Own Your Encore

My Encore Excursions


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Ink part two

Dipping into the history of ink has been somewhat disappointing in that there is not much history about the ‘color’ of writing ink. How did black, blue and red ink come to dominate the ink for handwriting today?

The Egyptian and Chinese cultures invented ink simultaneously using charcoal or soot and animal fat hence black ink was used for the early written word. There are plenty of perfunctory stories about carbon ink [from soot], iron gaul / oak gall ink [which starts as a bluish-black and fades to dull brownish black] and the evolution of printing ink [mostly an oily black varnish-like ink that would not smudge]. Ink used for writing has two main components – Colorants & Carrier/Binders. Pigment and dye have both been used as colorants

I did find reference of Scribes represented with multiple inkpots in the Middle Ages, suggesting several colors at their disposal when copying texts.

The three colors found most frequently where black from oak galls, red from red lead and crushed lapis lazuli creating a valuable and rich shade of blue. These are also the three colors we see today in pen choices.

So that’s the story, or all I can find. We have primarily Black, Blue and Red writing ink … ‘because we’ve always done it that way’ … since the Middle Ages!

POSTSCRIPT: There is an ink color & smell you are bound to remember if you attended grade school in 1950s – 1970s… that of the mimeograph or ditto machine

Ditto page

I remember the mimeograph it was the ‘copy machine’ of my grade school years. The ink ended up looking like a faded blue or purple AND the printed page had that intoxicating fragrance! That unforgettable fragrance imprint came from the duplicator fluid which had methanol and isopropanol in it! I can still smell the ink on the warm pages…..


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Ink [ part one ]

After 50 weeks of posting about color, I continue to be curious about color in the arts and will continue to explore for another year here. This week it’s ink part one! The curiosity about ink color started when I was setting up some tools for trying modern calligraphy and asked myself ‘how is ink color different from watercolor ‘. More on that another week because this week I learned a new way to use ballpoint pen ink!

It was an unexpected benefit of a class with Molly Hashimoto. She is an accomplished visual artist and author. Our class today was a focus on quick techniques to use in nature journals, mainly to capture landscape and natural subjects. She started out by having us draw with water soluble ink, like this ball point pen…

Water soluble ink pen!

The focus of the class :

  • How to work quickly
  • Use ‘thumbnail’ / small sketches
  • Capture scenes that enhance memory & experience of place

In the past few years I have probably thrown away a dozen water soluble pens because they ‘bleed’ and make a mess of a drawing…and they always seem to end up in my pen box where I am expecting permanent ink. Molly changed all that for me. She showed us how to create a quick thumbnail sketch with the water soluble ink pen and then apply water to complete the visual memory sketch. Pen ink varies in solubility and typically colors are black, blue – of course speciality pens offer many colors. The technique is fun and has a watercolor essence.

Focus on trees using 3 different techniques

I asked Molly about using a watercolor pencil to achieve the same look, she discouraged due to the lack of a crisp line with a pencil. It might work but definition would be lost. So if you ever go on a walk and want to try a little sketch along the way, simply take a ballpoint pen, paper and a water brush. It truly does enhance the memory of a place visited.

Next post, Ink [ part two ] will explore the ancient practices of ink and how ink color was discovered and used around the world.