Homemade Inks and Pens

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This article is written by Francesca Albini 

One of the most annoying things is when your pens go dry and you have to throw them away. It really hurts me to get rid of any tool that can be used or should have been used for my art. So I don’t. I find ways to rescue almost everything by making my own handmade inks.

Every time one of my ballpoint pens goes dry I take a pair of scissors and snip the plastic reservoir into a bin or plastic bag (they tend to fly across the room otherwise!), then put the segments in a small container. When I have enough segments (two or three reservoirs), I pour a little bit of surgical spirit into the container, close it really tight and shake well. The result is a purply blue ink. If it’s too light in colour, wait a day for some of the spirit to evaporate. I suggest you use a cheap brush with this ink, as it can be harsh on the bristles.

Here is a portrait of the singer Sippie Wallace I painted with homemade ballpoint ink. Because this ink is quite viscous, instead of diluting it with water or more spirit to obtain lighter shades I prefer to dry the brush on a tissue. Using an almost dry brush gives the painting an unusual and pleasant grainy feel. Ballpoint ink is not the easiest of mediums to use, but it is fun to experiment with.

singer Sippie Wallace sketch by Francesca Albini

Gel pens are particularly prone to get dry very quickly. Snip the dry reservoirs and put them in a container, as above, but this time dilute with water. I like the ink made with gel pens because it very often has a shiny, glittery texture. Here is a flamingo I painted using ink made out of a few pink and orange dry gel pens. Gel pen ink is also easier to use, as it can be further diluted with water.

Here is a flamingo by Francesca Albini

I spent the Christmas holidays going for walks in various parks and gathered a few things that I could turn into art tools, like bamboo stems and a pigeon feather (hoping the ex owner didn’t have the flu!) There are many sites on the internet that show you how to make reeds and quills. It’s really quite simple. Cut the shape of the nib with a craft knife, test and trim until you are happy with the marks it makes. While my husband was trying to have a serious conversation with me, I doodled his portrait with my homemade bamboo reed and Indian ink. He ended up looking a bit like the Buddha, so I thought of adding some tropical foliage in the background with my pigeon quill.

Homemade art tools and pens by Francesca Albini

Playing with homemade inks and found or recycled materials is fun, creative, cheap, and makes you feel good.


Francesca is a visual artist using pretty much everything she finds around her to record and relive feelings and memories of places and emotions. She collages, paints, draws, photographs. Francesca loves mixing modern technology, such as mobile phone apps, with the simplest of tools such as glitter glue, crayons and other children’s art supplies.

Read her blog at Fran’s Journal Blogspot




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  1. Vicki Rearley says:

    Loving your site and hoping that you can answers some questions on tips and how to saving money ,

  2. Vicki Rearley says:

    I am back, sorry. I have so enjoyed reading your site and all the tips that you share. I am on a limited budget and cannot afford all the products that are required to do some of the media that I would like to do. What a great tip on recycling the gel pens! Do you thing I could do the same thing with the dried up colored markers that I have. (My grandchildren left the caps off!!!!!!) I do have another question. Can yu give me a approximate measurement of how much white paint to how much baby powder and glue to use? This is a fascinating idea!!! Also , I have left over waterbased latex paint in various colors. How can I incoropate this in with my abstract paintings? Any ideas would be greatly appreciated. Hugs!!!! Vicki

  3. Umar shehu says:

    I really love sketching but my problem is i can’t afford paint,i don’t know if i can made my own paint

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