WITH A HANDFUL OF FEATHERS, sticks, and Meta l points, you can have great fun drawing the world around you. Intricate or dramatic lines, spots, and spatters can be made with an exotic choice of inks. The Egyptians and Chinese are credited with the invention of carbon ink, simultaneously 4,500 years ago, and it is still in use today.
A German recipe of 1531 gives a simple description: “Take a wax candle, light it, and hold it under a clean basin until the soot hangs to it; then pour a little warm gum water into it and temper the two together. That is an ink.” “Gum” refers to gum Arabic extracted from the acacia tree, and first used by the Egyptians. The Chinese used animal or fish glue. The paste from either recipe is pressed and dried into a bar for storage.
The bar is then rubbed into water on a slate block to produce ink. Today, high-quality Chinese and Japanese inks are subtler and more complex than those produced in Europe. Masters choose brands of long, distinguished manufacture, the recipes for which have been handed down over centuries. In the Far East, ink is traditionally applied with a brush (see pp.246-47). Dip pens began their history in the Nile River, where reeds were gathered. Quills were later cut from feathers, while metal nibs began as rare gifts in gold and silver before being perfected by the British steel industry.
To MAKE A QUILL OR REED PEN, keep all your fingers behind the blade and cut away from you. Practice to gain a feel for how materials behave, then cut a final nib (feathers, for example, are surprisingly tough.) You can make ink easily from the boiled, reduced, sieved, fleshy skins that surround ripe walnuts.
Collect skins from the ground beneath trees once they are blackened. Walnut ink is gloopy, red-brown, and delicious to draw with. Oak galls, forming the basis of iron-gall ink, can also be collected from affected trees, crushed, and boiled to make a golden ink. For centuries, galls were ground with iron sulfate to make an unstable solution.
Running fresh, it was gray-purple. It dried black, and turned brown with time. It also oxidized and ate or burned paper. Some of Michelangelo’s drawings are now a little eaten by their own ink. Although oak galls and walnut skins are harmless, always be cautious when experimenting with recipes.
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