Fall is the perfect time to gather colorful leaves, dried berries and petals. The colors in fall leaves come from colored substances called pigments. Natural inks, dyes, and paint can be made from all kinds of plants, vegetables and even bark. Gather, crush and soak some fall treasures in warm vinegar to find out if they have enough pigment to create natural water color paint.
Difficulty Level: moderate
Project Time: 20 minutes + 5 hours of soaking time
STEAM Concepts: Science, Art
small containers or bowls
a few different paper samples (e.g. coffee filters, watercolor paper, printer paper, unbleached paper)
a round rock that fits inside the containers
a mix of different colored leaves, petals, bark, and berries.
1. Gather pieces of colorful plants like dried flower petals, leaves or berries. You can even use vegetables from home-just ask a parent to help cut them.
Hint: some of the best natural dyes come from plants with deep colors like red cabbage, marigolds, hibiscus, beets and red leaves. In the fall, look for dried flowers like hydrangeas or deep purple and red leaves.
2. Keep your plant samples separated from each other - then cut or tear them into small containers. Mash each sample well with a round rock or pestle to release the pigment!
3. Warm 1 cup of white vinegar in the microwave for 45 seconds. Then, cover the mashed plant samples with a little warm vinegar. Use as little vinegar as possible to get the sample wet – it will help your final paint color be more intense. Stir and mash the plant pieces one more time to release the most pigment.
4. Leave the plant samples to soak for 5 hours, or overnight.
5. After 5 hours, dip a paintbrush into one of the garden paints and paint a sample stroke onto each of your paper samples. Rinse your paintbrush and repeat, making a sample stroke for each plant. Let the paint dry. Which plants made the best paint?
6. Does the paint look different on different types of paper? Some paper has bleach in it that can change your pigment paint. Coffee filters are good for separating pigments and preserving the pigment color.
Create a piece of fall art with your pigment paints to preserve the colors you extracted!
1) Draw a leaf shape with a pencil. Watercolor paper works well for this art project.
2) Paint the shape with your pigment paint.
3) Let it dry, then carefully erase the pencil lines.
Studying the way plant material behaves when combined with liquids, like vinegar, is a great way to learn about and test solvents, an important chemistry word. In this experiment, vinegar is used as a solvent. A solvent is a liquid that dissolves other material. When a solvent dissolves material, and combines with it, it creates a solution. The paint in this experiment is the solution.
List of plants to use for making dye: https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/ethnobotany/dyes.shtml
Fabric dying techniques to use with a class: https://extension.uga.edu/content/dam/extension/programs-and-services/school-gardens/documents/4-Historical-Extracting-Natures-Colors.pdf
How to forage for natural pigments: https://www.lostincolours.com/foraging-for-pigments-from-local-rocks/
Short history of natural dye plants: http://www.neuhsa.org/dyeplant-history.html
Author - Brandy Stone