Cochineal Ink

Cochineal World 2023 ink on arches 12″ x 12″

Winter’s a great time to try making inks from sources other than what grows in my backyard. I have been reading a lot about the history of pigments, and I wanted to try making a red from cochineal bugs.

According to Wikipedia, Cochineal dye was used by the Aztec and Maya peoples of North and Central America as early as the second century BC. Inhabitants of Peru have been producing cochineal dyes for textiles since early in the Middle Horizon period (600–1000 CE). It is still a very viable pigment to this day.

I have read that finding a red in nature was a big deal back in 2 BC since one of the most fugitive colors in nature is red (it fades and very fast, more so than other colors). There aren’t many that have the vibrancy and staying power of cochineal besides mineral pigments.

Purple and red cochineal

Cochineal ink is a beautiful, vibrant red ink that is made from the dried bodies of cochineal insects. The insects are native to Central and South America.

Making cochineal ink is a relatively simple process. (You can purchase the insects online.) Once you have the insects, you will need to grind them up into a fine powder.

Dryed cochineal bugs.

Once the cochineal powder is ground up, you will need to mix it with water. The amount of water you use will depend on how dark you want your ink to be. A good starting point is to use 1 part cochineal powder to 2 parts water.

Once the cochineal powder and water are mixed, you will need to heat the mixture over low heat. This will help to extract the color from the cochineal powder. As the mixture heats up, it will turn a deep color. I used a water bath to keep it of the direct heat.

Ground cochineal and spring water cooking

After the mixture has been heated for about an hour, you will need to filter it. This will remove any undissolved cochineal powder.

Cooked cochineal filtering

The color is then adjusted by adding soda ash and/ or alum. I got both the purple red and cardinal red with the additives.The mixture can then be poured into a bottle or jar and then add some gum arabic

Cochineal purple and red test strips

Here are some additional tips for making cochineal ink:

  • Use distilled water to avoid impurities.
  • Strain the ink through a fine cloth or cheesecloth to remove any remaining cochineal powder.
  • Be careful when handling cochineal powder, as it can cause stains.

Cochineal ink will last for several months if it is stored in a cool, dark place. It can be used to write with a pen, brush, or quill.

2 thoughts on “Cochineal Ink

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.