Watercolor Dye Technique #1: General Concept

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Blog entry by shipwright posted 01-30-2011 03:52 AM 8748 reads 15 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Watercolor Dye Technique series Part 2: New Lessons Learned from "Facets" »

This is the blog that I promised detailing my experiments in what I call “watercolor style” aniline dying. My sincere hope is that it will encourage some of you to jump in and help develop what I think is a huge potential of which I’ve only scratched the surface.

The idea of hand dyeing pieces of inlay or marquetry came to me because I was frustrated by the limited array of colors available to me in the veneer and solid wood supply to which I have access. I was enjoying the idea of inlay and contemplating more complex marquetry, but as you can see in the examples of my pieces below, I clearly could have created a much better representation if I had more colors in my palate. Colors particularly difficult to come by in wood are greens and blues. These would make oceans, skies, trees, leaves and many other things more lifelike and more vibrant. I know that convention in marquetry is that you use a wide variety of woods and make do with what nature gave you, but I’m not really all that good with rules and besides, I don’t have access to a supplier of veneers where I can go and pick through samples looking for the right colors.

These are two of my earliest inlay pieces, done with a router inlay set. They’re nice enough but lack, in my mind anyway, an “edge”.

I started by searching the internet for dyeing techniques in marquetry, aniline dyeing techniques, dying inlay etc. and only came up with a couple of suppliers who would sell me pieces of plain light colored wood that had been pressure saturated with some color. That wasn’t what I was looking for. Next I bought a set of 12×2 oz. bottles of liquid aniline dye and started experimenting.

After some fooling around I decided to give it a go on my “Cabinetree” project. The tree trunk was dyed in a fairly conventional way, blending a few colors with sanding in between.

When it came time to do the fall representation of Big Leaf Maple leaves, I cut the marquetry with the grains running the way that the leaf ’s veins would run, more or less, but all out of maple, almost. I did use a few pieces of Walnut where the leaf curled up and was in shade, but other than that the whole marquetry was the same color. Not too impressive, I agree.

That was when the experimenting really got into gear. I decided to try to “watercolor” paint with the dye in a wet on wet style, using artists’ brushes and double strength dye mix.

I started with the lightest color, yellow here, and flooded the piece, allowing it to get quite wet.

Then I added some green near the base of the center vein to show the last of the summer color hanging on. This was added while the yellow was still wet and allowed to just bleed with the grain. There’s lots of room for experimentation here with different techniques, concentrations and solvent mixes. Aniline dyes can be mixed with water or alcohol or a mixture of the two. Further, there are three different alcohols (methyl, ethyl,and isopropyl) that you can use , each with it’s own properties. Different combinations will exhibit different “bleed” characteristics.

Finally I added the dark decaying color around the edges. This didn’t seem to bleed back into the yellow on it’s own but after a bit of experimenting I discovered that I could blend it very nicely by re-wetting it. This can be done with water, an alcohol or, as I did here, by dragging a brush dipped in yellow from the yellow out into the burnt sienna. There’s lots to play with here.

That about covers what I learned about dyeing in the “Cabinetree” project. It only scratches the surface of the potential for this style and there’s lots of room to improve and expand the technique.

Next time I’ll go into the new ways I used the technique in “Facets” and show some of the tricks I’ve learned.

Thanks for checking in and for your interest. I hope I can inspire you to experiment with this stuff. It is a ton of fun.


-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

6 comments so far

View driftwoodhunter's profile


273 posts in 4148 days

#1 posted 01-30-2011 04:37 AM

Thanks Paul for the detailed & easy to follow tuturial. I may get the same kit, plus some additional colors to try. Since I have an art background, the first thing I wondered about was the permanence of the pigments that make up the dyes. With artist’s paints, the oils, watercolors, etc. have a lightfastness rating on each tube. 1 being most lightfast/permanent, 2 & 3 going down in stability accordingly. I wonder if aniline dyes have a similar system? If I can find a way to contact the manufacturer, I will ask. I think what you and others here are doing with the application of translucent color is wonderful. I look forward to trying it myself, and seeing more!

View steliart's profile


2895 posts in 4150 days

#2 posted 01-30-2011 02:44 PM

Thank you for the amazing journey.
You used colors cautiously and did not over do it, and I like this very much.
Just wondering how will these colors react in time.
Just thinking out laud here about the blues and natural colors, cobalt blue in powder format widely used in Byzantine iconography, mixed with egg and vinegar (ok it will smell bad at first) but it’s quite stable, so I was wondering how that technique can be mixed directly onto the wood and blend together with your colors. It worth investigating.
Thanks again

-- Stelios L.A. Stavrinides: - I am not so rich to buy cheap tools, but... necessity is the mother of inventions !!!

View RogerBean's profile


1605 posts in 4415 days

#3 posted 01-30-2011 07:11 PM

You really have my imagination working overtime with the whole idea of “watercolor style marquetry”. Your work is both innovative and beautiful. Inlaying is something I really enjoy, and the potential of your technique is huge. I want to try something with it on my boxes one of these days. Keep up the great work. Many thanks for sharing your work.

-- "Everybody makes mistakes. A craftsman always fixes them." (Monty Kennedy, "The Checkering and Carving of Gunstocks", 1952)

View mauibob's profile


258 posts in 4529 days

#4 posted 12-31-2011 02:34 AM

Just came across this posting, Paul—sorry I missed it for so long. Been struggling with color palette myself for some time. Tried a few different techniques, but each seemed doom to deterioration with time. Will definitely do some more experimenting along the lines you suggested.
Have a very happy 2012!

-- Bob, Potomac, MD

View Nate Meadows's profile

Nate Meadows

1132 posts in 3668 days

#5 posted 06-29-2012 07:17 PM


Your dying of the the leaf project is well done! Great idea and execution! Thank you for sharing!

Your Friend,


-- "With a little bit of faith, and some imagination, you can build anything!" Nate

View steliart's profile


2895 posts in 4150 days

#6 posted 06-30-2012 06:25 AM

Thank you so much for sharing Paul

-- Stelios L.A. Stavrinides: - I am not so rich to buy cheap tools, but... necessity is the mother of inventions !!!

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