and exploring the Albany Bulb with Jason Logan of the Toronto Ink Co. I loved learning his philosophy about “living inks,” they are moving, continually shifting vehicles of communication used to tell our stories. His motto is “that you can make ink out of anything.” That’s the beauty of this art form, you never quite know what to expect.

With this in mind, we set off to explore the land and gather anything that we could turn into ink.

The smell of the ocean filled the air, as seagulls hovered above looking for their next meal. I walked down the uneven path through thickets of thorny Himalayan blackberry bushes. I noticed there was a single deep red berry in this huge bush but the acacia trees to my right were blooming in abundance with tiny bright yellow fuzzy ball-like flowers.

He said, “ collect anything that is yellow” so we could try to make a bright yellow ink. So I broke off a few small acacia leaves and stuffed them into my bag.

You could see the Golden Gate bridge in the distance on this chilly early morning off the East Bay shores. The calming sound of water gently hit the low sand dunes full of rocks, kelp and rusty bits.

A deep breath and a pause to take in all the beauty that surrounded me. So grateful for this experience, I thank the land and all that came before me.

Off to explore more...

Beautiful patina eucalyptus caps were randomly scattered in the rocky sand with random bits of plastics, mussel shells, soaked bark, and driftwood.

A large turquoise rope, like those used for a cruise ship anchor, drapes a Eucalyptus tree as if it were turned into a tree swing. There was colorful graffiti intertwined with art intertwined with remnants from the sea intertwined with lush vegetation. This landscape was so peaceful. 

A foragers paradise.

With my trusty garden gloves and a few small bags for collecting, I gathered bits and pieces from the earth and debris to turn into wild living inks...sandy soft rocks, fallen eucalyptus leaves, and caps, a rusty ring, a few sticks, and pieces of bark and some interesting mark-making tools.

Being a forager teaches you to look with new eyes, to find beauty in the leftovers or random things. Each small, wet rock I picked up I would scratch against a broken cement block to see if it yielded any color. If it did, I popped it into my bag.

The Bulb is a former landfill off the East Bay shores that is made of mostly of construction debris such as concrete and rebar, as is still very visible. In the early '90s, for nearly 20 years it was also a homeless encampment and had a makeshift library. It has an off-leash, dog-friendly beach and the trails are decorated with large installation art made from metal scraps, wood, and graffiti-covered cement blocks. Like many of abandoned dumps, the Bulb became quickly vegetated. It's full of non-native vegetation, including weeds such as acacias, broom, and fennel; exotics such as palm and large thickets of Himalayan blackberries.

Jason’s recent book, Make Ink: A Forager's Guide to Natural Ink making is a must read for those who want to learn about ink making from foraged and found materials. I've been following his work for a few years now and am truly inspired by everything he creates.


Our group gathered at the area called “the amphitheater” and collectively created a collection of wild inks from our foraged findings including charcoal, blueberry, acacia blooms, and eucalyptus bark and pods. We each created our very own "experience in a bottle" to remember the sights, sounds and smells of the Bulb.

Two pieces of rock became my grinding station. The pounding sound of crushing bits of charcoal into a fine powder is an exciting process when you think about how this leftover waste from someone’s fire can turn into the most beautiful, rich black color with hints of sparkle,

The BBQ pit and camp stove turned into our mobile ink making studio as we boiled up two pots of color, one filled with those tiny acacia blooms and the other with eucalyptus bark, leaves, and caps. The yummy scent of eucalyptus filled the air. The acacia yielded a bright yellow color after a bit of alum was added to the bath to intensify the color even more and the eucalyptus turned a gorgeous reddish-brown hue that deepens the more the time it soaks. It can also be shifted from red to brown to purple to black by adding various metallic salts.

I mixed my ground up charcoal with a bit of water and gum arabic, painted a few ink tests with a found stick to check the color and gradation. Then experimented with dropping in a few other inks, including a vibrant pink extracted from the blackberries that a fellow forager created. There is a beautiful chemical reaction when inks are dropped into each other that occurs on the paper...pure magic.

More experiments..a few drops lye & iron water, sprinkles of baking soda and soda ash...all created shifts in color.

Once I was satisfied with my ink creation, I  poured it into bottle added a dropper cap and labeled it, “ALBANY BULB burnt carbon dust 01.26.19”

There it was, my explorations and experience of the Albany Bulb in a bottle...ready to paint many stories. It was a phenomenal day.

There is an amazingly beautiful, meditative creative process that goes into ink and paint making that many people don't get to see until the final bottled product is presented. But there is so much more, especially with natural inks. The gathering of materials, the transformation into a colorful liquid and the alchemy of mixing them together and the ever-changing landscape completes these “stories in a bottle”.

The creation of these handcrafted inks marks a time, place, environment and history of the land along with the ink makers story.

My intention is to reveal more of these stories for each collection I design and to encourage you to think about your own creative process along with the materials you use. What does your artwork or tools say about you and your process? What kind of stories do you want to tell?

Next time you open a bottle of my #tracibautistaCOLOR watermedia ink, I encourage you to think about the experience it took to create it. Each one of my bottles is handcrafted with love and reveals a moment in time...thank you for following my journey.

with love + light... xo~Traci

Traci Bautista
Traci Bautista