Uncommon Materials to draw or paint with

Do you paint with acrylics and salt? Watercolours and red wine? Tea and pencils? Inks and lemon? Then this is the right place for you!

The Uncommon Materials January 2012 How-To: Dianne Ilka - Painting with coffee

Ina Mar Ina Mar 176 posts

Dianne Ilka is a visual artist from Placid Hills, Australia and stay at home mother to 3 children.
She has been creating art on a regular basis since about April 2010.
She uses acrylic and pastel but also some uncommon materials: coffee, tea and salt!

This month Dianne is the contributor of the monthly How-To of our Uncommon Materials to draw or paint with group. She chose to talk about painting with coffee.

Some related links:

Two little notes:


Dianne  Ilka Dianne Ilka 963 posts

(Dianne Ilka interviewed by Ina Mar)

When did you start using coffee to paint with?
I started coffee painting a little over 12 months ago.

What kind of coffee do you use? How do you prepare it?
Generally I use any brand of instant coffee. I mix several teaspoons with a small amount of boiling water. I vary the intensity of the colour by changing the water/coffee ratio.

Do you also purchase conventional art supplies? Which conventional materials do you usually mix or use together with coffee?
I normally use other conventional materials with my coffee paintings to create more contrast. I have dark brown and black pens which I often use as a general outline before starting my painting. I discovered quite early that trying to apply pen over the top of coffee could actually be quite difficult. The coffee tends to get a bit sticky if it has been applied thickly and tends to clog up the pen. This is why lately I have been applying the pen first. Charcoal is often added where I want to darken areas. This mixes well with the coffee. I have also used light coloured pastels to create highlights on my paintings when I haven’t left enough light areas.

What other uncommon materials do you use?
I also use tea and salt in some of my coffee paintings. These materials tend to complement the coffee.

How do you apply coffee on the support?
I normally apply the coffee with a paintbrush, which I use to either paint it directly onto the painting or to splatter it. I also blend and smudge areas with a paper towel for different effects.

What kinds of supports do you use?
I have experimented with a few different kinds of paper to use with coffee painting. All of them help to create different kinds of effects. Normally I use watercolour paper, but even the different brands of watercolour paper can create different effects. Acrylic sketch paper is also great as a support. Once again, you can get different effects with it because the coffee dosen’t soak in as much. With less absorbent paper you can allow the coffee to pool more in places to create some really dark, shiny areas. It’s all about experimenting.

Can you explain a little more about your technique or procedure?
My current style of coffee painting has started to evolve a bit from my original paintings. I generally start with a basic outline in pen. (this saves my pen from blocking up later when I want to add definition or darker areas) From there, I start adding washes of coffee in different strengths. Painting with coffee can be pretty unpredictable so generally I just go where the painting takes me, experimenting along the way. I love to add coarse cooking salt to add texture and interest. It can be used to make areas darker if you use a lot of thick coffee as the coffee tends to stick to it, creating a dark textured effect. Salt can also be used on thinner washes to repel the coffee creating lighter specks. Generally, every coffee painting I do is a bit of an experiment.

Work in progress – Portal di Lucca
by Dianne Ilka

Very early stages. I have started with a simple pen line drawing. In the past I have used pen AFTER applying coffee and it tends to clog up my pens. Trying a different approach this time.
Work in progress – Portal di Lucca
by Dianne Ilka

I have first put down a layer of tea to colour the paper a bit.
Next was coffee and salt to start building some textures and colours.
Work in progress – Portal di Lucca
by Dianne Ilka

This time I have added more coffee, salt and some charcoal to darken the coffee a bit.
Need to sit back and figure out where I am going to go from here.
Final version: Italian Coffee Break
by Dianne Ilka

Approx A4 size
Coffee, tea, salt, charcoal, pen & pastel on canson watercolour paper

This piece was created for the SoJie 12 exhibition and is a translation of the fantastic photo Lucca, Italy by Christina Backus

Why did you choose this material?
I love the idea that painting with coffee is a little bit different from the everyday. I find that it is great for creating nostalgic/rustic pieces. I also love the fact that it is an extremely cheap medium to use. Almost everyone has it in their pantry, so there is really never an excuse not to give it a try.

What comes first: the image or the material?
I definitely find that certain ideas for a painting are more suited to coffee than others. Old, nostalgic things look great in coffee. Sometimes I create a coffee painting because I have a catchy title in mind or just think that the subject matter would look great in coffee. Coffee painting can be quite addictive, so sometimes I just find myself doing a coffee painting purely for the fact that I haven’t done one for a while and really feel the urge to paint a new one.

The Old Trike
by Dianne Ilka

7″ × 5″ coffee, charcol, pastel and pen on acrylic sketch paper

I have memories of riding this bike as a child at Nan & Pop’s place. It has only just recently been pulled out from under their house. Who knows how many children in the past have done the same.

The ultimate morning wakeup
by Dianne Ilka

8″ × 10″ Coffee, salt, pen and coloured graphite pencil on watercolour paper

My coffee paintings seem to take on a mind of their own and this is no exception. Not exactly the rooster I had in mind for this painting but it just
started evolving so I went with it. It has turned out looking a lot darker than I had originally planned. I think a lot of that comes down to my lack of experience with watercolour. I guess with practice there can always be a rooster…


What can you tell us about the conservation of coffee? Have you noticed any changes in time (eg. hue, texture, intensity)? Do you store the artworks in particular conditions in order to conserve them better?
I always frame my coffee paintings with a mat board around them and behind glass. The main thing that seems to affect them is humidity. I have only ever found a problem with this is the coffee has been applied extremely thickly. My “Nescafe Forest” was framed and behind glass, but 12 months ago when we had an extremely wet month and devastating floods in our area I discovered that some of the very thick areas of coffee had dribbled down the painting a bit. I have not had this problem on any of my other coffee paintings though so this “dribble” is actually pretty special to me as it was if my painting was shedding a tear for the loss of life in our area from the floods.

Nescafe Forest
by Dianne Ilka

8″ × 10″ coffee, salt & pen on tea background

I have been inspired by Elizabeth Kendall’s wonderful trees so I have decided to have a go myself.
As with most coffee paintings it really looks better in real life.


How did the idea occur to you to use coffee?
I originally thought of using coffee to paint with purely due to the fact that I wanted to try watercolours but didn’t have any. I thought that it was a bit of a crazy idea and didn’t realize that other people were already painting with it. I noticed that Maree Clarkson on Redbubble posted a coffee painting so decided that it wasn’t such a crazy idea after all so gave it a try.

How original is your uncommon material?
I have since discovered that there are quite a lot of artists who use coffee as a medium. My main influences in coffee painting have been through Maree Clarkson and Elizabeth Kendall (both from Redbubble)

What is the resonance of your uncommon material to other artists / to the public / to your family and friends?
My local art society is quite a traditional group so it was great to see their reaction when I introduced them to coffee painting. They were actually quite interested and invited me to do a workshop with them with coffee painting. I was also invited to do a workshop at a local nursing home. The look on their faces when I told them that we were going to paint with coffee and tea was priceless! They actually loved their morning.

Give one last useful advice to artists you would like to experiment with coffee!
I think that everyone should try coffee painting at least once! It is heaps of fun, and you don’t need expensive materials. Grab a piece of paper, search the house for any kind of brush/stick/or anything else you can think of for applying the coffee and go for it!

Caffeine Kitty
by Dianne Ilka

Coffee, salt and pen on watercolour paper

Bit of a crazy experimental piece really. The cat kind of “evolved” in the process.

Coffee Chicks
by Dianne Ilka

8″ × 10″ Coffee and pen (with a touch of salt and charcoal) on Arches 300gsm watercolour paper
Old Gate
by Dianne Ilka

A4 size Coffee and charcoal
In Simpler Times….
by Dianne Ilka

6″ × 4″ coffee and pen on watercolour paper
Ina Mar Ina Mar 176 posts

Dianne, I would like to thank you for your detailed answers to my questions! This has really been a great interview. Thank you for sharing with us your technique, influences and experiences! I especially like the part about the flood and the coffee that dribbled down the painting like tears… I also like the way you combine coffee and salt – this creates interesting textures and effects, that are clearly visible on the zoomed versions of your artworks.

I noticed that many of your beautiful coffee paintings are still available for sale, so I will add them here for our readers to enjoy!

Article in the Laidley Plainland Leader

Cindy Schnackel Cindy Schnackel 5017 posts

Love it!

Ina Mar Ina Mar 176 posts

And here is some other coffee artwork by artists of the Uncommon Materials to draw or paint with group!

Blind by My Inspirations
by Christina Rodriguez 
Coffee or Tea?
by Cindy Schnackel 
Smile (the Hippo)
by Lynette Shelley
Go! Fish
by Lynnette Shelley
Steampunk Mummy
by Barbora Urbankova
by Christina Rodriguez
The sisters
by Michele Meister
Red Gryphon
by Lynnette Shelley
Inner Delusions of Mine
by Christina Rodriguez
Sketchbook Project 2012, pp. 28 & 29
by Cindy Schnackel
Love me
by Casey Pinkerton
Eat me
by Casey Pinkerton
Watching the tennis with the boring Brazilian foot fetishist
by John Douglas
Maquette for meat mouth
by John Douglas
Full moon over Edlorowa street
by John Douglas
Sunday afternoon in Paris
by John Douglas
Returning to our Unconscious Reality…
by Christina Rodriguez
Lovers in Death
by Ina Mar
Dianne  Ilka Dianne Ilka 963 posts

Ina, you have done such an amazing job with all if this! Thankyou so much!!!!! Made my day to see it on here :)

Midori Furze Midori Furze 182 posts

Thank you for sharing Dianne.
Great work!!

Cindy Schnackel Cindy Schnackel 5017 posts

Thanks for including some of mine, Ina, it was RB’s coffee artists who convinced me to try it too!

© Angela L Walker © Angela L Walker 870 posts

Wow! Thanks so much, Diane. This is FANTASTIC! You make me want to try painting with coffee! Love it all!

OUTSTANDING teamwork by you and Ina!

Dianne  Ilka Dianne Ilka 963 posts

Thanks everyone for their support! I wonder if people would be able to post their coffee painting attempts in this forum? It would be great to see people give it a try :)

Elizabeth Kendall Elizabeth Kendall 2535 posts

Thanks so much Dianne for mentioning my name, for lovely friendship and for being such an inspiration! I joined this unique group and wish you all all the best! Hooray for coffee!!

donna malone donna malone 277 posts

I love how you have used just the minimum of materials …salt, charcoal and of course coffee! so simple and natural..lovely work and thanks for sharing your technique with us

Dianne  Ilka Dianne Ilka 963 posts

I’m so glad that you joined the group Liz!
@ donnamalone – I think that a lot of people don’t give art a go because a lot of the materials can be quite expensive. I love the idea of using simple materials because you really have nothing to loose, yet you may just gain a wonderful artwork. I did the dribbly trees (like nescafe forest) at the nursing home and they came up with some wonderful artwork :) I often find that with expensive materials, people are often less inclined to just experiment for the fun of it because they don’t want to waste their art supplies.

Fay Helfer Fay Helfer 12 posts

This is such a fabulous How-To! Very inspiring :)

Dianne  Ilka Dianne Ilka 963 posts

Thanks Fay!
Very excited that a local cafe have purchased prints of my coffee art to display! I will also be having a different coffee original on display each month too :)

Ina Mar Ina Mar 176 posts

Dianne, your coffee painting how-to is the mostly read and commented in our group! (about 500 views until now!)
Do you have pictures of your coffee art in the local cafe? Imagine you are taking your coffee surrounded with coffee artworks – that must be a nice feeling!

Dianne  Ilka Dianne Ilka 963 posts

Yes I do! The owner purchased 8 prints and hangs four on the wall at a time. I also hang a different original there each month. I have other art in some different places in the area but my coffee art is now exclusive to this cafe. I love the idea of people drinking coffee while surrounded by coffee art :)

Ina Mar Ina Mar 176 posts

Oh sorry, I think I didn’t ask this right… Do you have photos of your coffee art hanging in the cafe? So we can see what it looks like…

Dianne  Ilka Dianne Ilka 963 posts

Sorry, now I know what you mean :) don’t have any pics at the moment but might take my camera with me next week when I change over my painting