Monday, July 8, 2013

getting to know india ink

I have never stopped to explore in depth the use of ink in drawing and painting. I liked what it offered the few times that I played with it in some workshop or another, yet I couldn't see how it would work with oil painting. But one of the goals of my residency project this fall is to explore more deeply the use of line in my work. Since I am painting with watermedia rather than oil, I decided to revisit the use of ink. Last week, I pulled out the dip pen and nibs that I stored away years ago, and purchased a fresh bottle of India ink. It is delightful stuff, and complements the effects I am beginning to achieve with acrylics and watercolors.

India ink has been around for thousands of years. Cave painters used ink made from carbon back in the neolithic era (2500 BC). India ink was so named because the ancient Chinese traded for its ingredients from India. It distinguishes itself from other carbon-based inks by incorporating lampblack, a type of carbon traditionally produced from the soot of lamp oil. Ancient Buddhist scripts and Talmudic teachings were written in ink, as were the Dead Sea scrolls.

I began with dip pen and ink bottle, and at some point in my sketching found a kind of thoughtful rhythm: dip, pause, stroke, dip, pause, stroke. I liked the interruption of the drawing process that the dipping required. I loved the different marks made by the different nibs, and the way the ink flowed off the point, and the way that the pen responded to the pressure and movement of my hand. For contrast, I tried commercial markers and technical pens on another work in progress: I had perhaps more control over the placement of the ink, but I felt less connection to the marks I made.

Then I moved to brush work, using both a fine brush for lines and a hake brush for washes. The image above is a detail of a wash of quite diluted ink on a surface partially primed with light molding paste, a Golden product. The combination -- but mostly the ink -- created a unique texture and mood. I look forward to exploring more such effects.

On another occasion, I used the handle end of a small brush to draw back into a wash of ink; in the areas where the underlying surface was absorbent, this produced an interesting effect. Where the surface had been sealed, the ink did not cover well enough to draw back into. This promises interesting results when I can apply and manipulate the ink more deliberately on absorbent and non-absorbent surfaces. For the moment, I am very much in an experimental mode; I may understand India ink fairly well after all these tests, but its interaction with all the other watermedia pigments and mediums that I am exploring is still unknown.

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