Painting with Coffee and Tea

July 01, 2020 0 Comments

Painting with Coffee and Tea

I love the thought of trying new ideas or finding ways to switch things up. This seems to help if Im in a creative slump too. This isnt a new concept but it certainly was fun and safe to handle. I decided to watercolourpaint with coffee and tea. Its an easy and cheap experiment that anyone could do, even you! 

Don’t Lose the Hot Cup

Dont sip the beverage paints once started, but feel free to do so until the brushes come out in play. For starters, I kept my separate drinking cup out of sight of the brush while working. I had a few instances where I habitually set down my hot coffee next to my paintsand almost contaminated it. Also, select a cup that looks distinctly different. I happened to fill 2 of my 3 paints cups from a mug set of 4 so I had to pick an active drinking cup, not from the set. Real pigments may not be used in this piece but that doesnt mean the brushes or rinse bucket are exempt from toxins.

Brew the Perfect Paint

Most people already have coffee or tea in their kitchens. I already had half a cup of coffee leftover from my nightly pot so I used it. It was a dark roast, black coffee. If there isnt a coffee maker for regular grounds, I bet using instant coffee would work too. As long as its a darkish coffee, itll work. For my teas I steeped bags of chai and passion herbal. The chai yielded a pale yellow and the passion was a deep pink. I didnt even use my kettle but ran about 6 ounces of lukewarm water over the bags. I thought the stains would be darker when I tested them because they looked the part. To combat this I suggest using hot water and less of it too for a more concentrated solution. I left the bags to steep for well over the average time, about an hour. Even if the colours are denser than desired, dilute them on a palette like usual. Remember: these arent for consuming so be careful not to fall into making the perfect hot tea. Dont add the normal milk, cream, honey, sugar, etc., to the coffee and tea of course.

Swab the Drinks

Once the drinksare prepped or the tea is steeping: start sketching! My reference picture-to-page ratio was off so I taped off boarders. This came in handy later when I was laying down swatches to test my saturations. As I mentioned, my teas and coffee weren't as strong as I anticipated so I swabbed a few different swatches to push the layers darker. Im glad I did because my passion tea pink dried purple/blue. This changed my plans on where to use it. I also mixed the colours and diluted them on my palette for more options. 

Off to a strong start!

Dunk the Brush in the Drinks on Purpose 

After I knew what my beverages would produce, I wanted to pick a reference picture with similar tones. I could have used a more vibrant image but thought Id lose the atmosphere with my paler colours. Ultimately, I choose the photo best to capture the vision. I started with single washes in strategic areas. For darker sites I used the coffee, lighter I used chai, and my middle hue passion tea. They were so transparent, I used the same drinks again over the same patches. There was an option to leave the piece pale and not push the colours so much. But part of my own painting experience is to challenge my eye and replicate the exact colours in my subject. Even if that includes many layers.

Mixing Smells

To mix hues, I found it was easier to wash directly over specific locations with another stain rather than mix on the palette. This could be from the natural paleness or from pushing darkness via multiple layers. Again, a paler study might also be the solution. Letting everything dry first before laying down those layers helps control the paint lifting and unwanted mixing. A little wet-on-wet can vary things up too though. The colour choices were so alike, when I didnt wait I muddied up spots and lost definition. Bear in mind while building up, to leave some spaces pale. Its always easier to add and not subtract paint or lift it off and scrub paper. Continue introducing colours to solidify shades, gradations, shapes, definition, relationships, and smells. Adding paint had a bonus of activating another tea or coffee smell. Fun for the eyes and nose! It is a different type of exercise so experiment on what works and what doesnt. Take pictures to document the changes and refer to them later. I also turned to my swatches a ton too.

The final result!

Ink Over Coffee

I chose to ink my creation to outline my structure as I first sketched it in pencil. If I started with a waterproof pen I could have skipped this step but I wasnt sure then if I wanted hard pen lines. (We recommend our hot press sketchbooks for mixing media.) After all those washes I needed them. The coffee wasnt going to darken or be as sharp as the ink. I used my pens to shade in the dark areas for the contrast, add detail and angles. I did use it sparingly to not cover or overwhelm the pale comparison. Lastly I used white ink for added definition.

Keep the Fade-Prone Stains Fresh

Pull off the tape, erase the extra pencil lines, and spray down with varnish to seal it. Wash out the cups to lessen the chances of cross contamination from actual paint.

Have you painted with coffee or tea? Or perhaps another drinkable paint? Tell us how it went!


Elly Jauquet is a student artist currently living in Illinois. She started watercolour in 2017 but has been drawing since a young age. You can find her wearing colourful clothes, listening to podcasts, or watching true crime documentaries.