How to… make homemade inks and a reed pen


Looking for something fun to do with the family and enhance your drawings skills at the same time? Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced artist, join Bill Platz and let’s create a couple of versions of drawing ink from scratch (they’re more environmentally friendly than off-the-shelf versions) plus make a homemade reed pen wilted from bamboo — use whatever you’ve got handy — and don’t forget to make yourself a cuppa while you’re at it!

On a tangent, like us… have you ever wondered where ‘from scratch’ originated from? Say to make something without any ingredients prepared ahead of time — the scratch originally referred to the starting-point in sports scratched into the ground, the meaning dating back to the late 18th century.

Option 1 How to make ink from black tea

Grab some tea bags and steep (soak) them in a jug of water — the more ink, the more tea bags you’ll need. Once steeped, squeeze the tea bags into a saucepan to cook off about half of the water for a denser tea ink — you may never settle for a cup of tea the same way again.

For an optional extra to make your ink ticker and more viscous, just add a pinch of starch (like cornflour) — whatever you have in your cupboard will work to make a stronger line; gum arabic, arrowroot/tapioca, wheat and rice flour are all excellent alternatives.


  • 5 black tea bags
  • 70 ml hot water
  • Optional: a pinch of starch (like cornflour) to make your ink more viscous


  • Steep 5 black tea bags in 70 ml of hot water for 15 minutes.
  • Remove the tea bags, wait for them to cool. Once cooled, squeeze out remaining liquid into a separate cup (it should be around 30 ml of liquid).
  • Simmer on a low heat to reduce concentrate to around 15 – 20 ml of liquid.
  • Add a pinch of starch
  • Pour into a small container.

Now you’ve had your cuppa, do you feel a tad hungry? Make some ink from an avocado — and if you’re eyeing off that avocado flesh — this is a good excuse to eat. 

Option 2 How to make ink from avocado

Another way to create your own ink is from avocado. Take an avocado seed and cut it into pieces and simmer with water to release its tannins. Once simmered and it’s become tender, peel back the skin of the pit. You’ll need to continue to simmer the avocado to condense down the water and once you have about 15 ml of blood red ink, strain it into a small container and voila! You now have ink made from an avocado.


  • 1 seed/pit from a fresh avocado
  • 200 ml of water
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda


  • Remove the seed/pit from a fresh avocado and wipe clean.
    The fresh pits are loaded with tannins — different types of avocados will make variations in colour.
  • Cut the avocado pit into at least 6-8 pieces.
    16 pieces is ideal but there is no need to chop it smaller for your first try, as will make it harder to remove the pieces of skin.
  • Place the pieces and about 200 ml (1 small cup) of water in a small pan over low heat to simmer. Add about a teaspoon of baking soda (this will adjust the pH level). The water doesn’t need to completely cover the pieces.
  • Simmer for between 15 and 25 minutes (depending on your pan and heat).
  • After the first minute or two, you should see the brown skins peel easily away from the pieces — remove these small pieces of skin with tongs or a spoon. After about 10 minutes, you should see the water and pits beginning to turn blood red. Tannins!
  • Reduce the total amount of water all the way down to about 15 ml (1 tablespoon).
  • You will need to tilt the pan to keep the pieces in the dwindling amount of water (you can always add a bit of water if you overcook, but try to reduce in one go).
  • Strain the ink into a small container, let it cool, and you will have one of the most beautiful inks you have ever worked with!

Now you’re ready to draw… but wait!

3 How to make a reed pen for your ink

We can’t have ink without an artist pen to go with it, now can we? Feel like a true artist with a hand made reed pen wilted from bamboo — use whatever you’ve got handy — either a chopstick, garden stake or even a barbeque skewer. Grab your knife, your stick and channel your inner craftsman. Now it’s time to carve the top of the bamboo stick to develop a pen shape where the ink will drip from — you will need to carefully split the middle of the bamboo, so watch the video above for the finer details.

Spend time to admire your handy work, then go test it out! Grab your cuppa, and your avocado meal, add your ink with your bamboo pen and start drawing!

4 Watch the full videos by artist Dr Bill Platz

Draw Along Workshops with Dr Bill Platz

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